If you’re one of the millions of people living with migraines, you know how they can disrupt your daily life and cause you to feel miserable. Although the exact cause of migraines is unknown, hormones, stress, and dietary factors may all play a role.
Board-certified neurologist Timothy Ownbey, DO, and the team at Neurology Specialists of Albuquerque specialize in treating neurological conditions, such as migraines. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but we do know that brief changes in brain activity that affect blood vessels and nerve signals are involved.
Managing migraines requires close examination of a combination of potential contributing factors, including what you eat. Let’s discuss how mealtime may bring on migraines.
Some migraines have no discernable trigger. However, for most people, migraines result from a combination of triggers, such as stress and lack of sleep. Many people with migraines report that certain foods trigger migraine attacks, and there’s research to support this.
Tyramine is a natural byproduct found in some foods, particularly those that have been aged and fermented, such as cheese. This substance may trigger migraines in those who are sensitive.
It’s thought that some people’s body’s are less efficient at breaking down tyramine. The resulting increase in tyramine levels is theorized to raise blood pressure and spark brief changes in brain chemistry that trigger migraine attacks.
Limiting foods rich in tyramine may help manage your migraines. Aged cheese is one of the highest sources. Other red flag foods that are rich in tyramine include:
Limiting tyramine-rich foods to see if your migraines improve can help you determine if tyramine is a problem for you.
Dietary histamine is found in processed meat, certain types of fish, cheese, and fermented foods. Additionally, histamine levels in food increase as the food ages. This means food left over in the refrigerator for a couple of days will have higher histamine levels.
The body produces an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO), which breaks down histamine. People with migraines have reduced activity of this enzyme, according to research. This results in higher levels of histamine in the body, which may trigger migraines in those who are sensitive.
Histamine is present in many foods, with fermented dairy products such as aged cheese, yogurt, and sour cream containing some of the highest levels. While it’s impossible to completely eliminate histamine from the diet, avoiding foods that are particularly high in histamine may help with migraines if you have DAO deficiency. Additionally, in patients with DAO deficiency, supplementing with DAO is shown to improve migraines.
Alcohol is a common migraine trigger for some people. Within three hours of drinking, alcoholic beverages may trigger a migraine attack. There are several reasons alcohol is a migraine problem. Certain types of alcohol like red wine are rich in histamine and sulfites, which are linked to migraines. Additionally, alcohol can cause dehydration, a known migraine trigger.
Sometimes it isn’t the food itself that may cause a problem, instead substances added to food can be the culprit. While definitive studies proving that certain additives trigger migraines are lacking, many of our migraine patients report problems with:
If you suspect that you may have a sensitivity to certain food additives, it helps to keep a journal record of what you eat and when your migraines occur. This can help you home in on whether food additives are a problem for you.
Neurology specialists are health care providers best suited for diagnosing and managing migraines. Everyone is different, and finding effective solutions for migraines often requires time and patience. With the proper care and a migraine expert on their side, most patients are able to improve their migraines, which can improve overall quality of life.