Let's face it. Migraines suck. I have experienced a handful of migraines in my life and they are dreadful! My brother on the other hand, experiences or at least experienced them quite often due to his epilepsy. I was recently exposed to some wonderful information regarding natural alternatives to migraine relief/prevention, as well as foods and triggers that many people are most likely unaware of. So, I felt the need to share that information!
As many of you may know, I am currently taking online classes in Holistic Health, focusing on Holistic Nutrition, Herbalism, and Body Care. I am also part of this amazing Green/Natural Blogger Co-Op through the New Hope Network that is filled with wonderful information in regards to Holistic Health, Nutrition, Recipes, and Body Care. It is so encouraging to know that there are many people out there with a focus similar to mine!
Everyday in my Holistic Nutrition class (through ACHS -- which I'm loving, BTW), a lot of the bulk information is a refresher for me, as I have previously taken nutrition classes in college. BUT, the new and exciting information for me is the Holistic aspect of things. What we eat and put in our bodies truly can be a game changer. I never really thought about food being a trigger for migraines, but it makes sense because food can be a trigger for MANY health issues. Food can also be what heals you from various health problems as well (more on that later)!
Light, sound, and weird sleeping patterns are known to be triggers for headaches and migraines. Most people do not think about the foods or lack of nutrient-dense foods they are eating as the culprit. So, what foods or nutrition choices are common triggers for migraines? Some are obvious and others really surprised me! Consuming less of the foods listed below should help decrease the likelihood of getting a headache. Also, finding out what your own triggers are and avoiding them can help keep headaches away!
1. Tyramine-Rich Foods including Aged and Fermented Foods— Aged cheeses such as Gouda, Parmesan, blue cheese, and aged cheddars. Wine, unpasteurized beers, processed/smoked/dried/cured meats, kombucha, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, bananas, most soybean products (including soy sauce and tofu), pickled fish, yeast breads such as sourdough, nuts, and dark chocolate. Avoid foods that are close to or passed expiration date, as well as unpasteurized foods.
This one you can blame on the naturally produced compound, tyramine. According to the National Headache Foundation,
"Tyramine is a vaso-active amino acid found in foods. It precipitates headaches in some sufferers. It is an intermediate product in the conversion of tyrosine (an amino acid present in many proteins) to epinephrine (an active hormone produced by the inner portion of the adrenal gland). Foods that contain tyramine may trigger headaches in migraineurs by facilitating a chain reaction which results in selective cerebral vasoconstriction followed by rebound dilation of the cranial vessels (the most common cause of the throbbing headache pain). This sequence of events is implicated in migraine headache" (National Headache Foundation 2007).
Basically, tyramine is found in a lot of foods that are fermented or aged, overly ripened, or starting to spoil.
2. Alcohol — Certain alcohols are listed above, but alcohol in general causes increased blood flow to your brain, which could result in dehydration and trigger a headache. Some headache sufferers are especially sensitive to red wine, which contains sulfites as a preservative.
4. Caffeine — The withdrawal from caffeine is actually when headaches start happening. If you are used to consuming caffeine everyday and stop, headaches can occur. Consuming a small amount of caffeine can help ward of headaches if it is caffeine-induced. However, consuming too much caffeine can have a counter-effect to that. Foods to avoid: Coffee, Soda, Dark Chocolate. Try green tea instead.
5. Processed Foods — Foods containing MSG, soy, artificial sweeteners, and chemicals. Processed and packaged foods are everywhere! Try integrating more whole foods into your diet as an alternative.
6. Sugar — Sugar in all forms promoted inflammation. Try using stevia instead (I love Now Foods Better Stevia). Better Stevia is a calorie-free, natural sweetener, that does not make you a crash like regular sugar.
7. Sodium — Diets high in sodium can cause dizziness, vertigo, water-retention, and dehydration. If you are going to consume salt, avoid table salt and use sea salt or himalayan salt in its place. You can find himalayan salt at places like Home Goods and even Costco.
8. Miscellaneous Foods to avoid — Onions, citrus, and vinegar.
Dehydration — While rare, I know when I don't drink enough water I get headaches. Every person is different in regards to the amount of water needed every day, but water is essential to good health. Herbal teas are a great way to integrate more water into your diet. A minimum of six to eight 8-oz glasses of water should be consumed daily to avoid dehydration (McClure, 2015).
Irregular Meals — Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause headaches. According to the textbook in my nutrition class, the “seesaw” reaction that takes place when simple sugar is eaten is called the hypoglycemic effect. Over time, this strains the adrenal glands and weakens the body’s resistance to infection" (Peterson, D. n.d.). This is a result of eating foods such as cookies, cakes, and candy, which give you a sudden burst of energy--resulting in not only a crash, but a cycle of sugar cravings. Hypoglycemia can cause migraines as well as many other health issues. An easy fix: Eat small meals throughout the day instead of going long periods without meals. Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods will also help avoid this.
Environmental Triggers — As I mentioned earlier, things like light and sound can definitely be a factor. Being mindful of your surroundings and what you are exposed to are also very important to take into consideration when experiencing headaches.
Lack of Movement — Being sedentary is the cause of many health problems. Being active and exercising releases endorphins, also known as the body's natural pain killers. Regular exercise can not only reduce the intensity of headaches and migraines, but also the frequency (Rathier, n.d.).
