Do You Suffer From Migraines? These 6 Foods Might Be Triggering Them
Commonly blamed on internal factors such as stress, anxiety, or illness, migraines can bring on excruciating levels of throbbing pain and trying to get rid of this monster can be headache in itself. And while yes, dimming the lights, grabbing an ice pack, and taking headache relief medication like Excedrin Migraine can help keep your pain at bay, there is another, more long-lasting remedy: reducing or omitting migraine trigger foods from your diet.
"The migraine brain is undergoing a high level of cellular stress where inflammation is known to be heightened. Meaning, foods that cause worsening of this stress can very easily trigger a migraine," Cynthia Armand, MD, a board-certified neurologist and headache specialist in New York, told POPSUGAR. Food essentially does not cause a migraine; rather, it functions as a trigger, she explained. Furthermore, it's not so much particular foods that bring on a migraine, but the ingredients and preservatives in them. For example, hot dogs are notorious migraine triggers, but it's because of the abundance of salt and nitrates. These same properties are found in several other foods like processed and cured meats like bacon or sausage.
Dr. Armand stressed that while it's important to know about food ingredients and how they can affect the body, it's also important to understand that we all have different bodies, which react differently to different foods. "One person's migraine trigger may not be yours," she expressed. To help, Dr. Armand recommends keeping a migraine diary in order to learn about your body and potential triggers.
Keep reading to learn more about what particular foods and ingredients experts suggest you should avoid if you are prone to migraines.
Chocolate contains a high dose of magnesium, which has proven to help soothe cramps and period pain, but it can also be a common migraine trigger. "Chocolate carries caffeine, which can help with migraines acutely, but long-term it will prolong the migraine cycle and could possibly make it worse," Virginia Thornley, MD, a board-certified neurologist and epileptologist in Florida, told POPSUGAR.
If you are craving chocolate, it's best to opt for dark chocolate, as it has healthier properties and benefits like regulating blood pressure and fighting fatigue prior to working out.
You've probably already heard the news that hotdogs are pretty unhealthy and detrimental for your health—maybe just as bad as cigarettes! So, it should come as no surprise that a link stuffed with saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt can also cause migraines.
"Hot dogs contain nitrites, which are preservatives that work to prevent bacteria growth which research has described to trigger migraine attacks," Dr. Armand said. "Furthermore, there are a lot of other foods like cold cuts and processed meats that can bring on a migraine because of their nitrite properties."
In general, several types of alcohol can bring on a headache, or in more advanced cases, a migraine; however, red wine in particular is known to be considered a pesky trigger for migraine attacks.
Red wine contains a preservative called sulfites, which are big migraine triggers, explained Dr. Armand. "Additionally, another added insult of alcohol is the dehydrating effect it has on the body. Dehydration with a mix of alcohol can be a potent trigger of migraine attacks," she said.
You're probably familiar with the idea that sugar is OK in moderation, but what a lot of people may not know is that refined sugars can trigger a migraine. Refined sugars can be found in some of your favorite cakes and pastries, and even dressings and condiments.
Refined sugars can cause blood sugar levels to rise fairly quickly, leading to an excess release of insulin. "When this happens, a state of hypoglycemia can occur, which means the insulin is working aggressively to lower your body's blood sugar levels," Dr. Armand. She went on to explain that a rise in blood sugar of that magnitude can also create a pro-inflammatory process of the body, which in itself can be migraine triggering.
A slice of cheese here or there can actually be quite healthy for you! It's enriched with vitamin A, calcium, and protein, but when enjoyed in larger quantities, it can rank high in calories, fat, as well as be a potential migraine trigger.
Both Dr. Thornley and Dr. Armand told POPSUGAR that the number one trigger suspect for migraines here is tyramine, an ingredient found heavily in aged cheese. "The longer a cheese is aged, the higher amounts of tyramine it contains," said Dr. Armand. Examples include gouda, feta, and gruyere.
Although coffee is a huge trigger for migraine attacks, the real culprit is caffeine, which is found in soda, tea, and energy drinks. Dr. Armand clarified that caffeine needs to be mentioned with a word of caution because the substance can treat attacks and headache pain effectively; however, too much caffeine can trigger a migraine attack in the form of rebound pain, especially when caffeine consumption is abruptly stopped.
Likewise, Dr. Thornley stressed that the tricky part about caffeine is that it's so predominant in many people's everyday diet. Just think about your daily cup (or two) of coffee or the soda you usually have with lunch! "Short-term, yes, caffeine can help a migraine but it will prolong the migraine cycle and you can continue to get daily headaches," she said.
Lastly, ingestion can add up fairly quickly because the amount of caffeine varies from different sources, Dr. Armand noted.