Triggers for Migraines

There can be a multitude of factors which set off, or “trigger” a headache or migraine in certain individuals. Sometimes they are easy to identify or have been known by the sufferer for many years as being a problem.

Other triggers can be more difficult to detect as they may be masked by certain factors such as in highly processed foods which contain hidden additives, preservatives or colourings. Sometimes it is necessary to perform a “challenge test” in order to discover whether something is a factor in causing the headache.

This involves avoiding a certain substance for a few weeks then ingesting it, in the case of a food, or coming into contact with in cases of environmental factors and then noting the pattern of headaches.

Physical and Environmental Causes

  • stress
  • fatigue
  • oversleeping or lack of sleep
  • fasting or missing a meal
  • medication that affects the diameter of blood vessels
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • menses/hormonal changes
  • changes in barometric pressure and changes in altitude.

Foods and Diet

Tyramine is a vaso-active amino acid found in foods. It precipitates headaches in some sufferers. It is an intermediate product in the conversion of tyrosine (an amino acid present in many proteins) to epinephrine (an active hormone produced by the inner portion of the adrenal gland).

Foods that contain tyramine may trigger headaches in migraine sufferers by facilitating a chain reaction which results in selective cerebral vasoconstriction followed by rebound dilation of the cranial vessels (the most common cause of the throbbing headache pain). This sequence of events is implicated in migraine headache. Some of the foods containing tyramine are red wine, aged cheese, nuts, herring, and chicken livers.

Specific foods are suspected of triggering at least 30 per cent of the migraine headaches.

Food Additives such as:

  • nitrates and nitrites (usually in processed meats)
  • yellow (annatto) food colouring
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate).
  • Canned or processed foods, Chinese foods, tenderizer and seasonings such as soy sauce may contain MSG.
  • aged cheeses and processed meats
  • peanuts
  • chicken livers
  • pickled foods
  • sourdough bread
  • bread and crackers containing cheese
  • broad beans, peas, lentils

Foods to eat in moderation include:

  • avocadoes
  • bananas
  • citrus fruits
  • figs, raisins
  • red plums
  • raspberries
  • chocolate.