Crunching numbers at the Congressional Budget Office might give
most of us a headache. But for budget analyst Geoff Gerhardt, the problem is
munching, not crunching. According to his calculations, ham plus cheese equals
a classic migraine.
"It's like being hit by a truck," says Gerhardt, who
has had migraines for more than 15 years. "Four to five hours after eating
processed meats or certain kinds of cheese, I start having trouble with my
vision. Then I get a strong pain in one temple or the other, accompanied by
nausea and loss of balance."
About 1 out of 8 Americans has migraines. They usually begin during the teenage years. After puberty, migraines are more likely to affect girls and women.
Experts still aren't sure what causes these headaches. But they seem to involve a wave of unusual activity in brain nerve cells, along with changes in blood flow in the brain.
Though migraines can trigger severe pain in the head, they aren't simply headaches. They often also cause other uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
Seymour Diamond, MD, founder of The Diamond Headache Clinic in
Chicago, says more than a quarter of migraine sufferers have specific triggers,
including food. "One of the most common triggers is aged cheese,"
Diamond tells WebMD.
Hold the Cheese, Please
The trouble with aged cheese is that it's high in tyramine, a
substance that forms from the breakdown of protein in certain foods. The longer
a food ages, the greater the tyramine content is. For people with a sensitivity
to tyramine, The Cleveland Clinic warns against the following types of
Other foods high in tyramine include processed meats, pickles,
onions, olives, certain types of beans, raisins, nuts, avocados, canned soups,
and red wine.
Doctors concede it can be difficult to avoid all of these
foods. Nestor Galvez-Jimenez, MD, a neurologist with The Cleveland Clinic
Florida, says some of his tyramine-sensitive patients prefer to take their
chances. "They want to drink wine even if they know it will give them a
headache. In that case, I recommend a preventive dose of medication before
dinner." He stresses that patients should discuss this idea with their
doctors before trying it.
Certain food additives, including nitrites and some food
colorings, are also common headache triggers. Like tyramine, these additives
may increase blood flow to the brain causing headaches in some people.
"We don't understand exactly why this happens,"
Galvez-Jimenez tells WebMD, "but it has to do with changes in blood