Are migraines caused by what you eat?
In some people, diet can affect the frequency and severity of headaches, particularly those who experience migraines. Although migraine sufferers are often sensitive to what they eat, foods that may trigger attacks in one person may not affect others at all.
Why do some foods seem to cause migraines?
Some theories are:
- Foods affect the release of certain brain chemicals, which could lead to migraines
- Different types of foods cause different amounts of blood-vessel constriction or dilation, which could lead to headaches
- Certain foods directly stimulate specific areas of the brain, leading to migraines
What specific foods might trigger migraines?
The following foods are thought to trigger migraines in some people:
- Alcohol, specifically red wine
- Aspartame sweetener
- Beans and other tyramine-containing foods
- Chinese food or other soups and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Processed meats that contain sulfites such as bacon, sausages, salami and ham
How do I know if my diet is related to my migraine?
The first step is to start keeping a food diary. Track every food and beverage that you consume as well as the times that you eat and drink. Track your migraine symptoms. After 1 month, look for patterns. If you believe that you have discovered a pattern between your diet and migraines, try eliminating the food from your diet for 1 month to see if the symptoms have improved.
Should I consider any other dietary changes?
- Dehydration may trigger migraines in some people. It is important to stay hydrated and if a headache occurs, it may help to maintain regular fluid intake and rehydrate.
- Low blood sugar may cause migraines, so it is important to eat every 3-4 hours. Focus on fresh foods and avoid processed foods as much as possible, which can help limit exposure to MSG, sulfites, and other potential triggers.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Several studies suggest that people who get migraines may reduce the frequency and severity of their migraines by taking riboflavin. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that taking riboflavin cut the number of migraine attacks in half.
CoQ10: Blood levels of coenzyme Q10 have been found to be low in about one-third of migraine sufferers. In a preliminary trial, migraine sufferers who supplemented with 150 mg per day of coenzyme Q10 for three months reduced the average number of days with migraine headaches by 60%. Another study in 2005 found that CoQ10 treatment for migraines reduced attack-frequency, headache days and days with nausea by the third month of treatment.
Magnesium: People with migraines often have lower levels of magnesium than people who do not have migraines, and several studies suggest that magnesium may reduce the frequency of migraine attacks in people with low levels of magnesium. One double-blind study found that regular use of magnesium helps prevent migraine headaches. In this 12-week trial, 81 people with recurrent migraines were given either magnesium daily or placebo. By the last 3 weeks of the study, the treated group’s migraines had been reduced by 41.6%, compared to a reduction of 15.8% in the placebo group. Some studies also suggest that magnesium may help women whose migraines are triggered by their periods.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Several studies indicate that 5-HTP may be as effective as some prescription migraine medications at reducing the intensity and frequency of attacks, however more studies are needed.
- American Headache Society http://www.achenet.org/resources/controversiesinheadachemedicinemigrainepreventiondiets/
- Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:949-950.
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