Migraine headaches are a very serious problem, and a lot more common than you’d think. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, they’re the world’s 3rd most prevalent ailment, one that affects roughly 25% of American households. It’s estimated that 12% of the U.S. population suffers from migraine headaches, with women suffering three times more than men. Someone goes to the ER every 10 seconds for head pain, and roughly 1.2 million hospital visits per year are attributed to acute migraines.
The problem with migraine headaches is that doctors aren’t quite certain what causes them in the first place. It’s understood that genetics, environmental factors, stress, and neurochemical imbalances all contribute to migraine headaches, but the underlying cause behind them is unknown.
Did you know that the food you eat can play a role in triggering a migraine attack? According to a 2016 study, there are a few simple, commonplace foods that may be the culprit behind your latest migraine.
A team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine compiled information from over 180 research studies into migraine headaches, and the role diet plays in triggering them. The information was published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, and explains a few of the dietary habits that are causing migraines.
Caffeine withdrawal, not consumption, is among the most common migraine triggers. Excessive amounts of caffeine (more than 400 mg per day) is also a contributor to migraines. The flavor enhancer MSG, found in so many artificial foods, can bring on migraines. The MSG in soups is particularly potent.
The nitrites found in processed meats can also increase the risk of migraines. According to the data gathered, 5% of migraine sufferers had an increased chance of headaches on the days they ate nitrite-rich foods like ham, bacon, lunch meat, and sausage. Alcohol like vodka and red wine have a high histamine content, which increases the risk of a migraine attack. Celiacs are more likely to suffer migraines when consuming gluten.
However, the study also gives hope for diets that will reduce headaches. Diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (and low in Omega-6 fatty acids) can lower migraine risk. Both low-carb and low-fat diets can prevent migraines. As a bonus, they also improve your health, promote weight loss, reduce cardiovascular disease, and improve insulin sensitivity.
To be healthy and reduce the risk of migraines, it’s time to make a few changes to your diet. 1) Cut back on caffeine, alcohol, nitrites, and MSG. If you’re a celiac, avoid gluten. 2) Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids, and try a low-carb diet (low-fat diets can lead to weight gain and insulin problems). Just these small changes may make all the difference in your risk of migraine attacks.
1. Vincent T. Martin, Brinder Vij. “Diet and Headache: Part 1. Headache“,The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 2016; 56 (9): 1543 DOI: 10.1111/head.12953.