4 ways food and drinks can trigger migraines

Brain Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 3, 2022

There is nothing worse than a headache—unless it’s the dull ache and throbbing pain of a migraine. At least 45 million Americans live with migraines, estimates the American Migraine Foundation.

A migraine headache, which can last for hours or sometimes days, causes intense throbbing pain in one or more areas of the head and usually comes with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sound and light. Many things can trigger migraines, including what we eat or drink.

Common migraine trigger foods

For roughly 10% of susceptible migraine sufferers, food is a trigger. Here, we cover some common diet-related culprits.

1. Hidden amino acids

The amino acids tyramine and phenylethylamine are found in chocolate, aged cheeses, citrus and vinegar.

2. Caffeine

People sensitive to caffeine can develop migraines after drinking coffee, tea or caffeinated soft drinks. However, caffeine can also be used to stop migraines for some people.

3. Alcohol

About one-third of people who experience migraine headaches point to alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, beer and whiskey, as the culprit. It’s unclear whether the alcohol or another migraine-provoking agent plays the role, and the root cause varies by individual. If you’re prone to migraines, talk to your doctor about limiting your alcohol consumption.

4. Food additives

Certain additives used to enhance flavor or keep food fresh longer have been shown to bring on headaches. If this sounds familiar to you, consider avoiding:

  • Tannins: plant compounds that give foods an astringent taste can be found in tea, red-skinned apples, apple juice and red wine.
  • Preservatives: nitrates and nitrites found in processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs and ham and foods that contain MSG, including fast and frozen foods, soups, chips and condiments
  • Artificial sweeteners: Sugar substitutes, like aspartame, which is used to sweeten hundreds of products, have been

The bottom line: every migraine sufferer has different triggers. Along with certain foods and alcohol, common migraine causes include hormonal fluctuations, environmental stimuli like weather or bright lights, certain smells, poor sleep and high stress.

Use a headache diary to uncover and eliminate potential triggers and share it with your doctor. It is also important to:

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Eat regular meals and stay hydrated.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce stress

Find a headache medicine specialist near you.

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