Nutrition Articles

Common Foods that Can Trigger Migraines

How Your Diet Can Cause a Headache

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Most often you will be able to identify the type of foods or categories of foods that trigger your migraines, as well as those foods that do not impact your migraine condition. Working with a registered dietitian can help with food identification, label reading skills, dining out strategies and appropriate food substitutions for meal preparation while assuring that your nutritional needs are met. 
 
Be Smart about Nutritional Supplements for Migraines
Talk to your health-care provider to discover if any nutritional or dietary supplements would be appropriate to include in your treatment plan.  Such treatment options should only be used under the guidance of the physician managing your care. 
  • The herbal supplements feverfew and butterbur may prevent the frequency of migraines and reduce the severity of the headache. 
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B-2) used in high dosage may prevent migraines.
  • Coenzyme Q10 may decrease the frequency of the migraine but has not been shown to decrease the severity of the headache. 
  • Magnesium supplements may help in some people with low magnesium levels but the research is inconclusive.  
Migraine Warning: Seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the following signs and symptoms that can indicate a more serious medical condition. 
  • The onset of a new, undiagnosed headache pain
  • An abrupt and severe headache
  • Headache with a fever, stiff neck, rash, mental confusion, seizure, double vision, numbness or trouble speaking
  • Headache following a head injury
 
Sources

Camboim Rockett F, Castro K, Rossoni de Oliveira V, da Silveira Perla A, Fagundes Chaves ML,Schweigert Perry ID. "Perceived migraine triggers: do dietary factors play a role?" Nutr Hosp. 2012 Mar-Apr;27(2):483-9.

Evans RW, Taylor FR. "'Natural' or alternative medications for migraine prevention." Headache. 2006 Jun;46(6):1012-8.
 
Gilmore B, Michael M. "Treatment of acute migraine headache." Am Fam Physician. 2011 Feb 1;83(3):271-80.
 
Peatfield RC, Glover V, Littlewood JT, Sandler M, Clifford Rose F. "The prevalence of diet-induced migraine." Cephalalgia. 1984 Sep;4(3):179-83.

Rockett FC, de Oliveira VR, Castro K, Chaves ML, Perla Ada S, Perry ID. "Dietary aspects of migraine trigger factors." Nutr Rev. 2012 Jun;70(6):337-56.

Sun-Edelstein C, Mauskop A. "Foods and supplements in the management of migraine headaches." Clin J Pain. 2009 Jun;25(5):446-52.

Yee AJ. "Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis." Neurology.
1999 Jan15; 52(2):431-2.

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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • SAMASTERS
    I have suffered from debilitating migraines since my concussion at 12ish. They got better when the orthodontist realigned my jaw (that may help for some out there). Then of course body chemistry changes over time and it must have gone back to normal jaw, or something because all of a sudden 3 years ago they came back with a vengeance! holy cow! Any way, my point is that Migraine Support Formula (they have a website if anyone is curious) has really help lesson the frequency and severity but they still come. And when they do, it's crippling. I got off daily meds that were hurting me more on the insides than helping my pain.
    I will take your gluten free comments in to consideration! thank you for that! I will do a vege juicer detox tonight to help my liver because I just had a 'level 10 migraine for 2 days' thats as bad as they get. lotsa stress last week that built up. Also, I'm going to set a goal to do yoga and stress my muscle fibers and relax...those are two things that really need attention right now! yikes.
    I hope some of this helps you as other comments here have helped me. - 9/22/2014 1:22:25 PM
  • I suffered with chronic migraines for years! I finally eliminated gluten from my diet just to see what would happen and they have mostly disappeared! I hate having to be gluten free, but I hate the migraines more! - 8/19/2014 10:08:38 PM
  • JANETEMILY
    I started having migraines in my teens, but no one in my family realized they were migraines; my parents thought they were caused by sinus problems (this was the 70's, not as much research had been done). I don't remember them being caused by any particular food, I believe they were hormonal. I had my first child when I was 25, and never had another migraine after that! - 8/17/2014 5:19:36 PM
  • I take medication every day to prevent migraines, but will have breakthrough migraines if I eat certain foods. Thankfully I have a pretty good grasp of what those foods are, although it took years and way too many migraines to figure out what those foods were. I'm allergic to all UV light, so I have to always wear protective lenses and have protective screens on windows, etc. Even a little bit of unfiltered UV light can cause a migraine like no other. Smells are also a big one for me, so the smell of aged cheeses, perfumes, lotions, cleaners, paint, etc can also trigger breakthrough migraines for me. Migraines are awful and not something I'd wish on anyone. - 8/17/2014 2:47:31 PM
  • MICKSMOM2
    My son has suffered from migraines since he was 3. He's 9 years old now. His migraines come on suddenly, with no warning signs like auras, etc. The really bad episodes cause vomiting, and he has to lie in a dark, quiet room. Once he is able to fall asleep, he is much improved afterwards. We have never been able to find a trigger for his migraines, so it's really frustrating. - 8/17/2014 8:08:24 AM
  • I've had migraines forever. I take medication every day to help quell them. However, if I eat certain trigger foods I will have a breakthrough migraine. Sometimes even the smell of some foods can trigger migraines for me. I wish more people understood how easily migraines could be triggered and could be more compassionate about understanding the effects of migraines. - 5/7/2014 9:47:59 AM
  • IAMFAT5498
    What I have not seen is anyone having headaches every day of their lives. That is what I have had unless I am on some kind of meds. I have tried everything else. My Mother said even as a small child I had headaches. I am now 71 and still have to be on medication and after being on one have to change to - 3/24/2014 2:44:02 PM
  • I disagree with the safe foods under grains. Gluten is a HUGE migraine trigger, which is in all wheat, barley and rye products. If gluten is triggering your migraines you can't have english muffins, bagels or pasta made with wheat.

