What is a Migraine
A migraine is a common disorder characterized by recurrent, throbbing headaches that can last up to three days. Several symptoms distinguish migraines from normal headaches. They typically involve only one side of the head and are accompanied by other signs. These include nausea and hypersensitivity to light, sounds and smells. Some people also experience visual disturbances, known as auras, before getting a migraine.
In 2001, an estimated 28 million Americans experienced migraines. Research has shown greater frequency in women than men.
The underlying cause of migraines is unknown, but hormones, stress and dietary factors may play a role. About 27–30% of those with migraines believe that certain foods trigger their migraines. Given that evidence is usually based on personal accounts, the role of most dietary triggers is controversial. However, studies suggest some people with migraines may be susceptible to certain foods.
Below are 11 of the most frequently reported dietary migraine triggers.
Coffee; Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. It is high in caffeine, a stimulant also found in tea, soda and energy drinks. Caffeine’s connection to headaches is complex. It may affect headaches or migraines in the following ways:
Aged Cheese; About 9–18% of people with migraines report sensitivity to aged cheese. Scientists believe this may be because of its high tyramine content. Tyramine is a compound that forms when bacteria break down the amino acid tyrosine during the aging process. Tyramine is also found in wine, yeast extract, chocolate and processed meat products, but aged cheese is one of its richest sources. Levels of tyramine appear higher in people with chronic migraines, compared to healthy people or those with other headache disorders. However, the role of tyramine and other biogenic amines in migraines is debated, as studies have provided mixed results. Aged cheese may also contain histamine, another potential culprit.
Alcohol; Most people are familiar with hangover headaches after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. In certain people, alcoholic beverages may trigger a migraine within three hours of consumption. In fact, roughly 29–36% of those with migraines believe that alcohol may trigger a migraine attack. However, not all alcoholic beverages act in the same way. Studies in people with migraines found that red wine was much more likely to trigger a migraine than other alcoholic beverages, especially among women.
Some evidence indicates that the histamine content of red wine may play a role. Histamine is also found in processed meat, some fish, cheese and fermented foods. Histamine is produced in the body, too. It is involved in immune responses and functions as a neurotransmitter. Dietary histamine intolerance is a recognized health disorder. Apart from headaches, other symptoms include flushing, wheezing, sneezing, skin itching, skin rashes and fatigue. It is caused by a reduced activity of diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine in the digestive system. Interestingly, reduced activity of DAO appears to be common in people with migraines. One study found that 87% of those with migraines had reduced DAO activity. The same applied to only 44% of those without migraines. another study showed that taking an antihistamine before drinking red wine significantly reduced the frequency of headaches among people who experience headaches after drinking
Processed Meats; Around 5% of people with migraines may develop a headache hours or even minutes after consuming processed meat products. This type of headache has been dubbed a “hot dog headache”. Researchers believe that nitrites, a group of preservatives that includes potassium nitrite and sodium nitrite, may be the reason why. These preservatives are often found in processed meat. They prevent the growth of harmful microbes like Clostridium botulinum. They also help preserve the color of processed meats and contribute to their flavor.
Processed meats that contain nitrites include sausages, ham, bacon and lunch meats like salami and bologna. Hard-cured sausages may also contain relatively high amounts of histamine, which could trigger migraines in people with histamine intolerance. If you get migraines after eating processed meat, consider eliminating them from your diet. In any case, eating less processed meat is a step toward a healthier lifestyle.
5-11. Other Possible Migraine Triggers People have reported.
5. Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This common flavor enhancer has been implicated as a headache trigger, but little evidence supports this idea.
6. Aspartame: A few studies have associated the artificial sweetener aspartame with an increased frequency of migraine headaches, but the evidence is mixed.
7. Sucralose: Several case reports suggest that the artificial sweetener sucralose may cause migraines in some groups.
8. Citrus fruits: In one study, about 11% of those with migraines reported citrus fruits to be a migraine trigger.
9. Chocolate: Anywhere from 2–22% of people with migraines report being sensitive to chocolate. However, studies on the effect of chocolate remain inconclusive.
10. Gluten: Wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. These cereals, as well as products made from them, may trigger migraines in gluten-intolerant people.
11. Fasting or skipping meals: While fasting and skipping meals may have benefits, some may experience migraines as a side effect. Between 39–66% of those with migraines associate their symptoms with fasting. Studies also suggest that migraines may be an allergic response or hypersensitivity to certain compounds in foods, but scientists haven’t reached a consensus on this yet.