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Can changes in diet stop headaches, fight acne, or help you sleep?

Sure, you know you're supposed to eat well to live a long and healthy life. But what do we really know about how the foods you eat affect how you feel right now? Can red wine give you a headache, does candy make you and the kids spin out of control, and will pizza really make your face break out?

Yes and no. Experts say that when it comes to eating for everyday wellness, sometimes the myths about how some foods affect health may be more powerful than the truth.

In fact, researchers may never be able to definitively separate the effects of the food from other factors to prove or disprove many of these common myths.

Just take sugar, for example.

"A lot of people think sugar causes hyperactivity, but it's actually the circumstances in which it's given in large doses like at a fun party, Halloween, or a birthday that causes hyperactivity," says Nelda Mercer, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "The hyperactivity link simply hasn't been proven."

'Oh My Aching Head'

Many people avoid also certain foods such as chocolate or red wine because they're afraid it's going to give them a headache.

However, headache expert Seymour Diamond, MD, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, says several studies have unequivocally shown that there is no link between food and headaches. But that doesn't mean the myth still won't hold true for some people, especially those who suffer from recurring migraine headaches.

"I've been doing this for almost 40 years, and I believe people. And people routinely tell us about certain foods triggering migraines," Diamond tells WebMD. "But only about 30% of migraineurs are really sensitive to anything."

The National Headache Foundation recommends that people who experience recurring headaches keep a diary of foods eaten before migraine attacks to determine any possible food sensitivities. Foods frequently reported as headache triggers include:

  • Aged cheeses
  • Foods containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate
  • Anything pickled, fermented, or marinated
  • Processed meats containing nitrates
  • Aspartame (artificial sweetener)

Diamond says alcohol can also trigger a headache, as anyone who has suffered a hangover after drinking too much can attest. That's because alcohol causes blood vessels to widen, causes dehydration, and even can decrease your blood sugar, all of which can lead to a headache. In addition, certain drinks that have been aged or processed in a flask or barrel, such as red wine, may also contain certain byproducts that can cause headaches.

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