Fighting Food-Related Headaches
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
Unlike classic migraines which affects are also triggered by a
substance and are felt on one side of the head, headaches induced by additives
or other substances are usually sensed on both sides of the head:
- Occur within a specific time after substance intake
- Disappears when a substance is eliminated or within a specific time
Monosodium glutamate-induced headaches, previously known as
Chinese restaurant syndrome, occur within an hour after ingestion of MSG and
can cause at least two of the following:
- Pressure in the chest or face
- Burning sensation in the chest, neck, or shoulders
- Abdominal discomfort
Experts continue to debate the effects of MSG, an additive
found in soy sauce, Chinese foods and many packaged foods. "MSG is a big
one," says Galvez-Jimenez.
But Diamond, who is currently executive chairman of the
National Headache Foundation, says new research may show MSG is not a typical
trigger after all.
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.