Here is my list of the top ten offending common migraine triggers. They are all food related. I spent hours researching, days really, sifting through all the literature on this.
It is well known that caffeine and chocolate are triggers, but did you know about artificial sweeteners?
Many studies are now saying that only half of all the millions of migraine sufferers have food as a trigger.
So the good news for that half of us, is that if we can completely avoid that food, we can avoid having any more migraines.
If only it were that easy for all of us!
I never thought I fell into the "common" category for migraines, which is why I wanted to study this so thoroughly. But having made this list, I could not be more common as far as food triggers go.
In his book Heal Your Headache Dr. David Buchholz, of Johns Hopkins University, lists the top 10 migraine triggers found in food. From all my added research I have to agree with him, here they are:
1. Caffeine – is found in coffee, tea, colas and certain other sodas. Going off caffeine suddenly is known to be one of the most common migraine triggers.
2. Chocolate – or anything with cocoa. Chocolate is known to contain phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator, and even though the amount is tiny this substance can cause a physical reaction strong enough to trigger a migraine attack.
3. All Nuts - can all be offenders – along with nut butters. Walnuts top the list.
4. Mono Sodium Glutamate - notoriously MSG is found in Chinese food, but it is also found in: seasoned salt, salty snacks, prepared soups, packaged diet foods and even premade veggie burgers. Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins are considered very similar to MSG, so read the labels for HVP as well.
5. Nitrates and Nitrites in lunch meats, deli meats and smoked meats – Dr. Buchholz states that if any of these have been aged, canned, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked or tenderized, it may trigger a migraine episode.
Also, he notes the common preservation treatment of lunch meat and deli meats using nitrites or nitrates is a definite no-no. He says to steer clear of beef livers and chicken livers as well.
6. Dairy products, especially aged cheeses – and foods prepared with cheese. The older the cheese – the worse the trigger. I know, it’s a bit of a bummer that’s for sure! Acceptable cheeses are: cottage cheese, ricotta and cream cheese. He says to steer clear of yogurt as it is becoming one of the most common migraine triggers as well.
7. Alcohol – red wine is the most commonly known and probably the most hated of all my triggers!. Not even half a glass will give me a four day migraine. I used to think there was no such thing as common migraine triggers, so much for that theory!
Vodka is said to be the best tolerated of spirits, but he says to stay away from dark alcohols. A note to avoid vinegars as a fermented product. White vinegar is better tolerated than balsamic is the most problematic.
8. Citrus fruits and vegetables – the most problematic fruits are: citrus fruits and fruit juices, bananas, raisins and other dried fruits preserved with sulphites, raspberries, red plums, papayas, passion fruit, figs, dates, and avocados. The worst offending vegetables include the well known fermented sauerkraut and surprisingly onions.
9. Yeast and freshly baked goods – avoid ALL sourdough products that are freshly baked out of the oven. Yes - sadly that means ham and cheese croissants.
I would like to add gluten from wheat. Gluten intolerance is quickly becoming recognized as a migraine trigger.
10. Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame is found in so many diet products and especially soft drinks. I have a pet hate for artificial sweeteners and aspartame which is why I chose Dr. Buchholz’s book.
Aspartame contains excitotoxins known to affect nerve cells, and I have also read that the body cannot break it down EVER. That’s right even when you die aspartame stays in the body.
On Dr. Mercola’s website aspartame.mercola.com he states it quite strongly:
“Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious including seizures and death. A few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame include: Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.
According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame: Brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.
Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. The book "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," by James and Phyllis Balch, lists aspartame under the category of "chemical poison." As you shall see, that is exactly what it is.”
It’s a controversial subject that one! So, I guess it’s just up to us to use common sense in the end and eat fresh foods, home cooked, or cooked from scratch and using natural sweeteners. No cans, no jars, no diet foods.
It can take some time to learn about your triggers, if they fall outside the norm.
It is important to learn about your unique triggers so you can avoid them. Discover your own warning signs, find effective pain management treatments in my migraine pain management course or ebook. They will both help with coping skills.
Seven out of ten of the most common migraine triggers apply to me from the list above.
According to dictionary.com the word common by definition means:
“belonging equally to, or shared alike by, two or more or all in question”, ...”Pertaining or belonging equally to an entire community, nation, or culture” ... “widespread; general; ordinary: common knowledge” ... “of frequent occurrence; usual; familiar: a common event”.
You get the idea. As I said above, I used to think I was not a common case when it came to food triggers! I would have loved to find my common migraine triggers to be amongst the common foods, but early on all we were aware of was MSG and chocolate. I spent a lot of years trying to figure this part out and am now thankful to know my food triggers.
So, my advice is to learn your early warning signals, they may lead you back to your food triggers. And definitely keep a migraine diary.
Please remember that not all of us have the widely known common migraine triggers! So it makes it hard for doctors to help us determine them. We will need to be our own detectives, in may cases, in this area.
Studies now show that combining traditional mainstream medications with alternative therapies work best to reduce and control migraines.
This combination works for me, give them a try.
Common Migraine Triggers: The Top 10 Offending Foods