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Frequently Asked Questions About Food Triggers, Migraines, and Headaches

There are many foods that are thought to trigger headaches and migraines. Dietary habits can also play a role -- fasting, dehydration, or skipping meals may also cause headaches. By tracking your headache episodes through a headache diary, you may be able to identify specific foods or habits that trigger your headaches.

 

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What Foods Trigger Headaches and Migraines?

Some of the most common foods, beverages, and additives that may be associated with headaches include:

  • Aged cheese and other tyramine-containing foods: Tyramine is a substance found naturally in some foods. The role of tyramine as a trigger of headaches is controversial; however, some headache experts recommend a tyramine-free diet as a part of headache treatment. Tyramine is formed from the breakdown of protein as foods age. Generally, the longer a high-protein food ages, the greater the tyramine content. The amount of tyramine in cheeses differs greatly due to the variations in processing, fermenting, aging, degradation, or even bacterial contamination. For people who take monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor medications to treat their headaches, it is especially important to avoid all foods containing tyramine, including aged cheeses, red wine, alcoholic beverages, and some processed meats, as these foods can trigger severe high blood pressure.
  • Alcohol: Blood flow to your brain increases when you drink alcohol. Some scientists blame the headache on impurities in alcohol or by-products produced as your body metabolizes alcohol. Red wine, beer, whiskey, and champagne are the most commonly identified headache triggers.
  • Food additives: Preservatives (or additives) contained in certain foods can trigger headaches. The additives, such as nitrates, dilate blood vessels, causing headaches in some people.
  • Cold foods: Cold foods can cause headaches in some people. It's more likely to occur if you are over-heated from exercise or hot temperatures. Pain, which is felt in the forehead, peaks 25 to 60 seconds and lasts from several seconds to one or two minutes. More than 90% of migraine sufferers report sensitivity to ice cream and cold substances.

Do Other Foods Trigger Headaches and Migraines?

These foods have been identified as headache and migraine triggers by some sufferers:

  • Peanuts, peanut butter, other nuts and seeds
  • Pizza
  • Potato chip products
  • Chicken livers and other organ meats
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Sourdough bread, fresh baked yeast goods (donuts, cakes, homemade breads, and rolls)
  • Bread, crackers, and desserts containing cheese
  • Certain fresh fruits including ripe bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, red plums, raspberries, kiwi, pineapple
  • Dried fruits (figs, raisins, dates)
  • Soups made from meat extracts or bouillon (not homemade broth)
  • Cultured dairy products, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt
  • Caffeine found in chocolate and cocoa; beverages such as coffee, tea and colas; also found in certain medications
  • Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners

What Cheeses Have High Tyramine Levels?

The following types of cheeses have been reported to be high in tyramine:

  • Blue cheeses
  • Brie
  • Cheddar
  • Stilton
  • Feta
  • Gorgonzola
  • Mozzarella
  • Muenster
  • Parmesan
  • Swiss
  • Processed cheese

Other foods high in tyramine include aged, canned, cured or processed meats, certain beans (fava, broad, garbanzo, lima, pinto), onions, olives, pickles, avocados, raisins, canned soups, and nuts.

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