Some people are sensitive to certain chemicals or have allergies to certain foods that cause migraine headaches. One man in particular wrote that his migraine occurred just like clockwork four or five hours after he consumed a ham sandwich with cheese. Apparently, the chemicals in the processed ham and cheese were the culprits to his migraine. He suffered aura, pain at one of his temples, nausea, and lack of balance. What a price to pay just for eating a sandwich.
However, many people suffer migraines for this same reason. Let’s face it. The foods we are consuming today are made with many chemicals and artificial preservatives. In fact, more than a 25% of migraine sufferers have specific triggers, including food. Aged cheese is one of the most common triggers.
The trouble with aged cheese is that it’s high in tyramine, a substance that forms from the breakdown of protein in certain foods. The longer a food ages, the greater the tyramine content is. If you are sensitive to this chemical, you need to stay away from these cheeses.
- Blue cheeses
- Processed cheese
Other foods high in tyramine include processed meats, pickles, onions, olives, certain types of beans, raisins, nuts, avocados, canned soups, and red wine. Some patients have difficulty staying away from all these foods as some of them are actually good for you. If this is your problem, just be prepared with some medicine before you indulge.
What about Additives?
Certain food additives, including nitrites and some food colorings, are also common headache triggers. These additives may increase blood flow to the brain causing headaches in some people. Unlike most migraines, the headaches induced by additives or other substances are usually sensed on both sides of the head. They occur within a specific time after the substance is taken and disappear when a substance is eliminated from the diet or within a specific time thereafter.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)-induced headaches, previously known as Chinese restaurant syndrome, occur within an hour after ingestion of MSG and can cause at least two of the following:
- Pressure in the chest or face
- Burning sensation in the chest, neck, or shoulders
- Abdominal discomfort
Although there is still much debate about the effects of MSG, doctors agree that this additive may be a big issue.
Other Dietary Triggers
There are other foods that can be triggers for migraine sufferers.
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) and other artificial sweeteners; foods with meat tenderizers or yeast or yeast extracts
- Caffeine even in small amounts can trigger a migraine in some people
- Chocolate, cocoa, and foods containing nuts
- Alcoholic beverages especially red wine, beer, and sherry
- Aged, canned, cured, or processed meats such as chicken livers and other organ meats, and sardines.
- Cultured dairy products such as sour cream or buttermilk
- Dried fruits including figs, raisins, and dates
- Breads and crackers containing cheese including pizza
- Smoked or dried fish
- Canned soups, or soups made from bouillon or based with MSG
Food-related migraines are very common among migraine sufferers. If you suspect that your migraine headaches could be the result of certain foods, one way to help identify these triggers is through a headache diary or journal. Within this journal, keep a record of everything you eat over the course of the day. Do this faithfully for about two or three months, also noting any activities, sleep patterns, and other conditions. Over time, this journal will help you see a pattern developing when you get a migraine. You will recognize exactly what triggers your particular migraine attacks and then you can eliminate the offenders from your diet or regimen. This may reduce your headache frequency and severity.