According to Dr. Sara Crystal, clinical neurologist and Cove Medical Director, certain foods and additives are more likely to trigger headaches in a higher percentage of migraineurs, but even among individuals, other factors like stress, hormonal changes, and lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of an attack after consuming a known trigger.
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Women tend to have severe headaches more often than do men. Some scientists believe that women have more migraines than men because estrogen changes that occur naturally in women affect the brain chemical serotonin. When estrogen levels fall, so do serotonin levels, which might bring on migraine headaches.
One subject that all headaches seem to have in common is that certain behaviors or actions can set them off. Some of the assumed causes of headaches like migraines include:
• Certain chemicals.
• Other environmental factors.
• Hormonal changes.
Food remains a common trigger for many people’s migraine headaches. Let’s take a closer look at some unique foods that are infamous for triggering migraines. If you are concerned that one or more foods or drinks may be causing your migraine headaches, please be sure to keep a food diary to assist in identifying your food and drink triggers. Some foods to avoid if you have headaches are:
• Ripened cheeses, including cheddar, brie, Camembert, Emmentaler, and Stilton. Some cheeses that are less likely to cause problems to include American, cottage cheese, Velveeta and cream cheese.
• Dried herring or pickled herring.
• Chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t contain chocolate, so it should be safe to eat.
• Any food that is pickled or fermented. This food also includes some types of marinades, too.
• Sour cream. A person should never eat more than ½ cup of sour cream per day.
• Peanut butter.
• Sourdough bread and any bread or crackers that have chocolate or cheese flavoring in them.
• Legumes such as fava beans, snow peas, lima beans, and broad beans.
• Food products packaged with monosodium glutamate (MGS). Foods famous for containing MSG include soy sauce and meat tenderizer.
• Such fruit-based foods as avocados, red plums, figs, raisins, and papayas.
• Any type of citrus fruit. Some dieticians recommend that a person eat no more than ½ cup of citrus fruit per day.
• Bananas should also be limited to ½ cup per day.
• Large amounts of caffeinated drinks such as soda, cola, coffee, and tea drinks.
• No more than two six-ounce brewed cup of coffee or tea should be drunk daily. You shouldn’t consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine from any source per day.
• Processed meats like sausage, pepperoni, salami, bologna, summer sausage, and hot dogs.
• Chicken liver pate.
• Alcohol and alcoholic drinks. Don’t drink more than two regular sized alcoholic beverages per day to keep headaches away.
If you tend to have a migraine at or about the time of your menstrual period, be sure to avoid eating or drinking any of the foods mentioned above to reduce your chances of a debilitating headache. Once you’ve kept a food diary for a month or so, you should get a good clue about which foods tend to trigger your migraine, cluster or tension headaches. Then you’ll be able to avoid these foods and have fewer headaches.
Some foods can trigger a headache right away, while with other foods the headache can be delayed up to 24 hours. If you think a specific food is triggering migraine attacks, you may try to avoid that food for a month. Monitor your symptoms to see if they improve. Be careful about trying extremely strict diets.