According to a 2004 study, migraine headaches affect 12% of the adult population in the United States. Lack of food or sleep, exposure to light, anxiety, stress, fatigue, or hormonal irregularities (in women) can set off a migraine attack. Exercise, relaxation, and avoiding trigger foods may have a role in migraine treatment.
Dietary triggers may affect the migraine process by influencing the release of serotonin and norepinephrine, causing constriction or dilation of blood vessels, or by direct stimulation of the nervous system. Reactions are often within 24 hours after an implicated food has been consumed. Nausea, vomiting, and acute sensitivity to light, smell, or sound may occur.
Suspected dietary migraine triggers include:
• Alcohol such as red wine, champagne, and beer
• Rapidly cutting back on caffeine-containing products such as coffee, tea, and cola can trigger caffeine-withdrawal headaches
• Aged cheese such as cheddar, brie, and camembert
• Bananas, figs, raisins, and citrus fruits
• Ice cream or other foods at extreme temperatures
• Nuts and peanut butter
• Hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, chicken livers, and shrimp
• Packaged potato products
• Onions, pea pods, and lima beans
• Monosodium glutamate and aspartame
One who suffers from migraines is likely not sensitive to all of these potential dietary triggers and, therefore, avoidance of all these foods is not encouraged. Treatment begins with a headache and diet diary.
Depending on how often your headaches occur, you may need to keep the diary for several weeks. By recording foods eaten and the times that headaches occur, if food sensitivities exist, a pattern may be identified. That food(s) can then be avoided to prevent future headaches.
Other lifestyle changes that may prevent migraines include following a meal and snack schedule, exercising, weight loss if overweight, increasing the intake of canola oil and fish from the diet, and after consultation with a physician, use of magnesium and fish oil capsules.