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Migraine (2): Nutritional Considerations

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Migraine: Nutritional Considerations

I discussed a little on migraine food trigger in last week’s Examiner and I return with some more detail this week. Between 12 – 15% of individuals are affected by migraine; women are three times more likely than men to suffer from migraine. In 60% of cases, it would appear that it may be inherited (runs in families). A typical migraine can last from 4 hours to 72 hours and all migraine attacks differ from person to person.

Migraine triggers

There are a number of triggers which can bring on a migraine attack and are known to account for 40% of migraines. Seven of the main triggers include: stress, hormonal factors (menstruation, contraception, puberty, and menopause), sleep (lack of, too much), exercise (not enough or going overboard), weather (strong sun, humidity, heat, strong winds, and change in pressure), strong smells and diet. One triggering factor may not result in a migraine; it is generally a build-up of triggers which result in an attack. An example being, if you eat a food which triggers a migraine, then you miss out on a good night’s sleep and have a stressful couple of days then the build-up of all these triggers can result in an attack.

 Diet triggers

It’s recommended to keep a food diary if you are a regular migraine sufferer. A food diary can help you identify what food irritates your body and triggers an attack. Your food diary should consist of what foods you ate and at what times, your sleeping pattern, weather, state of mind and emotions. It is important to keep the diary up to and surrounding the time of an attack and not just the day you have the migraine. It would appear from looking at a number of studies that food has a huge effect on migraines; the most common foods blamed for causing migraines include chocolate, cheese, red wine and dairy.  On closer inspection it would appear that foods containing amines (organic compounds) especially tyramine and phenylethylamine are suspected to cause migraines (as discussed in last week’s Examiner). Reducing the intake of foods containing amines can help decrease the likelihood of migraines in 20% - 50% of individuals.

 More on Food triggers

The foods with the most amines present include: dairy products, chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, meat, wheat, nuts and peanuts, tomatoes, onions, corn, apples, and bananas. The list contains a number of beneficial food including foods containing vital nutrients so it is not recommended to avoid these foods totally. Instead refer back to your food diary and see can you pin point a pattern; was there a food that keeps presenting itself as the offending food.


Chocolate: From reading journals regarding migraine it would appear that chocolate may not be the cause of the migraine but rather the craving for chocolate is an indication that a migraine is on its way. For this reason chocolate may be sometimes wrongly blamed for bringing on a migraine. Cheap chocolate brands can be a contributing trigger as it contains more additives than more expensive or darker versions so keep this in mind.


Cheese: Aged cheese such as cheddar, blue cheese, Swiss, parmesan, feta, brie etc. contain tyramine and phenylethyamine and for this reason can be a migraine trigger.


Alcohol: Certain alcoholic beverages are worse than others. The darker the drink the more likely it is to induce migraine; this is due to the high levels of sulphites. Dark beers, whiskey, bourbon and red wine are examples of dark alcoholic beverages. To reduce the likelihood of migraine, aim to drink in moderation and reduce the amount of sulphite containing beverages.


Caffeine: Caffeine found in tea, coffee, energy drinks and some medication can be linked with triggering migraine. For an individual who is susceptible to migraines, caffeine can affect them in different ways; paradoxically caffeine can ease or exacerbate the migraine depending on the person. Withdrawal from caffeine can also trigger a migraine attack so to reduce the likelihood of this happening stagger your caffeine intake throughout the day and reduce the amount that you consume. Switching to herbal or green tea can be a better alternative to high caffeine beverages.


Upcoming Migraine Talk

Whelehans Pharmacy in conjunction with Migraine Association of Ireland is hosting a Migraine Information evening on Tuesday June 23rd at 7pm in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar. Admission is free. Speakers on the night will include Dr. Martin Ruttledge, Consultant Neurologist from the Beaumont Migraine Clinic. Dr Ruttledge is one of the top neurologists in the country, and the top when it comes to migraine and headache. There will be other speakers including myself (Nutritionist Aisling Murray) and Pharmacist Eamonn Brady and help and advice from Migraine Association of Ireland on the night. Call the Whelehans Pharmacy at 04493 34591 for more information or to book a place.


Aisling Murray has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and offers a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for an appointment


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