Migraines and Nutrition


Written by my student intern: Ella Kenney

What are migraines?

Everyone has suffered headaches from time to time, but a distinct portion of the population – approximately 11% – experiences the chronic, painful, hours- or days-long kind known as migraines.  In addition to a throbbing pain (often felt on just one side of the head), migraine symptoms can include light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting.  An “aura” of warning signs may signal that a migraine is imminent; these are often visual cues such as blurred vision, temporary blind spots or eye pain.

Managing migraines

Although there is no cure for migraines, paying close attention to the situations in which they occur can give clues to their cause.  Lack of sleep?  Excess stress?  For women, a specific time in their menstrual cycle?  Particular foods eaten?

“Particular foods eaten” may be an especially important clue in migraine management.  Making careful notes of the foods and beverages recently consumed when besieged by a migraine can help point to consistent triggers.  Taking care not to skip meals and hydrating fully are also important – dehydration is a culprit as well.

The following foods/beverages have been known to trigger migraines in some people:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Any processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods
  • Baked goods
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Dairy products
  • Foods containing tyramine, which includes red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and certain beans
  • Fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit), including dried fruits
  • Frozen foods – particularly those that can cause “brain freeze,” which can trigger migraines
  • Meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats)
  • MSG, such as that found in Chinese food
  • Nuts, peanut butter

Additional tips

Avoiding smoking, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep and reducing stress are all effective at migraine prevention.  Ultimately, some people seek relief in migraine medication, but many are able to manage with stress reduction, situational awareness, and careful diet and exercise.*

Also try keeping a food journal and note when you have the migraines so you can start to draw connections to your diet.

*Be sure to call 911 if experiencing the following symptoms that have not been associated with past migraines: speech, vision or movement problems; loss of balance; the “worst headache of your life”; or a headache that is more severe when lying down. These may be signs of a stroke.

Do you suffer from migraines?


One Response

  1. Very intresting to read the list of foods that can trigger migrain… since Chocolate (dark specifically) helps calm my migrain so as soon as I feel a bad one coming I eat some dark chocolate.

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