Diet and migraines
by Maria Masters
As if migraines weren’t awful enough, it can be downright overwhelming to sidestep all the things that could set off an attack. Problem is, food triggers not only vary from person to person, but much of our knowledge about them comes less from carefully controlled studies and more from observing patients, explains Lee Peterlin, DO, the director of headache research at Johns Hopkins University.
Before you cut out every one of these items from your diet, here’s something to keep in mind: Fasting or skipping meals can be an evenbigger migraine trigger for women, says Dr. Peterlin. So just keep that advice in mind as you go through this list, then turn to your fridge. (Though you might want to reconsider that charcuterie…)
Wine, especially red, is believed to be one migraine trigger. According to a review by researchers in Brazil, migraine sufferers say that alcohol may play a role in their attacks about 30% of the time or more. The reason is still up for debate, but some experts believe that certain compounds in wine, like tannins and flavonoids, are the culprits. One 2014 study suggested that red wines that contains higher amounts of tannins—think big, bold wines like cabernet sauvignon—might be even more likely to trigger a migraine. Plus, drinking alcohol may lead to dehydration, which can also contribute to a headache, says Dr. Peterkin.
If you’re prone to migraines, you might want to reconsider your coffee or soda intake: Too much of it can cause an attack, possibly because caffeine acts on certain receptors in the brain that are linked with migraines, according to one 2009 review. Limit caffeinated beverages to 8 to 12 ounces a day, says Dr. Peterlin.
But there’s a twist: Since caffeine has a pain relieving effect, consuming a small amount of it during an attack may actually help that “just-kill-me-now feeling” to subside faster—as long as you’re not overusing it in the first place, she says.
Gorgonzola. Camembert. Cheddar. Aged cheeses (i.e., all the good ones) are beloved for their rich flavors and textures—and because life isn’t fair, they’re also commonly cited migraine triggers. Experts aren’t sure what, specifically, is to blame, but research suggests that aged cheeses can contain compounds called tyramines, which may interact with the neurotransmitters in the body and lead to a migraines.
Cured or processed meats
Hot dogs, sausages, even that turkey sandwich you had for lunch—all of those foods might set off a migraine too, says Rebecca Traub, MD, a neurologist with ColumbiaDoctors. These meats can contain a preservative called sodium nitrate, and researchers speculate that this additive may also cause changes in brain chemistry that contribute to the headache.
This food group is still up for debate—some studies have found a link between migraines and citruses, while others haven’t. Still, it’s possible that citrus fruits might trigger migraines in some sufferers, and they’re certainly on experts’ radars as being a possible—though much rarer—culprit, says Traub. To help pinpoint what’s causing your migraines, Traub recommends keeping a headache diary, either on a calendar or in a journal. Log your migraines, the severity of the attack, the foods you’ve been consuming, and any medications that you’re taking, she says