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Foods for Migraines: Food as the Cause

June 16, 2015

Recently, I have had the distinct pleasure of joining a select group of individuals known as “migraineurs”. Yes, there is a name for us. Most commonly found in, but not exclusive to middle aged women, migraines can be debilitating. Approximately one in every 4 women will experience a migraine. Prevalence peaks between early and middle adulthood and declines substantially after that.   

There are many environmental factors that can prompt a migraine. Weather changes, light, noise, fatigue, sleep, hormones, stress and nutrition all can have an impact on initiating a migraine. Eating behaviors and specific foods may begin the cascade of symptoms leading to the migraine.

Due to the lack of quality studies, the role of specific foods in causing migraines is debated by the experts, however, self-reported food triggers are second only to stress as the most cited cause of headache. In a study of 1207 people, 1 in 4 migraineurs reported food as a trigger for their pain.

There is strong evidence that other nutritional factors like vitamin or mineral deficiencies, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, meal skipping, fasting, caffeine withdrawal, and dehydration can trigger migraines.

What’s a migraine sufferer to do?

Start with looking at meal timing. Fasting and skipping meals appears to be the most highly noted dietary modification that can trigger a migraine. Make sure you are eating every 3-4 hours and make mealtime a priority.

Stay well-hydrated.  Drink, drink, drink- good old water. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) women require about 11 1/2 cups of fluid and men around 15 cups.  That includes all beverages and moisture in foods too. Taking food out of the equation and estimating just the amount of liquid you need from beverages—shoot for 9 cups for women and 12 ½ cups for men. To ensure adequate hydration, urine should look a pale light yellow.

Keep a headache and food journal.  Try to identify foods that may be a trigger for you. Eliminate the food from your diet and see if the migraines persist. Do a self-trial by re-introducing the food back into your diet. It is the best way to confirm your suspicions.

Because the list of potential food triggers is long and the results are individualized and inconsistent, you do not have to avoid all the foods listed. Just be aware that the following foods are common triggers:

  •   Processed, pickled, marinated food
  •    Seafood
  •    Baked goods
  •    Dairy
  •    Chocolate
  •    Cheese
  •    Nuts
  •    Citrus fruits
  •    Meat/Processed meats
  •    MSG
  •    Aspartame
  •    Fatty foods
  •    Coffee/Caffeine
  •    Alcohol
Get tested.  Identify foods that cause a reaction in your body by testing for antibodies.  Antibodies are substances made by the body’s immune system in response to foreign substances.  Food sensitivities are found by testing for antibodies that trigger an immune response.  Some studies are looking at measuring antibodies in response to food.  Foods that trigger the immune response are removed from the diet. The results of the small studies are promising but inconclusive.