Seven Foods That Cause Migraines

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  • By Robin Westen

    More than 30 million Americans suffer with migraine headaches, and most are women. Although doctors aren’t sure what causes all of them, they suspect more than a quarter of migraine sufferers have specific food triggers. To find out if a particular food is causing your headache, keep a diet diary for at least a month and pay special attention to the most common food triggers. They include:

    Alcohol

    Red wine, sherry, vermouth, ale and beer are the most frequent culprits. But alcohol in any drink causes increased blood flow to your brain and can also result in dehydration, both of which might be headache triggers. Sulfites used as preservatives in red wine have been linked to migraine headaches.
  • Caffeinated Drinks Coffee, tea, cola, and those buzz energy drinks that are loaded with caffeine can be a no-no. If you absolutely must have that cup of coffee in the morning, do it after breakfast and keep your intake to no more than one cup. In fact, a little caffeine can actually help get rid of a migraine headache, and caffeine may be included in some migraine medications, but too much caffeine can be a headache trigger when you come down from your caffeine “high.”
  • Food Additives These include MSG (in seasoned salt, meat tenderizers, and canned soups), sulfites (used to preserve dried fruit and wine), nitrites (a meat preservative), and aspartame (in diet drinks and sugarless gum)
  • Aged Meat The biggest culprits are meats that are smoked or dried, fermented, salted, or pickled, such as pepperoni, liverwurst, pickled herring, summer sausage, and hot dogs.
  • Chocolate Even though research recently presented at the International Headache Society suggests that cocoa may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches, twenty-two per cent of headache sufferers identify chocolate as one of their headache triggers.
  • Aged Cheese The culprit could be a substance called tyramine that forms as the proteins in cheese break down over time. The longer a cheese ages, the more tyramine it has. Pass on blue cheese, Swiss, cheddar, gouda, and parmesan.
  • Bananas Scientists suspect this potassium-rich food might trigger a migraine for people who are sensitive to tyramine, the same substance found in aged cheese.

    About The Author

    Robin Westen is ThirdAge’s medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. Her newest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is “V Is For Vagina.”