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What You Are Eating Could Be Causing Your Migraines

May 02, 2022

Millions of people worldwide experience migraines. Not every migraine is tied to a trigger. But if yours are, one of the best ways to prevent them is to learn what those triggers are and do your best to avoid them. For some people, that means staying away from certain foods. The underlying cause of migraines is unknown, but hormones, stress and dietary factors may play a role. 

The exact cause of migraines isn’t known but doctors agree that brief changes in your brain activity bring them on. These affect your blood vessels and nerve signals as well. While the role of diet in migraines is controversial, several studies suggest that certain foods may bring them on in some people.

Here’s a look at some of the common foods and drinks linked to migraines.

Food Additives

About 27-30% of those with migraines believe that certain foods trigger them. However, studies suggest some people with migraines may be susceptible to certain foods.

Things put in foods to add taste, color, or keep them fresh, can sometimes trigger headaches. While research studies do not conclusively establish monosodium glutamate (MSG) as a migraine trigger, reports indicate it could trigger a migraine within 20 minutes of eating foods containing MSG. Nitrates and nitrites, which are found in processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meat, might give you a migraine. Once they get into your system, they cause your blood vessels to swell, which can start a headache.

Alcoholic Beverages

In certain people, alcoholic beverages may trigger a migraine within three hours of consumption. Roughly 29–36% of those with migraines believe that alcohol may trigger a migraine attack. When you drink alcohol, you can get dehydrated, which may trigger migraines.

Studies found that red wine was more likely to trigger a migraine than other alcoholic beverages, especially among women. Some evidence indicates that the histamine content of red wine may play a role or it may be sulfites added to keep it fresh. 


Histamine is found in processed meat, some fish, cheese and fermented foods.

Dietary histamine intolerance is a recognized health disorder. It is caused by the reduced activity of diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine in the digestive system. Interestingly, reduced activity of DAO appears to be common in people with migraines. One study found that 87% of those with migraines had reduced DAO activity. 


Caffeine is a double-edged sword when it comes to headaches. In small doses, it can help ease the pain. You’ll find it in many non-prescription migraine medicines. But if you regularly drink caffeine, more than two sodas or two cups of coffee a day, you can get a migraine from withdrawal when you drink less. High caffeine intake seems to trigger migraines in certain people. 

Aged Cheese and More

Approximately 9–18% of migraine sufferers report sensitivity to aged cheeses such as Swiss, Parmesan, cheddar, or Brie. Scientists believe this may be because of its high tyramine content. Tyramine is also found in wine, yeast extract, pickles, olives, certain beans, nuts, chocolate and processed meat products, but aged cheese is one of its richest sources. Levels of tyramine appear higher in people with chronic migraines, compared to healthy people or those with other headache disorders. 

Processed Meat

Around 5% of people with migraines may develop a headache shortly after consuming processed meat products. This type of headache has been dubbed a “hot dog headache.” Researchers believe that nitrites, a group of preservatives that includes potassium nitrite and sodium nitrite, may be the reason why. These preservatives are often found in processed meat. 

Other Culprits 

A few studies have associated artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose with an increased frequency of migraine headaches. One study found that about 11% of those with migraines reported citrus fruits to be a trigger. Wheat, barley and rye which contain gluten as well as products made from them, may trigger migraines in gluten-intolerant people. Anywhere from 2–22% of people with migraines report being sensitive to chocolate. 

It isn’t just what you eat that can bring on the pain. It’s also how often you eat it. Fasting and skipping meals are more frequently reported as headache triggers than even individual food triggers. 

Studies show that certain foods and beverages may trigger migraines. Studies also suggest that migraines may be an allergic response or hypersensitivity to certain compounds in foods, but scientists haven’t reached a consensus on this yet. If you get migraines, a health professional can recommend treatment, including prescription medications. 

Utilizing advanced diagnostic capabilities, such as electrodiagnostic testing, and state-of-the-art facilities to treat and diagnose patients, West Tennessee Medical Group Neuroscience & Spine specialists are committed to finding the cause of disease, tracking its progression and providing treatment. To find out more, or schedule an appointment click here