Headaches and the Food Connection -- with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Tension headaches and migraines account for 90% of all
headaches. Now, instead of running for the aspirin bottle, WebMD nutrition
expert Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, offers advice about what foods you can eat to
help prevent and reduce headache symptoms. Elaine joined us on March 29, 2005
to talk about the relationship between headaches and food.
If you have questions about your health, you should consult
your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes
Welcome back to WebMD Live, Elaine. Thank you for joining us today.
It's always my pleasure to chat on WebMD Live.
How did you come across the connection between food and headaches?
The publisher asked me to write a book for the Tell Me What to Eat
series on this topic and I couldn't really say yes until I looked into the
research and what was out there on it. To my surprise, there was a lot of great
information and progress on this subject.
Through writing this book, I met up with a wonderful headache expert from
the Diamond Headache Clinic, Frederick Freitag, DO, who helped me fill in the
blanks that I found in the literature and reviewed my work on the book and was
so excited, offered to write the forward.
How many people suffer from headaches and migraines?
We are talking about more than 45 million Americans seeking medical attention
for severe or chronic headaches. Within this group is a subgroup of people who
specifically suffer from migraine headaches. This is around 18 million people,
some say 23 million. And it's a primarily female condition, migraines. Mostly
women suffer from them.
What foods are linked to migraines? Is it an allergy?
We really don't know exactly how these different foods are triggering
migraines. Some researchers suggest an allergic type of reaction; others
suggest a relationship to the change in blood flow to the brain. So given all
that, these are the types of possible food migraine triggers:
- fasting or skipping meals
- excessive caffeine consumption or caffeine withdrawal
- alcohol, such as red wine and port
- aspartame (NutraSweet) found in some sugar free products
- MSG, found in all sorts of packaged pre-made food products, snack foods and
- tyramine, an amino acid
- certain foods like chocolate, citrus foods and others
- a high-fat diet has actually been connected to migraines
What about sulfites in wines? They are really a pain.
The research didn't differentiate between the sulfites and the effect of
alcohol as the trigger. Some people name all types of alcohol. Some list
reactions to specific types of alcohol: red wine, whiskey, and some say beer.
Some newer research is now suggesting the phytochemicals called phenols found
in red wine may be the real headache triggers.