Holistic Remedies and Tips for Migraine Relief from Experts:
Holistic allergist, Marc Arnold, MA, Allergy Elimination Center, Boulder, Colorado:
Apply pressure. Similar to acupuncture, noninvasive acupressure focuses on invisible energy lines in the body called meridians. Many revere acupressure for migraine relief because it can unblock meridians and may release pain-relieving endorphins. When you have a migraine, try squeezing the soft, muscle “web” of your hand with your opposite thumb and forefinger for one minute, four times per day.
Control stress. Chronic stress from grief, anger, or relationship trouble manifests physically and can trigger migraines. Tame stress by talking with friends or exercising. Also consider the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT; emofree.com), a type of acupressure that involves tapping your meridians to allow energy to freely flow.
Naturopathic doctor, Lindsey Duncan, ND, drlindsey.com, Austin, Texas:
Improve blood flow. One reason migraines occur is because blood vessels in the brain erratically dilate and constrict. Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) regulates blood pressure and circulation throughout the entire body. Supplement with 450 mg cayenne with breakfast and dinner each day. Also, gently inverting your head can increase blood flow to the brain.
Boost B vitamins. B vitamins feed the brain and nervous system because they convert food into fuel. They function synergistically as a group, so supplement with B vitamins derived from whole foods. For migraine prevention, take 2 ounces liquid B vitamins in the morning and 2 ounces at lunch.
Detox your liver. If your liver can’t filter migraine triggers—like allergens and chemicals—migraines are more likely. Follow a cleansing plan: Avoid artificial sweeteners, and shun fatty, processed foods like fast food, beef, and dairy. Instead opt for raw or gently cooked foods such as bitter, steamed collard greens. Squeeze fresh organic lemon juice over salads—it’s a known liver purifier.
Herbalist, Dean G. Morris, MH, Nebo Health, Springville, Utah:
Take Butterbur. This herb reduces inflammation in brain blood vessels, relieving pressure on surrounding nerves. A standard dose is 50 mg butterbur root extract daily; make sure it’s guaranteed free of a toxic substance called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). If you sense a migraine about to occur, take 150 mg. Side note: Butterbur is also a GREAT supplement for sinus-based allergy relief.
Up your AKBA. If you’re prone to joint pain or stiffness, consider taking AKBA, boswellia’s main active ingredient. Joint pain indicates your body may be overproducing MMP3, an enzyme that breaks down collagen. Collagen is also found in your brain, where it holds blood vessels in place. If collagen degrades, blood vessels can lose tone, causing migraines; AKBA helps maintain collagen. Take 50–100 mg boswellia extract per day. (Look for supplements containing 20 percent AKBA).
Try turmeric. Inflammation in the brain is a known migraine trigger. Curcuminoids, the main compound in the spice turmeric, is lauded for its anti-inflammatory properties. Consider taking 500 mg turmeric per day. Look for supplements with Meriva Phytosome, a proprietary capsule coating that increases curcuminoid absorption by 29 times.
Hopefully you were able to learn something new about migraines! I know I did! Please feel free to share this information.
To sum it up:
According to the American Headache Society, many people do have foods that trigger their headaches, but it’s hard to pinpoint which ones to blame. Their best advice is to keep a food diary and track your headache or migraine activity—then avoid foods that seem to trigger your headaches. Also: Don’t skip meals, stick to a balanced diet full of nutrient-dense foods, drink plenty of fluids, and stay active!
Much of the above is sourced from Delicious Living Magazine articles and references. You can find the original articles here and here.
*Disclaimer: While I am currently studying Holistic Health and Nutrition, I am not a licensed health care professional. These are only suggestions done from research provided to me, as well as much of my own research. Please consult your doctor or health care professional for specific health advice, and use this only as a reference!*
Blumenfeld, J. (2013, July 23). 9 natural Remedies for Migraines. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from Delicious Living Magazine, http://deliciousliving.com/conditions/9-natural-remedies-migraines?cid=nhbc
McClure, M. (2015). Healthy living: How much water should you drink?Retrieved June 22, 2016, from http://info.nihadc.com/integrative-health-blog/healthy-living-how-much-water-should-you-drink
National Headache Foundation. (2007, October 25). National Headache Foundation. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from Headache Fact Sheets, http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/tyramine/
(National Headache Foundation, 2007)
Peterson, D. (n.d.). Nat 101 Nutrition, Herbalism, and Bodycare Part 1
Rathier, L. Effects of exercise on headaches and Migraines. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from http://www.achenet.org/resources/effects_of_exercise_on_headaches_and_migraines/
Shafer, J. (2015, June 10). The top 8 Headache-Causing Foods. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from Delicious Living Magazine, http://deliciousliving.com/blog/top-8-headache-causing-foods?cid=nhbc
Teva Neuroscience Inc. (2007). Tyramine analgesic cough cold fact sheet 07201701. Retrieved from http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/documents/neurology/files/Tyramine%20Analgesic%20Cough%20Cold%20Fact%20Sheet%2007201701.pdf
(Teva Neuroscience Inc, 2007)
Weaver, S. (2010). The Migraine Relief Plan. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from Migraine Relief Plan, http://reciperenovator.com/migraine/