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Pain Management Health Center

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Eat to Avoid Pain

Many people with migraines find that certain foods trigger their headaches. Keeping a food diary can help you see which foods tend to trigger a headache -- and also find out if avoiding that food helps prevent a migraine from striking.

Hunger and Headaches

If you're prone to migraines, it's especially important to eat regular meals. Studies show skipping meals and fasting are migraine triggers in about half of of the people who have migraines. Skipping meals can cause a drop in blood sugar that may trigger a migraine. Eating balanced meals throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar on an even keel and help keep migraines at bay.

Aim for meals and snacks that pair a protein with a complex carbohydrate (also called low-glycemic index carbohydrates), such as peanut butter on whole-grain bread.

Pass on Alcohol

Certain substances in alcohol, such as tyramine and sulfites, are thought to trigger migraines. Because alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, the effects may be even more intense. Darker alchoholic beverages like red wine are more problematic than lighter colored beverages like white wine. If alcohol is a trigger for you, but you'd like to enjoy it on occasion, ask your doctor about taking preventive medication or choose a beverage that doesn't trigger a migraine. Some preventive medications are prescribed daily and some are given periodically.  

Avoid Deli Meats

Processed meats such as cold cuts often contain tyramine and food additives such as nitrites, which trigger migraines in some people. Headaches caused by food additives are usually felt on both sides of the head (in contrast to a classic migraine, which affects one side at a time).

Processed meats include:

* Bologna

* Ham

* Deli meats

* Hot dogs

* Pepperoni

* Sausage

* Bacon

Ice Cream Headaches

Many people experience that brief stab of severe pain that comes with eating or drinking something too cold. Often called "ice cream headaches" or "brain freeze," this sensation occurs in the middle of the forehead and usually lasts less than 5 minutes. But for people prone to migraines, it can be the beginning of a full-fledged attack. According to experts, more than 90% of migraine sufferers say they have to be cautious with cold foods/drinks.

Avoid Aged Cheeses

For some people, aged cheeses trigger migraines. The culprit may be tyramine. The longer a food ages, the more tyramine it may contain. Cheeses to consider avoiding include:

* Blue cheese

* Brie

* Cheddar

* Stilton

* Feta

* Gorgonzola

* Mozzarella

* Muenster

* Parmesan

* Swiss

* Processed cheese

If you eat any of these cheeses and get a migraine, log this information in your headache diary to help you identify possible food triggers.

Other Food Triggers

Be aware of foods with migraine-triggering additives:

* MSG (monosodium glutamate which is can be labeled as "hydrolyzed vegetable protein," "sodium caseinate," "yeast extract," "calcium caseinate"or "hydrolyzed oat flour")

* Caffeine and chocolate

* Processed foods, such as prepared dinners, frozen foods, and canned foods

* Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners

* Peanuts, other nuts and seeds

* Pizza

* Potato chips

* Organ meats

* Smoked or dried fish

* Sourdough bread

* Some fruits like ripe bananas and citrus

* Dried fruits

* Soups made from meat extracts or bouillon

*Cultured dairy products like sour cream or yogurt

Reduce Fat

Some evidence suggests  healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids may help decrease migraines. Although more research is needed, you may find adding omega-3 rich foods like salmon and tuna to the menu twice a week can help.

Talk to your doctor before starting a new diet or taking any new medications, including vitamins and supplements.

Experiment With Food

If you suspect a certain food or drink is triggering your migraines, try this experiment. Set aside some time, eat the food or drink in question, and record your reaction in a food log. Repeat and see if it happens on more than one occasion. Record the food you ate, the quantity, and any physical reactions. Remember, some foods may not trigger a response until 24 hours after you eat them.  Take your experiment results to your next appointment and discuss them with your doctor or dietitian.

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