Migraines are not just headaches. They are a neurological condition that can trigger severe sensitivity to light and sound, often accompanied by nausea. The distress can be of varying severity and often a result of hormonal changes and changes in one’s diet. Genetics also plays a big role in a person developing an uncontrollable headache as the condition runs in the family and is passed down through the gene pool.
One can manage these headaches with certain over the counter medications, or by making changes in diet and lifestyle. But before we can understand what works best, here is what you must know about the triggers.
Foods and beverages that trigger migraines
Alcohol is one of the most common triggers of migraine. In fact, the hangover one experiences the very next day after drinking heavily is the result of the alcohol interacting with blood vessels in the brain. Substances like tyramine, histamine, tannin, and sulfites trigger inflammation and neurotransmitter activity that causes a migraine headache. Red wine, beer, white wine, and all types of liquor can result in an induced immediate or delayed migraine headache.
Coffee helps many people get through the day. While some people may experience a headache due to the consumption of coffee while others experience moderate to severe migraines during caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine is also not limited to coffee. Several beverages have a strong coffee base and those who consume these drinks regularly may also experience caffeine-induced migraines if they abruptly stop drinking. Common culprits include coffee-flavored yogurt, ice-cream, chocolate, energy drinks, and flavored soda.
Meat, dairy, and soy products
Sausages used in hot dogs, cold cuts of red meat, and artificial meat substitutes or additives used to process meat can trigger a migraine headache. Nitrate is the most common preservative used in all these cuts of meat. Nitrates can result in the widening of blood vessels and may stimulate the brain’s neural pathways to induce pain, experienced in the form of a headache. In addition to this, Tyramine is naturally present in certain dairy and certain soy products including yogurt, blue cheese, feta cheese, parmesan, Miso, and Tempeh. Research shows that tyramine can trigger changes in serotonin, a neurochemical that regulates one’s mood and pain reception. Any imbalance can cause a headache which is why one must avoid these foods and beverages.
Phenylethylamine is naturally available in many regular and processed foods. Cheesecakes, pies (made with canned berries), and yellow cheese are among the few to name. Even certain citrus fruits and cocoa-rich foods contain Phenylethylamine. One must also avoid processed foods that are rich in MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).
Which diet or foods work best for managing migraines?
It is better to avoid the foods that repeatedly cause migraines. However, the mind and body will have trouble coping with the withdrawal of commonly consumed foods and beverages. So, practicing mindful eating will help the body cope better with any transition, short term or long term.
Here are some diet ideas that can help manage symptoms and pain associated with migraine.
Restricted elimination diet
Eliminate the foods that are more likely to trigger a migraine attack. If eating lots of processed red meat is causing headaches, switching to lean cuts might just help avoid the problem. The same applies to beverages. Instead of eliminating caffeine beverages all at once, slowly reduce the number of cups consumed during a day. The gradual elimination of certain foods and beverages reduces the risk of withdrawal symptoms flaring up. Managing food choices smartly will also aid in weight loss, another benefit of the restricted or elimination diet. Recent studies have shown that healthy weight management can help manage the intensity of chronic headaches.
Gluten free options
Gluten is a protein that is commonly found in barley, wheat, and rye. People who have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease are at a greater risk of suffering from persistent migraines. The best way to deal with the trigger is to eliminate all products that contain gluten or some form of processed gluten. Instead, one can incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables (does not include pre-packaged portions). Use plain starchy rice and quinoa as a substitute. Even potatoes are a good starchy and carbohydrate-rich option when prepared in a gluten-free manner.
Reduce the consumption of Omega 6 fatty acids (found in most of the processed foods) by switching to a Mediterranean diet. It has foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids to help counter inflammation, one of the common triggers of a migraine headache. One must incorporate more antioxidant-rich berries and dark leafy greens. Also, whole grains are a more common staple in this diet and for cooking, use olive oil, a healthier alternative to vegetable oil.
Try vegan foods
A vegan diet requires rigorous abstinence from consuming any animal products, mainly meats, and dairy. Going vegan simply means surviving on plant-based foods for a long duration. There are plenty of nutrient-rich food options in a vegan diet minus the migraine causing compounds. These include soy products, soy milk, whole grains, and even nuts.
It is advisable to consult with a medical professional or a certified nutritionist to evaluate which foods work best for managing these chronic headaches. Remember, portioning and rationing the food is a crucial part of any diet. Here is where a doctor will consider all pertinent factors to help prepare a custom diet chart. When in doubt, always seek professional advice and direction before trying something new.