Intolerance Lab

Are your Migraines caused by food intolerances?

Do you suffer from Migraines? Unfortunately, they plague many people and can negatively impact on their quality of life quite severely. We are going to delve into the mechanism of migraines and how they differ from a bad headache, what the common triggers are, which foods are known triggers of migraines, how food intolerances can impact migraines, and what can be done to prevent them from occurring. Let’s start with looking at what a Migraine is, and how it differs from the common headache that many people suffer with daily.

What is a migraine

Most of us know what a Migraine is by virtue of knowing someone who suffers with them, or because we’ve had them ourselves. If you’ve never experienced one A) You’re very lucky, and B) Here is a little explanation of what happens.

A migraine is a severe headache accompanied by other symptoms. Migraines are classified depending on what these concurrent symptoms are, being either a Migraine with an aura, or one without an aura. Here are the classification criteria:

Migraine Without Aura

This includes at least 5 attacks of severe headache lasting 4 to 72 hours. This headache must have at least 2 of the following qualities to be classified as a migraine.
  • A pulsating quality
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Aggravated by routine physical activity like climbing stairs and walking

During the headache there must also be present at least one of the following:

  • Nausea and or vomiting
  • Aggravated by light and or movement
  • It must not be attributed to any other illness.

Migraine With Aura

this is the other classification of migraine, and there must be at least 2 attacks that have the following qualities:

  • Aura of fully reversible visual symptoms such as flickering lights, spots etc. 
  • Fully reversible physical features such as pins and needles or Speech disturbance.

At least 2 of the following must also be present for this type of migraine to be diagnosed:

  • Headache that begins during the aura or follows it within 60 mins.
  • A headache that doesn’t have pulsating severe or aggravation by physical activity
  • Headache that may begin later than 60 mins after the aura.
  • It also must not be attributed to any other illness.

There are many theories as to why they occur, including genetics, platelet disorders, neuronal disorders, hormonal related migraines, medication reactions etc. There isn’t really a clear reason for why migraines occur, however science does show us some clear links between migraines occurring and food intolerances and allergies. A classic example is a study by Bushara et al in which celiac patients observed significant reductions in their migraines when gluten was removed from the diet. There are several studies that support this find, and also many that show a clear link between dietary Amines and the triggering of migraines. We will have a look at what dietary amines are in a moment

Common triggers of migraines

Dehydration

this can play a huge part in both headaches and migraines. There are a number of case reports in which dehydrated patients increased their water intake and had greatly reduced occurrence of migraines. It’s not this simple for everyone, but if you know you are not drinking enough water this is a great place to start.

Stress

is another big trigger of migraines. Prolonged and sever stress greatly increases inflammation in the body, setting off a cascade of events that can lead to migraines and tension.

Fasting

is another migraine trigger because it also releases stress hormones and triggers low blood sugar. Having regulated blood sugar levels is really important in order to reduce inflammation and help to prevent headaches and migraines. You can regulate your blood sugar by having small frequent meals with lots of fibre and protein

Foods known to trigger migraines

It is well known that foods high in dietary amines trigger Migraines. Amines are by products of protein breakdown in foods and are highest in foods that are aged or mature (cheeses and meats) and also in fruits as they ripen. The following foods are known to be high in amines and also to be triggers for Migraines:
  • Red wine
  • chocolate
  • cheeses
  • nuts
  • Fish
  • Hot dogs, ham, cured meats
  • Sauerkraut and other fermented foods
  • Dairy products can trigger some people
  • Asian foods and sauces, and frozen foods
  • Coffee, tea, cola and all caffeine containing products
  • Aspartame – an artificial sweetener
    Wine and beer
  • Food colourings and additives

How can food intolerances cause migraines?

Food intolerances cause classic inflammatory reactions in the body, including Migraines and headaches. As we discussed in a previous post titled ‘SIBO & food intolerances’, food intolerances can cause us to develop something called leaky gut, which means that food particles can get through the wall of the intestine into the blood stream where they are not supposed to be. When this occurs, the immune system goes into high alert with huge inflammatory reactions. The immune system also reacts to food particles and proteins entering the circulatory system, causing symptoms that range from stomach cramps and diarrhea to headaches and migraines.

What can you do to prevent food related Migraines?

If you have been suffering Migraines for a long time and yet to find a treatment that works for you, we highly recommend that you have a food intolerance test done. This will show you all of your personal trigger foods, so that you can then avoid them. Doing this will greatly reduce the inflammation you experience and may be very beneficial in reducing your migraine frequency.

It’s also a really good idea to avoid all of the known trigger foods that have been mentioned above. For some people just the removal of coffee and chocolate is enough to greatly reduce Migraine frequency, and even prevent them from occurring.

Make sure that you stay hydrated, this is really huge for Migraine sufferers. A generally guideline is 2litres of water daily at a minimum. You can add a tiny pinch of Himalayan pink salt or pure sea salt to each litre of water to help your body absorb the hydration into your cells.

Consuming small regular meals is another great way to keep your blood sugar stable and ward off migraines. These meals need to have a good balance of fibre and protein, because these food groups really help to stabilise your blood sugar.

A good example of some meals that are high in fibre and protein include:

  • Yogurt (if dairy isn’t a trigger food. If it is, you can use coconut or another non-dairy yogurt) with fresh berries and nuts and seeds.
  • Pan cooked chicken with brown rice and green leafy veggies.
  • Black beans and dark green leafy veggies in a corn tortilla wrap with avocado & red onion guacamole.
If you are reading this and have unsolved Migraines, you can order your own food intolerance test here: You can expect your results in 3 days, and we are always on hand to help you in navigating them if needed.