    Gluten is my trigger. Yeah, its hard, but it's worth avoiding. I haven't had a migraine in 6 months- I was having them 2-3 times week. - 12/14/2013 8:19:45 AM
  • As I've gotten older mine have mostly been just that aura that comes and goes. I got that at mile 11 of my half marathon in October and it was very hard not to tense up and freak out thinking I might be getting my first full-blown migrane in ages.

    Fortunately, the light show grew and disappeared & that was that.

    My granddaughter has just hit puberty and is suffering mightily. But she's a smart girl and is trying to track what she eats and what she does so we're hoping we can find her triggers. - 11/26/2013 7:00:40 AM
  • Suffered from severe migraines for many years but was never able to find a trigger food, but knew bright sunshine on water or snow triggered them.
    Hysterectomy put an end to migraines, but I still occasionally have the "aural vision" that preceded the headache.
    And this winter I had two episodes my friends said were "silent migraines".
    An endocronologist once told me a migraine is really a form of seizure. I agreed since my body quivered inside when I had one.
    Unfortunately some of my children and grandchildren suffer migraines. - 6/20/2013 7:44:37 PM
  • BAMAJAM
    My severe headaches were frequent, and they were torture for me----each one lasting days, along with violent nausea. Menopause was my relief! My doctor said the same "cure" happened to his mother. There is a downside to menopause for some women, but not for me. I am lucky indeed that the change in hormones was my successful cure to this wretched pain--! - 6/20/2013 2:53:25 PM
  • FKBENSON82
    So, this is my first spark people comment, but it's so close to home. I've had migraines and other types of debilitating headaches for as long as I can remember. When I started investigating nutritional ways of treating my boys' Tourettes I became aware of migraine triggers in myself as well. My two BIG triggers are autolyzed yeast extract and red food dye, besides the better known culprits aspartame and sugary foods for a hypoglycemic. I've found just trying to stick with natural/whole foods is best for me. I'm probably the biggest and quickest label reader I know now, mostly because I know just what to look for. Could you possibly include tips on how to detect these triggers for those who are unsure. Thanks for sparking! - 6/20/2013 11:18:45 AM
  • DBRADLEY84
    I have had migraines for over 50 yrs. And I have tried everything under the sun. When I stopped trying so many things that were recommended and were supposedly cures for the headaches , I felt better. I tried too hard to make them work. I was too busy worryinb about what not to eat or do, I was causing the headaches to get worse. I still have the headaches but not as often. - 6/20/2013 10:48:11 AM
  • Interesting, but I see sugar listed as a safe food and as an OK ingredient in many foods. I know many people in addition to me who find sweets to be a trigger. So I know to also avoid any concentrated sugar products.
    - 6/20/2013 10:20:46 AM
  • I have a minimum of 2-6 migraines a month and honestly food is usually not the trigger. I eat wheat all the time, in fact every day for breakfast I eat either Multigrain Cheerios or some form of flake cereal. (Some have thought Gluten was the culprit). I love cheese, especially sharp, so that is all we eat. I choose mustard over ketchup for the calories and it doesn't trigger anything. I don't drink caffeine, it makes me emotional, it doesn't give me migraines. I don't drink alcohol either.

    So, I look at this article and think, "ya ya whatever, doesn't apply the, what else to you have??"

    I know smells bother me, lights bother, so no flashing lights or bright ones right in my eyes.

    So, my search continues. Thanks anyway.

    rumbamel - 6/20/2013 9:45:08 AM

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