Are these Foods Causing Your Migraine?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

June 4, 2021

There are a lot of migraine triggers. Stress. Weather. Irregular sleep schedule. Hormones, lights and odors.

And then there’s a whole laundry list of foods that can trigger a migraine.

But a lot of people don’t always make the association between the foods they’ve eaten and the onset of the headache. That’s because it’s not like they eat something and suddenly have a headache. It can take 12 to 24 hours after eating for the migraine to develop. By then, some people don’t even remember what they ate, let alone attribute it to the migraine.

If you have unexplained migraines, this might be something you want to take a closer look at.

Some of the top food triggers are those that contain tyramine. Certain aged and processed foods contain pretty high levels of it.

Aged cheese is one of the top offenders. This would be your aged cheddar, swiss, parmesan and blue cheeses. The longer cheese ages, the more tyramine it has.

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Red wine is another one, along with beer and sherry. And it’s not just the tyramine. Other ingredients like histamine and ethanol can contribute to the intensity of the migraine.

Cured meats are horrible all the way around. These are meats like salami, bacon, pastrami and sausages. They’re all high in tyramine, salt, nitrate or nitrite. Any of these could trigger headaches in some people. The same goes for smoked and processed meats.

Chocolate contains small amounts of tyramine along with other chemicals which could contribute to migraine.

But tyramine isn’t the only culprit.

Aspartame, which sells under the names NutraSweet and Equal, can generate a migraine. So if you drink a lot of diet sodas this might be the culprit. You can also find it in a lot of packaged “diet” or “sugar free” foods.

MSG (monosodium glutamate) can set-off the throbbing pain, too. Headaches and migraines are the most common side effect of MSG. And you’ll find it in a lot more foods than you would think. Sure, it’s in Chinese foods. But also in seasoning blends (remember Accent®?), canned soups, frozen meals, processed meats and flavored chips.

And caffeine is a double-edged sword. Excessive amounts can lead to migraines. But if you’re used to drinking coffee and stop cold turkey… well, that can do the same thing.

These are all potential migraine triggers that you want to avoid. But other foods can actually help prevent migraines.

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Migraine Safe Foods

Some foods are what I would call “migraine safe”. They’re healthy, wholesome and may even act as a protectant against migraines.

Number one on the list? Vegetables. Yellow vegetables. Orange vegetables. Green Vegetables. Red vegetables. Any kind or color of vegetable you want to eat.

Fresh fruits, especially brightly colored ones high in antioxidants, fiber and water.

Seafood is good, too. The omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help reduce the frequency, duration, and severity. If you eat sardines, herring and oily fish like mackerel you’re getting plenty of omega 3s, and you have a better chance of beating migraines.

Grass-fed beef and lamb or pastured pork. These are great alternatives to cured or processed meat, and won’t leave you with a pounding headache.

Make Sure to Rule Out Other Potential Triggers

If you are still experiencing migraines and haven’t cut out all of the foods mentioned earlier, start keeping track of what you’re eating and when you eat it. Remember, it can take up to 24 hours before the headache appears after eating an offending food. And if you can’t recall what you ate or drank, you may never know.

Also write down when your migraine started and ended.

If you’re not entirely sure your migraines are food-related, it’s also a good idea to keep track of other potential triggers. You can track the weather, your nightly sleep quality, when you take your meds and any activities you participated that might have contributed to the headache. Skipping meals and getting too hungry can also be a problem.

Once you can zero in on what NOT to do, then you can start working what you SHOULD do.

Sources:

Özturan A, et al. The Relationship Between Migraine and Nutrition. Turk J Neurol. 2016; 22(2): 44-50.

Koehler S.M. (1988) The Effect of Aspartame Consumption on Migraine Headache: Preliminary Results. In: Wurtman R.J., Ritter-Walker E. (eds) Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function. Birkhäuser Boston.

Shimada A, et al. Headache and mechanical sensitization of human pericranial muscles after repeated intake of monosodium glutamate (MSG). J Headache Pain 2013;14, 2.

Nowaczewska M, et al. The Ambiguous Role of Caffeine in Migraine Headache: From Trigger to Treatment. Nutrients. 2020;12(8):2259.

Harel Z, Gascon G, Riggs S, Vaz R, Brown W, Exil G. Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of recurrent migraines in adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2002 Aug;31(2):154-61.

Soveyd N, Abdolahi M, Bitarafan S, et al. Molecular mechanisms of omega-3 fatty acids in the migraine headache. Iran J Neurol. 2017;16(4):210-217.

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