Last week I talked about how to stop a headache once it has started. This week let’s focus on how to stop them in the first place. If you suffer from headaches on a regular basis, you may have have heard you should cut out caffeine, chocolate, cheeses, processed meats. No, your doctor doesn’t hate you- but food triggers are an easy fix IF you can identify them.
Here are 5 triggers that could be causing your headaches…
Histamines won’t show up on a food label as they form naturally when foods have been aged, fermented, or stored for long periods of time. So alcohol, tofu, aged cheeses, olives, kimchi, salami etc are big sources. You can find comprehensive lists of histamine containing foods online, but the key with histamines is to go for foods as fresh as possible.
A classic cross-over study on histamines and headaches showed there was a significant reduction in complaints and medication taken for headaches in 33 out of the 45 participants when they cut out high histamine foods such as fish, cheese, hard cured sausages, pickled cabbage and alcoholic beverages. In the other 15, though, there was no change at all.
If you have tried cutting these foods out and have had no relief, no reason to be in pain AND misery- get yourself some chocolate and cheese and wash it down with a nice cup of coffee. I’m still on the side of avoiding the artificial sweeteners and processed meats, but for entirely different reasons.
Tyramine is a well established trigger of migraine and can also cause occasional cluster headaches to take on a more chronic nature. Tyramine is normally broken down by the body, but can be processed poorly by people who are on anti-depressants called MAO inhibitors as well as those who have a history of eating disorders. The list for high tyramine foods largely overlaps that of histamine, but with the seemingly random inclusion of citrus fruits.
Nitrates and Nitrites
Though the amounts of nitrates and nitrites used in foods is relatively small, if you are sensitive to them, you could still end up with a splitting headache. Nitrates and nitrites act as vasodilators which can trigger migraines. Nitrites are found added to meats (used to preserve the red color), whereas nitrates are found naturally in vegetables such as broccoli and root vegetables.
Anti-inflammatory foods. I have a whole post dedicated to these as shifting from a high-inflammatory diet to an anti-inflammatory diet can resist the onset of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. As if that list of maladies wasn’t profound enough, now add to the list- headaches.
The easiest way to make the shift towards a largely anti-inflammatory diet is to stay away from overly processed foods and cover half your plate with vegetables at mealtimes, but you may enjoy this post for a more detailed look.
Cutting out sources of MSG and artificial sweeteners can also reduce frequency and severity of headaches. Dr. Deeya Brooks of OrthoIndy in Indianapolis, IN has noticed a particularly high correlation between artificial sweeteners and headaches in her patients. MSG- once most associated with Chinese takeout- is thankfully being taken out of many restaurants menus. Be sure to ask if it is used in their food prep before ordering, though. MSG is now most often found highly processed salty foods and convenience foods.
I strongly urge people to try whole foods first, but this list would be incomplete if I did not mention the help Magnesiusm oxide supplements may provide. Research suggests a dose of 400 mg a day should minimize headaches. Be warned- this is not a “if a little is good, then a lot must be great” situation. Large doses of magnesium will result in a laxative effect. At that point, you’ve really traded one problem for another, now haven’t you?