Diet can make a difference. Some research and case studies have shown that strict adherence to a diet involving elimination of all possible food-related headache triggers (such as chocolate, nitrite-preserved meats, aged cheese, broad beans, MSG, and excessive salt) can lead to significant improvement in patients who do not respond to other treatments. Subtle drops in blood sugar levels can trigger headaches. (Click here for a more complete list of food triggers)
Prevention steps include eating regularly, not skipping meals, as well as experimenting with eating multiple small meals during the day at intervals of three to four hours. A recent study completed in Oregon found a 50% improvement in migraine frequency, with significant reductions in headache duration and severity for patients who participated in a program that emphasized strict dietary regulation and avoidance of all known environmental triggers. The medication program in this study was very conservative and avoided the use of analgesics with rebound potential as well as prescription preventive medications.
What foods can provoke a headache?
People with headache do not suffer from headache because of food-related issues. Even when a particular food does seem to provoke a headache attack, it may be an "inconsistent trigger" which is not always capable of provoking such an attack. It is widely believed that internal biological factors more than anything else determine when and if a headache attack will occur. Therefore, external trigger factors, such as foods, may be more or less likely to provoke an attack, based upon internally determined vulnerability.
The foods listed below have been known to trigger attacks based upon this vulnerability.
Food Triggers for Headache
|Chocolate||Candy, foods, drinks|
|Sugar (in excess)||Candy, cookies, cake|
|Ripened cheeses||Cheddar, brick, mozzarella, Gruyere, Emmentaler, Stilton, Brie, Camembert, Boursalt|
|Dairy products||Milk, ice cream, etc.|
|Alcoholic beverages||Beer, red wine, sherry, etc.|
|Fruits and their juices||Bananas, plantain, avocado, figs, passion fruit, raisins, pineapple, oranges, and other citrus fruits|
|Vegetables||Onions, pods of broad beans (lima, navy, pea pods), nuts, peanut butter|
|Fermented, pickled, marinated foods||Herring, sour cream, yogurt, vinegar|
|Yeast products||Yeast extracts, hot fresh breads, raised coffee cakes, doughnuts|
|Meats with nitrites||Bologna, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami, pastrami, bacon, sausage, canned ham, corned beef, smoked fish|
|Sulfites||Salad bars, shrimp, soft drinks|
|Monosodium glutamate||Chinese foods, Accent, Lawry's Seasoned Salt, instant foods (canned soup, TV dinners), processed meats, roasted nuts, potato chips|
|Nutrasweet®||Soft drinks, diet foods|
|Caffiene||Coffee, tea, cola (stimulant effect, blood vessel constriction, rebound phenomenon)|