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Nine Sneaky Foods that Trigger Your Headaches and Migraines

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

Do you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines? Are you regularly grabbing or Advil or Tylenol to get through your day? Do you feel exhausted from being in chronic pain?

People who suffer from headaches and migraines may find relief from over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. While these medications may help you decrease the pain of your headaches and migraines, they do not address the underlying cause and can create additional health issues. Our goal in functional medicine is to find the root cause of headaches and migraines so that patients will not have to load up on these pain medications. I want you to be able to be both medication and headache-free.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I regularly work with patients to do just that. Together, we identify and eliminate possible trigger foods and other underlying causes of their migraines.

If you are suffering from headaches and migraines, your diet may not be doing you any favors. Read on to learn more about the nine foods that trigger headaches and migraines.

1. High histamine-containing foods: Histamine has a few purposes. It tells the stomach to release acid to aid in digestion, sends messages to the brain, and is part of the body's immune response. Unfortunately, it also may be the cause of headaches and migraines. Foods such as eggplant, shellfish, spinach, fermented foods (including alcohol), and aged cheese are all histamine rich.

2. Coffee, tea, chocolate, or mate: Those susceptible to stimulants such as the caffeine in coffee and tea or theobromine found in chocolate may discover that these foods trigger headaches and migraines. In some, the absence of caffeine may be the reason for their headaches, thanks to its withdrawal symptoms.

3. Salicylate sensitivity: Salicylates are found in citrus fruits such as oranges and limes. They can even be found in fruits disguised as vegetables such as tomatoes.

4. Tyramine sensitivity: This amino acid is another known trigger of headaches and migraines. It comes from degraded tyrosine, which is commonly found in aged or cured foods. Foods you should watch for are cheese, sausages, and even some beers.

5. Nitrate/nitrite sensitivity: Nitrates and nitrites may be blamed for your headaches and migraines. They are known for being found in cured meats such as hot dogs and bacon. However, cured meats are not the only foods to blame here. Celery, cabbage, and dill also contain nitrates.

6. Sulfite sensitivity: Food preservatives found in many packaged items, wines, and dried fruit contain sulfites. Those who are sensitive to sulfites may experience headaches and migraines from consumption.

7. Monosodium glutamate: This flavor enhancer, commonly known as MSG, is present in many canned foods, soups, and processed meats. It also exists naturally in tomatoes and mushrooms.

8. Aspartame: A commonly used artificial sweetener, aspartame has been shown to cause hyperstimulation in some people's brains. The results of that hyperstimulation can sometimes be headaches and migraines.

9. Artificial colors and flavors: The list of items containing artificial colors and flavors is long. They can be found in everything from candies to prepackaged meals. There are many different types, so they have an extensive chemical content. Check your labels. One simple trick to try is to not buy anything with more than five ingredients on the label.

It is essential to note it may not just be one food that is triggering your headaches. People often have a combination of triggers, but this list can be a helpful place to start your investigation.

Try starting a food journal, and when you get a headache, document everything you ate that day and the day before. This is a simple way to begin to look for patterns.

If you struggle with headaches and migraines, speak with your functional medicine practitioner about identifying trigger foods that may be the culprit.

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