Common Foods That Trigger Migraines

A migraine trigger is: "any change,  external stimulus or physical act which brings upon or results in a migraine”. Even though what brings about a migraine is undetermined, there are several common factors which are known to trigger a migraine. 

There are many triggers in which are out of our control (e.g weather, pressure) but it is important to take the reins on those that we can. Commonly and easily overlooked, food intake is one of the triggers we can try to control. 

“While diet alone is rarely the cause of [these] headaches, it may well be involved as a trigger for migraine” -Noah Rosen, MD & Director of Northwell Health’s Headache Center (NY). 

Everyone’s migraine journey is different. Depending on each individual, a single trigger or several cumulative triggers may be the cause of one’s migraine. Research has shown that some food elements (e.g sulfites, histamine, nitrites, phenylethylamine and tyramine) have a significant part to play in migraines triggered by food. 

“After over a year of research, we have identified 200+ ingredients that contain 20+ migraine risk factor chemicals”. One food item may contain over 10 of these chemicals, which make it hard to pinpoint the exact foods which may be triggering your migraines.  

However, it is still wise to try your best to avoid foods that are well known food triggers the best you can. Here is a list of usual suspects you might want to look out for: 

 Common Food Triggers:

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1. Chocolate 

According to Migraine Buddy users, 15% have recorded chocolate as one of their triggers. This could be due to the fact that chocolate usually contains traces of caffeine and beta-phenylethlamine which can trigger headaches for certain people.

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2. Caffeine

Caffeine can be a foe or friend to someone who suffers from migraines. According to Migraine Buddy users, caffeine is in the top 10 most common effective non-drug migraine reliefs! This definitely doesn’t come as a surprise when caffeine is one of the active ingredients in many headache medications. However, interestingly, 7% of Migraine Buddy users have also recorded ‘Caffeine’ as a migraine trigger. 

Here are what some Migraine Buddy users had to say: 

“I find coffee and soda work wonders when I have a migraine. I normally have the coffee if I feel an attack coming on and a soda when I have a migraine as the coffee makes me feel sick.” - A

“I find it is a short term friend in assisting DURING or at the onset, but in general, complete removal of caffeine from the diet has an overall beneficial effect. Caffeine is both a vasoconstrictor and a nervous system stimulant. Sensitive individuals can get into trouble with rebound and withdrawal issues.” - J

“I have to avoid it! Totally a foe for me” - Sarah

“It sometimes helps me find relief but I can’t take too much” - E

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3. Alcohol

15% of Migraine Buddy users have also previously recorded that alcohol was one of their triggers. Alcohol is said to be one of the causes for dehydration, a vital contributing factor in headaches. 

The list of migraine triggering foods unfortunately doesn’t end with these 3.

Continued list of migraine triggering foods:

  • Beans 

  • Corn 

  • Onions  

  • Tomatoes 

  • Dairy products 

  • Banana 

  • Aged Cheese 

  • Meats 

  • Alcohol 

  • Processed Foods 

Aside from avoiding such foods, it could be wise to pick up some healthy lifestyle habits which include: 

  • Having a regular sleep cycle 

  • Not skipping meals  

  • Regularly tracking your food intake and doing an elimination diet or food coaching program

  • Reducing the amount of “screen time” each day

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