Specific foods, environmental allergies, or even intolerances can be the underlying cause of migraines. Read more below to see if these maybe one of our triggers.
What are common migraine food triggers?
It is estimated that 12-16% of people in the United States suffer from migraines. Migraine headaches are often described as a “headache on steroids.” Common symptoms are mild to severe throbbing and pain in the head often worsened by light, motion, and noise. Migraines can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Migraine headaches are often debilitating, prohibiting people from working, exercising, or doing things they enjoy. Triggers for migraines include hormonal changes, stress, tight upper back muscles, lack of sleep, low blood sugar, and head trauma. Certain foods can also lead to a migraine.
The underlying cause of migraines
Specific foods, environmental allergies, or even intolerances can be the underlying cause of migraines. Certain identifiable foods can trigger migraines for anyone due to the compounds they contain. These compounds include tyramine, histamine, phenylethylamine, and phenolic compounds; they are “vasodilating” substances, meaning they act on the blood vessels in the body (Gaby, 2011). When a person eats food that has these compounds, it may trigger a migraine because of how the body responds. Of the vasoactive substances, tyramine is the most common culprit. Tyramine is a naturally occurring monoamine derived from the amino acid tyrosine.
So what is it about these compounds that can trigger migraines?
Common foods that contain these vasoactive substances are quite delicious: chocolate, cheese, citrus, and alcoholic drinks (mostly red wine). Chemically speaking, when we eat chocolate, for example, enzymes in our body help break it down and metabolize it. These enzymes are monoamine oxidase and phenol sulfotransferase (PST). People sensitive to citrus, red wine, cheese, and chocolate may have a deficiency in their ability to metabolize the compounds in them, thus leading to migraine symptoms. People with lower platelet PST activity also tend to have an increase in migraines.
What do the studies say?
One study found that only 13% of migraine sufferers became symptom-free after simply avoiding the most common migraine triggers (cheese, chocolate, citrus). This finding suggests that other hidden food triggers may also contribute to migraines (Grant, 1979). Again, finding the cause (that is, learning what is fueling the fire) is the key to migraine treatment.
What are some foods to AVOID that contain tyramine?
Specific foods that contain tyramine or histamine include anything aged (such as aged cheeses), cottage cheese, meats, cured meats (hot dogs, salami, pepperoni), nuts, beans (fava beans), fermented soy products, alcohol (specifically red wine), and fermented beverages. If you suffer from migraines, avoid these common food triggers. They may be contributing to or even causing your migraines.
At Starting Point Acupuncture & Wellness, Dr. Heintze specializes in the treatment of chronic pain and migraines. Give our office a call today, (425) 686-4498 to see how we can help you put an end to your migraines for good!
Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in Bothell, WA at her practice Starting Point Acupuncture. She specializes in chronic and complex cases and commonly treats neuropathy, fibromyalgia, migraines, autoimmune, and infertility cases. Dr. Ellie Heintze is also the author of the book, A Starting Point Guide to Going Gluten-Free and Keep Calm and Zen Out available on Amazon.
Please consult with your physician before you change your treatment plan.
Gaby, A. (2011). Nutritional Medicine. Concord: Fritz Publishing.
Grant, E. C. G. (1979). Food allergies and migraines. Lancet, 966-969.
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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc
- Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
- Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
- Master’s Degree in Chemistry
Northern Arizona University
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