Recently a Belgian doctor promised that you can get rid of complaints such as headache by adjusting your diet. The Nutrition Center then strongly advised against experimenting with food itself, as this could lead to life-threatening shortages. In their eyes it is better to hire a dietician. For the stubborn ones among us, we still list what you could do with food to reduce the risk of headache and migraine.
According to studies, up to 60% of people suffering from migraine report that food can provoke an attack ( 1 ). In some cases it is more than one food item
Food that can provoke a headache or migraine:
Tyramine- rich foods – According to researchers, foods that are rich in tyramine are notorious ( 3 , 4 ). Foods with a lot of tyramine are foods that are old, smoked, dried or pickled, such as cheese, salami, sauerkraut and tempé. Although red wine contains a small amount of tyramine, this drink can also cause a headache for many ( 5 ).
Chocolate – Chocolate is often reported as a migraine trigger ( 6 ). Some people only suffer from chocolate when combined with other foods ( 7 ). The exact culprit is not yet known, but researchers suspect it may be due to plant substances in chocolate, such as phenyl ethylamine or flavonoids.
Coffee – Usually coffee is used for headaches, but can also cause headaches in itself as a reaction to withdrawal symptoms of caffeine ( 8 ). Caffeine narrows blood vessels in the brain. Without caffeine, your blood vessels dilate again. The increase in blood flow can lead to a headache. It is important to drink enough water in addition to coffee ( 9 ).
Alcohol – It is well known that alcohol can cause a headache. Scientists endorse this, but do not yet know the precise mechanism of action behind it ( 10 , 11 ). Dehydration will probably be a part of this, but there may be more factors and roles.
Histamine – This is a breakdown product of the amino acid histidine. We therefore call it a biogenic amine. Fermented food is often rich in this, such as sauerkraut, miso, soy sauce, beer and wine. Yeast extract, marmite, fish and dry sausage also contain histamine. Also some healthy vegetables and fruits such as avocado, spinach, tomato, banana, grapes and raspberries. According to studies, people who are sensitive to histamine are advised to avoid this substance in the diet, which can reduce headache ( 12 ). Histamine is normally broken down in the intestine by the DAO enzyme (diamine oxidase). A sensitivity to histamine may indicate a problem with the intestinal flora or the liver.
Deep-fried and fatty foods – Some people may get a headache from oily or fried foods ( 13 ). Fatty food can stimulate inflammatory reactions in the body, causing the veins to expand. When this happens in the head, it can cause headaches. For some, a low-fat vegetable diet may reduce headache ( 14 ).
Nitrate or nitrite – Nitrite is added to some meat products, which can give headaches to some ( 15 ). Healthy foods with a lot of nitrate can also cause a migraine attack in some people ( 16 ). Vegetables that are rich in nitrates include beets, celery, arugula, radish and spinach. People with a vitamin B12 deficiency cannot properly break down nitrate, or nitric oxide ( 17 ). Nitrogen oxide can again dilate the veins, which can improve sports performance ( 18 ). Nitrates headache is mainly due to supplements that increase nitric oxide in the body ( 19 ).
Not eating and drinking
It sounds strange, but eating nothing at all can also cause a headache, according to researchers ( 20 ). For some, a lack of fuel can cause an imbalance between inhibitory and stimulating neurotransmitters, which can trigger a migraine attack. Many people who drink too little water suffer from headaches as a result ( 21 ). It is very important for this group to ensure that the body is well hydrated.
More than nutrition
In addition to nutrition, many other headache triggers are also known. There are people who can get a migraine attack from strange or strong smells ( 22 ). Therefore, always be modest when you bring a scent to yourself. Bright light such as the sun can also cause a headache attack in some people ( 23 ). For these people it is always handy to have sunglasses within reach. Furthermore, changing the weather leads to an attack by some people, due to sensitivity to thunder and lightning ( 24 ). Hormonal fluctuations can also lead to headaches, something that primarily affects women ( 25). Hormones can influence the blood circulation in the brain, which increases the risk of an attack. In addition, it is also known that heavy sports and training can lead to headaches and migraines in some people ( 26 ). Especially with strength sports, neck pain can occur, causing cramping and reduced blood flow to trigger an attack. It is also very important to get enough sleep. A lack of sleep greatly increases the risk of migraine ( 27 , 28 ). Finally, for many people, stress is a risk factor for getting headaches and migraines ( 29 , 30 ).
There are also known supplements that can work against headaches. One of the best known is riboflavin, or vitamin B2 ( 31 ). 400 mg daily can be effective. For continuous use, 100 mg twice daily is probably also effective. In addition, magnesium can be interesting in the fight against migraine ( 32 ). 400 – 500 mg daily should be sufficient. An unexpected supplement that can reduce headache is vitamin D ( 33 ). Vitamin D is probably effective because it can calm down inflammatory processes. CoQ10 can also reduce and mitigate migraine attacks ( 34). CoQ10 can help reduce inflammation and release energy in body cells. Positive effects have also been reported with the use of melatonin ( 35 ). Researchers saw that melatonin works better than a placebo and at the same time has fewer side effects, compared to regular medicines.
Headache and migraine
Although the terms headache and migraine are often used interchangeably, these two are not the same. With headache there is of course pain in the head, but with migraine there is more going on ( 36 ). Headache is one of the many symptoms of migraine. In the event of a migraine attack, extreme sensitivity to sounds, smells and light can occur. An aura can also appear, which can lead to changes in vision, touch and speech. Many people with migraine see flashing lights and zigzag patterns in the image. For some, the view is completely lost. Often nausea occurs and sometimes surrender occurs. That is clearly something other than just a headache. Migraine is now also referred to as a brain disease (37 ). Migraine only occurs above 30 in many people and is more common in women ( 38 ). Around 2 million people live with migraine in the Netherlands ( 39 ).
Much to learn
We still do not know everything about the development of headache. A new theory is that headaches can be triggered by certain areas in the brain becoming too hot ( 40 ). Temperature fluctuations in the brain could therefore cause a headache. What can give you a headache is a personal search. A few years ago a British cook discovered by accident that dairy was the source of migraine for her ( 41). It can be different triggers for everyone. It is often also a combination of stress and little sleep, combined with certain foods. That makes it a difficult search, but definitely worth paying attention to. Once you know what the risk factors are for you, headaches may be a thing of the past