Fighting Food-Related Headaches
Are your favorite snacks to blame for migraine headaches?
Beware of "Brain Freeze"
Most of us have experienced that brief stab of severe pain that
comes with eating or drinking something too cold. Previously called ice cream
headaches or "brain freeze," this sensation usually lasts less than
five minutes. This type of headache is usually felt in the middle of the
forehead, but for migraine sufferers this pain can be felt in areas that are
affected during a migraine. For people prone to migraines, it can be the
beginning of a full-fledged attack.
"You eat ice cream or another cold food and the next thing
you know, boom, a migraine starts," Galvez-Jimenez says. According to The
Cleveland Clinic, more than 90% of migraine sufferers say they have to be
cautious with cold foods and drinks.
Don't Skip Meals
While many people have sensitivities to particular foods,
others develop headaches when they don't eat.
"Anything that disrupts your body's normal stability can
cause a headache," Diamond tells WebMD. That includes oversleeping and
"It's always important for me to eat the right foods at the
right times," says marketing manager Jeff Patton. "That means eating
lots of protein in the morning and having lunch on time. If I skip either meal,
I get a headache. Then I get crabby and I can't focus, so it affects my work.
It's extremely annoying."
But recognizing the link between headaches and skipped meals
doesn't make it any easier for Patton to eat according to a regular schedule.
"I still get headaches every day," he says, "because I get
distracted at work and I don't eat right."
Patton's headaches usually disappear soon after he eats, so he
rarely turns to aspirin or other medication. "By eating, I treat the cause
rather than the symptom," he says.
Identify Your Triggers
If you get headaches when you skip meals, the connection may be
obvious. But if your headaches start after meals, it can be difficult to
determine exactly which foods are to blame.
Diamond suggests setting aside some time for an experiment.
"Isolate a time, eat the food in question, wait for a reaction, repeat and
see if it happens on more than one occasion."
That's how beauty consultant Nicole Ehrhart pinpointed her
triggers, including cheese and chocolate. "I've been a headache sufferer my
whole life," she tells WebMD. "Through trial and error, I figured out
which foods to stay away from."
Keeping a headache diary is another way to spot connections
between your headaches and your diet. "One of the first things I tell my
patients is to do a food diary," Galvez-Jimenez says. "Map out when
your headaches start and what you have eaten that day and the day
This more structured approach helped Gerhardt zero-in on
processed meats and cheese. "For six months, I made notes about what I ate
at every meal, particularly on days when I got a headache. It's not an exact
science, but I started to see some patterns. Now that I know which foods to
avoid, I get fewer migraines."