Migraines and headaches can be downright exasperating, ranging from a subtle ache to a pulsating pain, often accompanied by nausea, fatigue, and sensitivity to light or sound. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all cause, these discomforting experiences are frequently triggered by various factors unique to each individual.

Unearthing the triggers specific to your body can significantly diminish the frequency of headaches. Remember, there might be multiple triggers at play, emphasizing the need for a strategic identification approach.

Let's explore a documented list of migraine and headache triggers:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy, etc.)
  • Weather/Environmental changes
  • Fasting or skipping meals
  • Dehydration
  • Sleep changes (too much or disrupted sleep)
  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Smoking/Tobacco
  • Certain medications
  • Nutritional deficiencies such as low magnesium and calcium
  • Certain foods and food additives

Most of these triggers fall within the realm of diet and lifestyle, elements you have control over. Let's focus on a specific aspect: foods and food additives.

Unmasking Culprits in Your Kitchen

Not every food triggers headaches for everyone, but there are common suspects worth investigating:

  • Alcohol: Tannins in wine (may interfere with serotonin release) and sulfites as preservatives can be potential triggers. 
  • Caffeine: A double-edged sword, acting both as an inducer and reliever of headaches.
  • Aged Cheese: Tyramine produced during the aging process can stimulate blood vessel constriction, causing headaches.
  • Processed Meat: Nitrates in cured or processed meats may increase nitric oxide, implicated in migraines.
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate): This flavour enhancer is implicated in approximately 15% of migraine sufferers.
  • Artificial additives: Yellow dye #5 and #6, red dye #40, and artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame.
  • Cold/Frozen Food
  • Salty Food: High salt intake can contribute to elevated blood pressure and more headaches.
  • Pickled/Fermented Foods: May contain tyramine.

Understanding whether you react to these foods due to chemical sensitivity, immune response, gut issues, or a combination is crucial. The initial step is identifying problematic foods.

Identifying Your Personal Triggers

The first step would be to eliminate any foods from your diet that you deem unnecessary.  Depending on your preferences, this could be anything with the food additives listed (start looking at those ingredient lists). Eliminating artificial colours and flavours would be a good start.

Next, start tracking your symptoms (headaches, migraines).  You will also need to keep track of what you’ve eaten.  There are many apps available that make this a lot less tedious than it sounds.  Remember, there's a delay (from 4 to 24 hours) between trigger and headache, and not all foods may consistently induce headaches.

Once you have got a list of your possible triggers, you can start removing them from your diet – one at a time. Assess your results.

If you discover that you are triggered by several different foods, you may have ‘leaky gut’ or enhanced gut permeability. 'Leaky gut' usually results from an imbalance in the gut microbiota.  Addressing this involves a specialized strategy, including targeted probiotic strains along with a pre-biotic and supplements that heal the gut lining under the guidance of a functional medicine practitioner.

Embark on your personalized journey to a headache-free life by unraveling the mystery of your unique triggers. Your path to relief begins with understanding and empowering yourself. 

About the Author Sharon Walt

Dr Sharon is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who helps men and women with autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, regain their health and start living life to the utmost again. 

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