Living With Migraine: Diet and Migraine

Studying your diet and making a few changes could help reduce migraine attacks

When it comes to living with migraine, sometimes you are what you eat. It’s not uncommon for migraine patients to notice that their symptoms  correspond with certain food triggers, however, which  foods or ingredients contribute to head pain varies widely from person to person. Some people report having more migraine attacks after eating processed foods or drinking alcohol, while others have more frequent head pain after fasting. Others don’t have any food triggers at all. Still, examining your eating habits can help you maintain a balanced diet and identify patterns that could help reduce migraine attacks.

Establishing Healthy Habits

While not all people with migraine will find triggers in the foods they eat, everyone can benefit from making healthier choices. A diet of five or six small portions of fresh food throughout the day can prevent migraine attacks in a variety of ways. It can prevent hunger-based headaches, reduce the likelihood of eating multiple, potentially triggering chemicals or foods at once, and help avoid weight gain, another possible factor that may increase the frequency of migraine attacks. Once you’ve established healthy habits, you’ll have a neutral baseline to compare against foods you suspect may be triggering your migraine. Any observations you can make about how your diet relates to your migraine attacks can be useful in helping you understand and possibly reduce your symptoms.

Isolating and Identifying Triggers

If you’re committing to taking a close look at your possible food triggers, there are steps you should follow to get the best results. Test foods one by one—don’t cut out all of your potential trigger foods at once or for an extended period of time. This can cause stress, which can compound your symptoms, and also makes it more difficult to determine which food, if any, triggers your migraine attacks. Use a headache diary to keep track of any changes you are making to your diet, and note how severe and frequent your headaches are, and which foods you were eating or avoiding when they occurred. You should also record how your headaches respond to treatment during this time. For any single food to qualify as a potential trigger, a headache should occur within 24 hours, at most, of eating it. Frequently reported triggers include alcohol, including red wine and beer, artificial sweeteners, caffeine withdrawal, chocolate, processed meats and foods containing MSG, histamine, and tyramine, but you know your body best—so take inventory of any foods you eat often that you suspect may be triggering your migraine.

When Multiple Triggers Overlap

Some specialists report that “many factors,” including food, “may tip the scale in favor of a migraine” when people are at risk of an attack. For example, eating a “trigger food” when you’re already experiencing from other triggers—like being stressed—might increase your likelihood of having a migraine. Experimenting with your diet when you’re already experiencing other risk factors will make it more difficult for you to identify if it was food, stress or exhaustion that prompted a migraine attack, so don’t make major changes if you’re already not feeling your best. Don’t use restrictive diets with children or teens, and don’t use restrictive diets when pregnant.

The Benefits of Studying Your Diet

If you identify a food trigger, you will be able to avoid it, especially when you know you’re facing other factors that can trigger a migraine attack. Additionally, confirming that some foods you may have thought were triggers aren’t connected to your migraines will let you resume enjoying those foods worry-free. Any changes you make that encourage you to eat a healthier, more balanced diet will contribute to your overall well-being and increase your chances of reducing your migraine attacks.

In the end, even if food is not a primary trigger for your migraine attacks, identifying how certain foods affect you and maintaining a balanced, scheduled diet gives you more control over your symptoms and your health. For more information and tips to help you explore how food may affect your migraine, download the American Migraine Foundation’s free Meal Planner today.