I learnt some new things today about diet and migraine. I have known for a long time that certain foods are triggers for migraine – I think many of us know that cheese; alcohol, particularly red and fortified wines; mono sodium glutamate, cured meats that are rich in nitrites and chocolate have all been cited as triggers. However, doing some research to help someone cope with a challenging exclusion diet recommended to address frequent migraines, I found that it is more complex than that and many other foods can be triggers for some people.
The NHS have produced this leaflet on Migraine and Food and if you are someone who suspects that certain foods may trigger headaches then it is worth a read. There are far more foods that are thought to trigger migraine in people prone to these severe headaches than those more well known culprits listed above. It is likely that for some people, an intolerance or sensitivity to a component in these foods is responsible.
But before you go on some serious exclusion diet to rid you diet of all possible food triggers, start keeping some kind of record of your headaches to build a picture of what factors may be at play. Foods are not the only triggers. Tiredness, dips in blood sugar, strong smells, flickering screens and strong lights, stress, poor posture and other non food specific triggers exist too.
It seems likely that for most sufferers it is a combination of triggers that result in a headache – so the complete exclusion of all food triggers as would be necessary for a food allergy are not generally necessary. There would be a level of tolerance for most foods that may change depending on the presence of other triggers.
If you do feel that you need to go on some kind of exclusion diet then it is best that you seek advice via your doctor and get support from a dietitian or registered nutritionist. You are more likely to solve your headaches without struggling to enjoy eating or becoming undernourished and putting yourself at risk of other health problems unecessarily.
If you experience relief with an exclusion diet it is important to reintroduce foods one by one gradually to test whether you can eat those foods or not. It is very likely that even foods that are triggers can be eaten in moderate amounts as long as there are not too many other triggers present. By testing how well you can tolerate foods that are triggers, you can benefit from a more varied diet and that is beneficial to your health.
I occasionally suffer from migraines. Reading the leaflet made me consider my triggers. For me my migraines are triggered more by tiredness and poor sleep, if I have not eaten regularly through the day, getting too hungry especially if I am physically active (if I then eat something sweet the headache is worse) and strong smells. I thought I was just weird that if confined to a small space (like a car) with someone wearing strong perfume meant I felt sick and had a headache. But no – this is an accepted migraine trigger, it is not just me being strange. Apart from eating sweet foods at a bad time, I don’t think specific foods are a problem for me.