If you're one of the 38 million Americans who regularly get migraines, you probably want to do all you can to figure out why. People often blame what they eat. But there's really no proof that diet triggers migraines. Still, experts agree that many things can cause them -- including a particular food.
"If someone tells me that a certain food triggers their migraines, I'm not going to argue with them. They should avoid that food," says Lucy Rathier, PhD, clinical associate professor in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
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Carol Ford is quite certain that red wine is one of her triggers. "I love to drink it, but I usually pay a big price when I do," she says. She's not alone. One out of 3 people who have migraines say alcohol is a trigger.
Noah Rosen, MD, director of the Headache Center at North Shore-LIJ Health System's Cushing Neuroscience Institute, isn't surprised. He says its effects have been proven in studies. "People single out red wine or dark liquors, but unfortunately, any alcohol can be a trigger."
There are many theories about this. One is that alcohol dehydrates you. And it contains chemicals like histamines and tyramine that seem to set the stage for these headaches. But doctors aren't exactly sure why.
Alcohol isn't the only culprit. There's also evidence these two common food ingredients may trigger migraines:
MSG (monosodium glutamate). This is a food additive found in a wide range of processed, packaged, and restaurant foods. It's used to enhance flavor. It's also been shown to cause migraines in up to 15% of people.
Caffeine. If you've ever skipped your morning coffee, you probably paid for it with a raging headache. It's a sign of withdrawal. Some caffeine may be helpful because it eases swelling that can cause migraines. That's why it's often used in pain relievers. "But if you drink more than 120 mg a day and you miss 60 mg, that can precipitate a withdrawal headache," Rosen says.