Migraines are severe, often disabling headaches that can cause throbbing head pain and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and other symptoms. Classic migraines are preceded or accompanied by an aura, which is a sort of “warning system.” An aura may include symptoms such as visual disturbances – flashes of light, blind spots, or blurred vision – fatigue, or tingling of the extremities. A migraine without an aura is known as a common migraine, but can be equally as incapacitating.

If left untreated, the intense symptoms of a migraine can last from a few hours to several days. Some people experience migraines just a few times per year, while others have migraine attacks weekly. More women than men suffer from migraines. This may be due in part to fluctuating levels of estrogen during the menstrual cycle.

Scientists are still researching the exact cause of migraines, but there is a strong association between migraine headaches and vascular instability in the head. Some researchers believe migraine sufferers have platelet or nerve disorders. Another major hypothesis is that migraines are caused by a deficiency of serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a role in pain tolerance. Many migraine drugs are formulated to increase serotonin levels. As with most drugs, migraine prescriptions do not address the underlying cause of the condition.

Lifestyle factors seem to play a role in migraines. Food sensitivities are a common trigger. According to a study in British medical journal The Lancet, avoiding common food allergens results in a dramatic drop in the number of headaches people experience. In the study, 60 migraine patients followed elimination diets excluding wheat, oranges, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, milk, beef, corn, sugar, and yeast. At the end of the elimination diet, 85% of patients were headache-free.

Your best bet is to eliminate dietary triggers of migraines. Common offenders include:

  • Milk (and other dairy products)
  • Peanuts
  • Pickled fish
  • Gluten
  • Hard alcohol, beer and wine
  • Red meat
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus
  • Processed meat (hot dogs)
  • Coffee
  • Aspartame
  • Excessive sodium
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Aged cheese
  • Tomato
  • Soda
  • Soy sauce

Other foods that may play a role in migraines include avocadoes, bananas, figs, raisins, red plums, and raspberries. Food additives have also been implicated in migraine attacks. Avoid MSG, nitrates and nitrites, and artificial food colorings.

In addition to foods, the Mayo Clinic sites several other common migraine triggers including hormonal changes in women, stress, intense or unusual sensory stimuli,  too much or too little sleep, intense physical exertion, a change of weather or barometric pressure, and certain medications, especially oral contraceptives.

Until next time, make every bite count!