Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | September 28, 2012

Put Your Migraines on a Diet

By Lindsay Kovacic, RD, LDN

Got a migraine? There may be more to it than a bad day and not enough caffeine! Research shows that what’s on your plate, might be contributing to those unbearable migraines. Specifically, foods containing sulfites and nitrites; both of these are found in a variety of foods naturally and as additives.

So, let’s check your diet for these migraine causing culprits;

Aged cheese and other tyramine-containing foods: Tyramine is a substance found naturally in some foods. It is formed from the breakdown of protein as foods age. Generally, the longer a high-protein food ages, the greater the tyramine content. The amount of tyramine in cheeses differs. Some cheeses high in tyramine: Blue cheeses, Brie, Cheddar, Feta, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Swiss, Processed cheese.

Alcohol: Blood flow to your brain increases when you drink alcohol. Some scientists blame the headache on impurities in alcohol or by-products produced as your body metabolizes alcohol. Red wine, beer, whiskey, and champagne are the most commonly identified headache triggers.

Food additives: Preservatives (or additives) contained in certain foods can trigger headaches. The additives, such as nitrates, dilate blood vessels which causes headaches in some people.

Cold foods: Cold foods can cause headaches in some people. It’s more likely to occur if you are over-heated from exercise or hot temperatures. More than 90% of migraine sufferers report sensitivity to ice cream and cold substances.

Other foods high in tyramine are: aged, canned, cured or processed meats, certain beans (fava, broad, garbanzo, lima, pinto), onions, olives, pickles, avocados, raisins, canned soups, and nuts.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Additive-Induced Headaches?
Most headache symptoms begin within 20-25 minutes after consuming these products. They include:

  • Pressure in the chest
  • Tightening and pressure in the face
  • Burning sensation in the chest, neck, or shoulders
  • Facial flushing
  • Dizziness
  • Headache pain across the front or sides of the head
  • Abdominal discomfort

If the above symptoms sound like a daily routine, it might be worth it to adjust your menu to see if it makes a difference. Also, talk to your doctor and get their advice on whether a new diet might be migraine-free solution for you!


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