Want to stop getting migraines? Avoid these “danger” foods
Anyone who suffers from migraines knows they’re not “just a headache”. Flashing lights, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting – with or without splitting skull pain – it’s no joke. Sufferers experience different symptoms, and have different migraine triggers, from stress and tiredness, to bright (especially flashing or flickering) lights and strong smells.
Food is notorious for triggering migraines, but your danger foods won’t necessarily be the same as the next person’s. That said, there are a few “usual suspects” and some “helpful” foods that can ward them off (or make them less unbearable).
Most migraines are caused by a change in blood-vessel tone – when the vessels stretch or constrict. This makes booze a prime candidate for setting them off, as it expands your blood vessels. Alcohol is also a diuretic (it dehydrates your body), which is another migraine trigger.
Red wine provides a migraine double-whammy. It’s rich in phenolic compounds (very good for your heart, by the way), which can act as migraine triggers. Young, “rough” reds are the worst offenders.
Caffeine’s a complicated one – generally it’s bad where migraines are concerned. A high-caffeine intake – say, more than three or four coffees (or the equivalent in energy drinks and strong tea) can set off migraines in many people.
On the flip side, caffeine withdrawal is another trigger – so watch out if you’re a coffee addict skipping your usual fix or trying to give up the dreaded bean.
And some people (particularly if they don’t drink much coffee) find that a cup helps them recover from migraines. Caffeine is contained in many painkilling medications for this reason.
Neat sugar or very sugary foods cause a blood sugar spike and energy rush that all too rapidly crashes. This roller coaster effect is a notorious migraine trigger – and can cause headaches in anyone.
The scientific jury’s out on this one – plenty of people say cheese triggers their migraines, and it’s rich in the amino acid tyramine, which some research suggests could trigger headaches by reducing serotonin levels in the brain and affecting blood vessel tone. Other studies contradict the ‘tyramine hypothesis’. But the list of tyramine-containing foods does contain many other notorious villains in the ‘migraine triggers’ list – processed meats, pork, venison, avocados, overripe bananas, alcoholic drinks, chocolate, nuts, seeds, and soya.
A lot of migraine sufferers report being sensitive to various food additives – these are some of the main suspects: Monosodium Glutamate/MSG (a flavour enhancer), Nitrites/Nitrates (in cured and processed meats), Aspartame (an artificial sweetener), Tartrazine/E102 (a yellow dye), and sulphites (found in alcoholic drinks, especially wine).
You might be able to eat a small amount of a “danger” food – it’s only when you overindulge that you run into trouble. Also remember that a trigger food may only set off a migraine when combined with another trigger – for example you might find that you can usually drink wine – unless you’re tired or stressed. Then – cue migraine.
Words by MH Nutrionist Carina Norris