Migraine is a common form of headache. About 2 to 10% men and 5 to 25% would occasionally have migraine. Many migraineurs are convinced that certain foods or components can trigger a migraine attack. But is this also true?
Migraine is characterized by repeated attacks from moderate to severe, pounding headaches with nausea and/or vomiting, which get worse with physical activity such as climbing stairs. In addition, there is often light and sound hypersensitivity.
Migraine is caused by a kind of short circuit in the brainstem that can be triggered by stimuli (or ‘triggers’) such as a lack of sleep, menstruation, exposure to bright light or loud music, a change in the weather, and so on. The stimuli that can trigger a migraine attack vary from person to person. These triggers can also change in the course of life. Sometimes a combination of several triggers is needed. And very often there is no clear reason. see also: Migraine
Nutrition and migraine
Many migraineurs are convinced that certain foods or nutritional components can trigger a migraine attack on them. Products that are often pointed out with the finger are:
- Foods containing vasoactive amines (such as tyramine histamine, phenylethylamine) such as red wine, cheese, fish and meat products, yeast products, chocolate, beer, soy milk, seafood, liver, figs, sauerkraut, some beans, onions, etc.
- Foods containing sodium glutamate. This is a
flavourenhancer that is widely used in Chinese cuisine, but also in soy sauce, broth, and in many prepared soups and ready meals.
Glutamates are also naturally found in all kinds of protein-rich foods, such as peas, tomatoes, mushrooms, grains, meat, fish and so on.
- Foods containing nitrite, such as processed meat and fish products (sausages, hesp, salami…).
- Foods containing
, such as wine and red meat. sulphite
- Vegetables that contain a lot of nitrates, such as celery, endive, spinach, lettuce, fennel, kohlrabi, pointed cabbage,
- Some fruits, such as avocado, bananas, citrus fruits.
- Nuts and preparations with nuts (such as peanut butter).
- Processed dairy products such as
- Aspartame, an artificial sweetener.
- Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, cola, cocoa, energy drinks…) and food (e.g. chocolate).
Except for caffeine, none of these foods or ingredients have been scientifically proven to be effective in triggering a migraine attack. This does not mean that they cannot play a role, only this has hardly been seriously researched so far.
Possible mechanisms for the role of nutrition
Different hypotheses exist about the possible role of certain food products and components in provoking or developing a migraine attack.
One of the possible explanations is that it is not the food product that provokes an attack, but that some people in the hours before a migraine attack (in the so-called prodromal phase) are craving certain foods (for example chocolate). If one gives in to this appetite and later on does indeed have a migraine attack, the chocolate may seem to be the culprit, whereas the candy was a consequence of the (beginning) migraine attack.
A food product is often the most visible or tangible factor, while in
A typical example is a migraine attack at the weekend or after a party. This is attributed, for example, to the wine you have drunk or the cheese you have eaten. While the real trigger may be fatigue and lack of sleep, the fact that one waited too long to eat or skipped a meal, the stress, the overly loud music, that one has just had one’s period…, or a combination of all these factors.
The food intolerance hypothesis
It is known that some people may be hypersensitive to some food components, such as vasoactive amines (such as tyramine, histamine, phenylethylamine), nitrite and
Such a pseudo-allergy or non-allergic food hypersensitivity can cause
If you suspect that you have a pseudo-allergy, you may want to consult an allergy specialist doctor.
What can you do yourself?
If you think that a particular foodstuff can trigger a migraine attack, you can avoid this for a while. Then make a note of whether it helps or not.
Remember that if you avoid many foods, you may also be short of nutrients. It is
If necessary, a provocation test can be done. This means that you should not take any preventive medicines for one to two months. Whenever a migraine attack occurs during this period, you should draw up a list of all foods taken in the 24 hours before the onset of the attack. If a particular food always appears, you should eat this food once or twice more. If another migraine attack then occurs, the food can be considered a clear trigger and placed on the list of “products to avoid”.
Dietary habits and migraine
What is certain is that certain (bad) eating habits can play an important role in a migraine attack.
Eating too little by fasting or a diet, or by postponing or skipping a meal.
This can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) and increased serotonin production. This is a so-called neurotransmittor, a chemical that ensures communication between nerve cells and plays a role in depression, among other things.
If the blood sugar level is too low, the blood flow to the brain increases in order to provide the brain with sufficient sugar, so that brain cells can be stimulated and a migraine attack can occur.
Fluctuations in blood sugar levels (for example, by skipping a meal and then suddenly eating a sugary snack, or a pizza after a night out) can also play a role in provoking an attack.
For example, you may think you are getting migraine by drinking red or white wine at a party, when the real trigger is that you haven’t eaten yet, have eaten too late or are just too tired.
We therefore advice
- regular eating (three main meals and two snacks);
- Do not skip meals (e.g. breakfast);
- Do not postpone meals: for example, if you normally eat at 7 p.m., but have to go to a party, so you don’t go to the table until around 9 a.m., don’t wait until 9 a.m. to eat something, but eat something small at 7 a.m.;
- Be careful with sugary snacks and snacks that can greatly increase blood sugar levels.
- Drink too little.
This can lead to dehydration.
To find out which triggers can trigger a migraine attack in your body, and to find out whether nutrition plays a role, you can keep a headache diary for three months. Make a daily note of whether you had headaches, how severe the headache was, how long it lasted, whether it was accompanied by other symptoms, etc. Also record all the events of the day: what you did that day, how you slept, whether you were tense, what you ate exactly (including snacks, sweets…) and when, whether you skipped a meal, whether you drank coffee (or other caffeine-rich drinks) and how much, whether you took painkillers or other medicines, menstruation and so on. Especially the 6 to 8 hours before a migraine attack are very important. Try to record everything that happened during that period as accurately as possible.