Your horrible headaches could be triggered by foods. Alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine have all been identified as headache triggers. “It is not unusual at all for food to trigger migraines or other types of headaches,” says Noah Rosen, MD, director of the Headache Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Long Island, NY. There are a few classic foods that trigger headaches in many people, but many different foods can trigger headaches for certain individuals. That’s why keeping a food diary to document your headaches is a good idea.
Chocolate: Is it really a migraine trigger?
Research recently presented at the International Headache Society suggests that cocoa may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches. But 22 per cent of headache sufferers identify chocolate as one of their headache triggers. “Many people with migraines have increased appetite and food cravings just before their headaches start.” Reaching for a chocolate bar may be the result of a migraine, rather than the cause.
Red wine and other alcohol reactions
Sulfites used as preservatives in red wine have been linked to migraine headaches. Alcohol in any drink causes increased blood flow to your brain and can also result in dehydration, both of which might be headache triggers. “People with migraines tend to get worse hangovers from any type of alcohol,” notes Robert Daroff, MD, professor of neurology at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, and past president of the American Headache Society. “Alcohol will also trigger a headache in someone going through a period of cluster headaches.
Coffee: Headache trigger or pain reliever?
“If you sleep later on the weekend and you wake up with a headache, you probably have a caffeine withdrawal headache,” says Dr Daroff. 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.” Research shows that you need to be drinking about two to three cups of coffee to get a withdrawal headache.
Cheese: Older isn't better for migraines
“There is not much research on cheese as a migraine trigger, but it is generally agreed that aged cheese is more likely to cause a headache,” explains Rosen. The culprit may 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. Examples you might want to skip to avoid headaches include blue cheese, Swiss, cheddar, gouda, and parmesan.
Hold the soy sauce and MSG
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in soy sauce and as a food additive in many other foods, has been found to cause cramps, diarrhoea, and a horrible headache in ten to 15 per cent of people who get migraine headaches. “Soy sauce as a migraine trigger is probably due to MSG, but soy sauce is very salty, which can lead to dehydration, another headache trigger,” notes Rosen.
Ice cream: It's the ice, not the cream
The stabbing pain you get when you eat ice cream too fast is a reaction to the cold, not the ice cream itself. An ice cream headache is more likely if you are overheated. The pain peaks in about 30 to 60 seconds.
“Cold foods like ice cream may be migraine triggers for people who suffer from migraines, but for most people, the pain goes away quickly,” advises Daroff.
Bananas: Serious headache trigger?
Well, maybe. Bananas usually don’t appear on lists of foods that are headache triggers, but they could trigger a migraine for people who are sensitive to tyramine, the same substance found in aged cheese. Studies show that the peel has about ten times more tyramine than the banana pulp. There are no reliable studies on this, but you might want to avoid those stringy pieces of inner peel. Processed meats and headaches “There are no good studies that say processed meats will cause you to get a headache,” says Rosen. But the nitrates and nitrites used as preservatives in hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats may dilate blood vessels and trigger headaches in some people. According to the American Headache Society, studies can’t tell you what food may trigger your headaches, but many people do have food triggers. The best advice is to keep a food diary, avoid foods that seem to trigger your headaches, stick to a healthy diet, and don’t skip meals.