There are so many common migraine triggers, including foods and drinks, but a migraine diet modification can help.
Understanding how what you eat affects your chances of having a migraine attack can help you avoid them and improve your quality of life.
It is not always possible to prevent a migraine, but symptoms of a migraine attack can sometimes give you a heads up.
Common symptoms of a migraine attack can include prodrome signs or aura symptoms such as:
- Mood swings
- Frequent yawning
- Food cravings
- Increased thirst
- Changes in vision
- Changes in hearing
- Changes in other senses
If you recognize the signs of migraine, you may be able to proactively take care of yourself and avoid it or decrease the severity of pain.
This article explores how hunger and certain foods may cause migraines, as well as certain foods that are good to eat when you have a migraine.
Plus, it will cover supplements that might help prevent migraines, and how to know when you should see a doctor.
Does Diet Affect Migraine Attacks?
Plenty of research suggests that food plays a role in migraine attacks.
Certain foods can act as triggers, but other foods or dietary patterns may be able to help address factors that can make migraine more likely for some people.
Of patients who report triggers for migraine episodes, 27% of people identify one or more foods as a cause.
Hunger and Migraines
Some people report that hunger can also be a migraine trigger.
Whether or not you notice hunger or specific food triggers for migraine episodes, eating 5-6 small meals per day may help to prevent headaches caused by hunger, but may also be beneficial for several reasons:
- Easier to manage smaller meals when it comes to avoiding migraine trigger foods
- Promotes stable blood sugar
- Supports better energy levels throughout the day
- Prevents “hangry” feelings that may worsen head pain
- Supports a more balanced weight
What Foods Can Trigger a Migraine?
It is possible to have certain foods that trigger migraines for you, but not other people.
Or typical trigger foods may not affect your migraine symptoms at all.
But according to research, there are several foods that may have a higher chance of triggering migraine attacks.
Foods that can trigger migraines include:
- Alcohol (specifically red wine), yeast, and other fermented or pickled foods due to the presence of higher levels of certain probiotic and similar organisms
- Chocolate due to the presence of beta-phenylalanine
- Aged cheeses (and other dairy products), baked bread, and other foods that contain tyramine
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other food preservatives, as well as aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, due to the chemical or processed nature
- Cured or processed meats due to the presence of nitrates
There is no definitive list of published foods that are known to cause migraines.
Many of the above foods and drinks have certain compounds in common that may act as triggers.
Other research suggests that it isn’t the specific foods that trigger migraine pain, but rather the person’s individual response to them, including food cravings, hunger, and blood sugar balance.
Other potential dietary modifications to consider for migraine include:
- Low sodium diet
- Low-glycemic diet
- Low-fat diet
- Reducing processed foods
- Ketogenic diet
- Gluten-free diet for people with Celiac disease
What Foods Are Good for Migraines?
Research has not identified a definitive list of safe foods, or foods that prevent migraines.
In general, eating a balanced diet that contains enough energy, but not too much, supports well-being and may decrease the risk of diet-related migraine triggers.
Some foods and drinks may have beneficial effects for people with migraines including:
- Caffeine, while a potential trigger if you suddenly drink a lot more or a lot less than usual, can help to shrink blood vessels in the brain. In migraine pain, blood vessels tend to swell, causing pressure and pain in the head. The caffeine that is found in the equivalent of one cup of coffee may be enough to address migraine pain that has already started.
- Foods that contain magnesium, like leafy greens and avocado, may help to promote muscle relaxation or otherwise support migraine relief.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and have many health benefits. They can promote healthy cardiovascular function and blood flow, and may be able to prevent the release of inflammatory cytokines that can trigger head pain.
Supplements For Migraine Prevention
Some dietary supplements may be helpful for addressing migraine headaches, though the FDA does not regulate the safety or effectiveness of supplements.
They can still interact with food, medications, or other supplements, so be sure to consult your medical provider before starting any new supplements.
Supplements that may have migraine prevention benefits include:
Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B2 is naturally found in many foods, including:
For people with migraines, typical energy metabolism in the brain is found to be impaired.
Vitamin B2 plays a key role in the energy abilities of cells, including those in the brain.
When this energy threshold is low, neurons in the brain may be more prone to over-reacting to sensory stimulation.
This could increase the chance of developing a migraine attack.
Vitamin B2 supports healthy energy metabolism in cells and is generally safe with few potential side effects, even at higher doses.
Magnesium is a mineral and an electrolyte. It helps nutrients get in and out of cells but also plays a key role in muscle relaxation and nervous system balance.
Magnesium deficiency is associated with being a cause of neurological complications, including migraine.
While studies have shown mixed results, magnesium is a mineral that can safely be supplemented within recommended doses.
The recommended dietary allowances for magnesium in adults range from 310-320 mg for adults who were assigned female at birth, and 400-420 mg for adults who were assigned male at birth.
Butterbur is an herbal supplement that showed some effectiveness in trials for both migraine prevention and decreasing severity.
However, the American Academy of Neurology retracted its assertion that butterbur was helpful for migraine headaches.
Some people still take butterbur supplements to address migraine problems.
It can interact with some medications, so if you want to take butterbur for migraines, discuss it with your healthcare provider before you start.
Feverfew is another herbal supplement that has been used for migraine prevention.
Older evidence was positive for feverfew, noting that it reduced the frequency of attacks.
However, more recent studies with better quality evidence do not necessarily find definitive evidence.
While it may help with some aspects of migraine, it is not safe for pregnancy and may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to ragweed.
A naturally occurring substance with antioxidant properties, coenzyme Q10 (or coQ10 for short) may play a role in how well cells manage energy.
Research finds that taking coenzyme Q10 may reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines, noting that it performed better than a placebo when taken regularly.
Unlike other supplements, coenzyme Q10 is well-tolerated by most and is less risky than some herbs, like butterbur and feverfew.
When to See a Medical Provider
If you experience recurrent or severe headaches or migraine attacks, seeing a medical provider can lead to a diagnosis and more effective treatment methods.
If you are not managing your headache pain well with OTC medications, or you are unsure what is causing your recurrent headaches, a healthcare provider can run tests to determine the underlying causes.
If you do have migraines and are struggling to lower the frequency or severity of pain, keeping a journal that notes potential triggers can help you and your provider pinpoint possible solutions.
You may also require prescription medications to either prevent migraine attacks or more effectively manage the pain.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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MAGraine: Magnesium compared to conventional therapy for treatment of migraines. (2020).
Clinical use of omega-3 fatty acids in migraine: A narrative review. (2020).
Clinical use of omega-3 fatty acids in migraine: A narrative review. (2020).
Riboflavin and migraine: the bridge over troubled mitochondria. (2014).
The Role of Magnesium in Pathophysiology and Migraine Treatment. (2020).
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