Few people want to experience headaches or migraines, and most will try to avoid doing things that may start an episode. Yet some people may not be aware of the trigger connection between headaches and consumables. Certain foods and drinks may start the process that results in headache or migraine pain.
It’s not only these foods that start the process. The way you eat can also contribute to the triggering process. Skipping meals, fasting, and dehydration are all habits that may have an impact beyond your digestive system.
Keeping a headache diary may be helpful for recognizing foods and beverages that start the pain process. Connecting these patterns through written notes is far more helpful than trying to remember if you had caffeine prior to that headache several weeks ago.
Start by making a note every time you’re distracted by the pain of a headache or migraine, recording the things you ate and drank prior to the episode, as well as anything unusual about your eating habits. As your log grows, you may find that some of the following known triggers are a problem for you.
Caffeine and headaches
Caffeine is hard to pin down as a headache trigger, since, for some people, it can relieve some types of headaches, or you may experience pain as you withdraw from caffeine’s effects. The volume of conflicting research data suggests that reaction to caffeine is highly individual. Different levels of caffeine consumption also create contradictory effects among research patients.
Therefore, tracking both the type and amount of caffeine you have in your headache diary may be helpful to pinpoint the right levels for you.
Nitrites, nitrates, and MSG
Certain food additives can trigger headaches and migraines. Nitrites and nitrates are preservatives that dilate blood vessels and create pain for some people. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a flavor enhancer common in Asian foods, including soy sauce, and some people have a sensitivity to its effects, one of which contributes to headaches. MSG may be hiding on food labels under the words, “all-natural preservatives,” “hydrolyzed fat,” and “hydrolyzed protein.”
The proteins in aged high-protein foods, such as some types of cheese, can break down into other substances, one of which is called tyramine. If you take monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor medications, avoiding tyramine is crucial. Cheeses such as cheddar, Brie, blue cheese, Parmesan and feta can have high levels of tyramine. Generally, the longer a cheese is aged, the higher its tyramine level will be.
Alcohol has several ways it can trigger headaches. Blood flow to the brain climbs as you drink, which may cause headaches through metabolized byproducts. Sulfites, a known headache trigger, are sometimes used to preserve wine. Also, alcohol can contribute to dehydration, which has headaches among its symptoms.
Don’t blame your ice cream or frosty drink for that headache. It’s the temperature, rather than the food, that’s causing the brain freeze. For most people, a cold-induced headache lasts briefly, rarely more than a moment or two, but pain from eating or drinking cold things too quickly could trigger a migraine episode, if you’re prone to them.
When headache pain negatively affects your life, contact Family Acupuncture and Wellness. We’re headache specialists and we can help you find the cause of unknown headaches, as well as treating the pain you experience. Call or click today.