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Making Sense of Your Migraine: Can Food Be a Factor?

Anyone that has experienced migraine headaches knows how debilitating they can be. Twenty percent of Americans suffer from migraines, and women are 3 times more likely to experience these headaches than men according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you may have asked yourself, “What’s causing this pain?”

A migraine is a headache of varying intensity that can cause throbbing or pulsing, and may be accompanied by one or more of the following:

  • Visual disturbances (flashes of light, blind spot)

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells

  • Tingling sensation in arms or legs

  • Difficulty speaking

The tough thing about migraines is that there are many possible causes. These contributing factors can include, but are not limited to, hormonal changes, stress, lack of sleep, medications, and sensory stimuli. It’s also possible that some foods that you’re eating are contributing to your migraine headaches. The following list contains some foods, food additives, vitamins and minerals that are suspected, but not proven, to trigger migraines in some people.

  • Caffeine

  • Benzoic acid (preservative)

  • Histamine (in red wine)

  • Nitrates (in processed meats)

  • Tyramine (in aged cheese, processed/cured meats, fermented foods)

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (vitamin B12 and magnesium)

  • Alcohol

It’s important to note that possible migraine triggers are not limited to the items contained in this list. It’s also likely that several factors contribute to migraines. If you believe that your migraines are caused by something in your diet, you may want to consider keeping a detailed food journal for several weeks to help identify possible triggers. When keeping this journal, write down everything you ingest on a daily basis, including foods, beverages, alcohol and supplements. It is also a good idea to keep track of details such as time of day, quantity, and specific details of food product (for example, specific type of cheese). Finally, keep track of the occurrence and timing of your migraines as well.

If you experience migraine headaches, consider speaking with your doctor or registered dietitian. Your Health Care Provider may be able to identify specific triggers and possible treatment plans, and hopefully provide you with some relief.

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