- A migraine is a severe headache associated with throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.
- Certain food triggers have been linked with migraines, including tyramine, nitrites, MSG, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and caffeine.
- A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you eliminate suspected food triggers and observe the impact on your migraines.
If you struggle with chronic migraines, you know how debilitating they can be. With limited options for effective medications available, many people turn to diet and lifestyle to help manage their migraines.
However, no singular diet is proven to help manage migraines– some people have specific food triggers, but migraines can also be prompted by stress or hormonal changes.
Read this article to learn more about migraine triggers and how a registered dietitian nutritionist can help with migraines.
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine is a severe type of headache involving intense throbbing pain many people find debilitating.
It’s a fairly common condition, with almost 16% of adults in the United States reporting migraines.
Research shows migraines are twice as common in females than males, and occur more frequently in adults between 18 and 44 years old.
Migraines are a complex neurological condition, and its causes and triggers are not fully understood.
However, several dietary and lifestyle triggers have been linked to migraine frequency, duration, and intensity.
Migraine symptoms vary from person to person and can be moderate or severe. Common symptoms include:
There are two primary types of migraines: those with an aura and those without. Approximately 25% of patients with migraines experience migraine auras, which are sensory symptoms that can happen before and sometimes during a migraine.
- Flashes of light.
- Blind spots.
- Tingling in hands or face.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Muscle weakness.
Though more research is needed, migraines are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
A current theory suggests migraines happen due to the release of inflammatory signals that target the nerves in your head and face.
Low serotonin levels are also thought to be involved in migraines, but this mechanism is not fully understood.
Over 75% of people who experience migraines can identify one or more triggers.
The most commonly reported migraine triggers include:
- Stress and anxiety.
- Hormonal changes, such as during menopause, pregnancy, and menstruation.
- Weather changes such as storms, wind, or altitude changes.
- Lack of sleep.
- Certain fragrances.
- Muscle tension or pain in the neck.
- Specific foods.
- Skipping meals.
- Alcohol intake.
- Bright lights.
- Loud sounds.
The Link Between Diet and Migraines
However, not all migraine-sufferers have food triggers– some people are more sensitive to other factors, like hormonal changes.
Migraine triggers vary from person to person and are usually identified through food logs (not medical tests).
There can be a lapse of time between consuming a food trigger and the start of a migraine. Be sure to document the time you ate (and the amount) in your food log to see if it triggers a migraine or not.
These factors make it difficult to give general diet recommendations for people with migraines.
To count as a migraine trigger, a food must result in a migraine within one day of eating it at least 50% of the time.
Compounds in certain foods have been linked with migraines or are commonly reported by people with chronic migraines. Since food triggers vary greatly, it’s possible to have triggers that aren’t on this list.
- Aged cheese.
- Citrus fruit.
- Deli meat.
- Hot dogs.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Soy sauce.
- Seasoning packets.
- Fast food.
- Energy drinks.
- Dark sodas.
In addition to your food choices, meal timing can impact migraines.
This may be because low blood sugar levels are linked with migraines, and skipping meals or fasting for extended periods can decrease blood glucose levels.
Common Diet Changes for Migraines
Because many people with migraines have multiple food triggers, elimination diets are often recommended.
These work by eliminating suspected trigger foods and observing changes in migraine frequency, duration, and severity.
However, elimination diets can often be highly restrictive and make it hard for a person to meet their nutritional needs if followed long-term.
It’s important to do any elimination diet under the supervision of a registered dietitian.
These diets should only be used short-term, liberalizing the diet once specific triggers and portion sizes have been identified.
Migraine diet plans are widely available online.
However, there’s not enough research at this time to recommend specific diet plans for managing migraines.
Here are some of the diets currently being researched:
- Ketogenic diet.
- High omega-3, low omega-6 diet.
- Low glycemic index diet.
- Low sodium diet.
How Can a Nutritionist Help With Migraines?
There are many benefits of working with a registered dietitian nutritionist for migraines.
First, they can teach you how to keep a detailed food and migraine log to identify possible food and lifestyle triggers.
Then, your dietitian can help you safely eliminate the suspected trigger foods for a short period of time and determine if and how much of the foods are okay for you to include in your diet long-term.
If you experience chronic migraines, your dietitian will also give you simple meal ideas and preparation tips to make it easier to nourish yourself on migraine days.
Tips for Finding The Right Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
When searching for a provider, remember that registered dietitians have the education and training to give you evidence-based information about how food impacts migraines.
Look for credentials including “registered dietitian (RD)” or “registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).”
Be cautious of nutrition providers recommending extreme elimination diets for migraines.
The goal should be to identify any food triggers and find the least restrictive eating pattern possible.
Other Treatments for Migraines
In addition to dietary modifications, lifestyle changes can also help manage migraines, such as:
- Regular exercise.
- Adequate sleep.
- Smoking cessation.
- Adequate hydration.
- Avoiding or limiting alcohol.
Medication therapy is a common treatment option for migraines. Some are short-acting medications that can be taken to stop a migraine as it occurs.
Others are used to prevent or reduce the severity of chronic migraines. You can ask your doctor if these medications are appropriate for you.
When To See A Medical Provider About Your Migraine Symptoms?
Talk to a doctor about your treatment options if migraines impact your quality of life or your ability to complete your daily tasks.
A more involved work-up involving a brain scan may be necessary in some cases, like in people with:
- Migraines not responding to treatment.
- Headache lasting more than three days.
- Significant change in the frequency or severity of migraine episodes.
- Neurological symptoms, like changes in speech or muscle coordination.
Migraines are a disabling type of headaches that cause pulsing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea.
Many triggers have been linked with migraines, including environmental, dietary, and lifestyle factors.
Skipping a meal or fasting is a known migraine trigger.
Eating certain foods can also cause migraines, such as chocolate, cheese, deli meat, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.
Working with a dietitian is important to help you safely eliminate suspected triggers from your diet.
How Nourish Can Help
A dietitian can help you identify possible food and lifestyle triggers for your migraines and develop an action plan to address them.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
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