Dietary Changes

Avoiding Triggers
Food often plays an important role in triggering migraine attacks. Many different foods may precipitate an attack.

Various foods, causing migrainesVarious foods, causing migrainesSome of the most common offenders are:

  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • alcohol (especially red wine or beer)
  • meats preserved with nitrates (ham, bologna, luncheon meats, etc.)
  • pizza
  • aged cheese
  • caffeine (especially while cutting back or eliminating), including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, over-the-counter and prescription medications that contain caffeine (consult with your physician before changing or discontinuing any medications)
  • nuts
  • fermented, pickled, cured or marinated foods
  • foods prepared with monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium Glutamate, also known as MSG needs speical attention, as it is a very common trigger and it is used extensively in many processed foods. It can also be tricky to identify. When you are looking at ingredient labels, here are several pseudonyms for MSG:

  • monosodium glutamate
  • sodium glutamate
  • L-glutamic acid, monosodium salt
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Autolyzed yeast

Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer used in most processed foods that have a strong salt or meaty flavor. This includes most soups, processed meats, many snack-chips and salt substitutes. If you have eaten any of these foods and get a headache, MSG may be the cause.

Supermarket shelves, showing processed foods

Many people also find that they can reduce the frequency of their headaches if they omit foods that contain the amino acid tyramine, including:

  • aged meats, avocados, bananas, beer, cabbage, canned fish, dairy products, eggplant, hard cheeses, potatoes, raspberries, red plums, tomatoes, wine, and yeast.

Avoiding any food trigger is often essential to reducing or eliminating migraine headaches. However, many people find that once the root causes of imbalance are corrected (i.e., neurotransmitter imbalances), not only do their migraines disappear, but they can also begin to eat moderate portions of foods that once triggered migraine attacks.

This occurs because all of the foods listed above can cause a depletion in serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in the brain. However, there are a number of other foods, and many medications, that can deplete neurotransmitters; for a complete list of foods and drugs that deplete neurotransmitters, click here.

Eating Foods that Improve Neurotransmitter Balance

Just as certain foods can disrupt proper neurotransmitter function and create imbalance, certain foods can help provide the body the specific amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other cofactors necessary to make optimal amounts of neurotransmitters. Since neurotransmitters are a key component in eliminating migraines, eating foods that promote neurotransmitter synthesis will be important to maintaining overall neurotransmitter balance.

Eating these foods and avoiding those that can cause depletion can be a great way to maintain proper neurotransmitter levels. However, most times if a neurotransmitter imbalance is present, eating the proper foods will not be enough to offset the imbalance. Luckily, there are several botanicals and supplements that can be used to re-balance neurotransmitter levels and aid in your healing process.

General Dietary Guidelines

One of the most important things you can do to manage migraine triggers is to eat regularly throughout the day and make sure each of these meals contains a bit of protein. Most people find that eating 4-5 meals daily spaced 2-4 hours apart works well to maintain their blood sugar levels and keep headaches at bay.

Learn more about general dietary guidelines for migraine sufferers.

Buying organic whenever you can will further reduce your pesticide exposure; buying the foods listed on the Dirty Dozen organically is a great start. Buying organic can cost more, but there are many ways you can buy organic on a budget.

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