Stress and tension can be a serious trigger for all headache sufferers. An easy solution for headaches is addressing the muscles that get tight in the neck and jaw. My treatments of choice always include Active Release Technique, chiropractic, and acupuncture.
When those treatments help but just don’t do the trick, we must look at foods and the reactions to the food we put into our bodies. In my clinical practice, food can be a direct trigger causing headaches for many of my patients.
For those of you that are skeptical thinking “how can something I eat cause a headache?”, here’s some food for thought. The over-the-counter medications we take, without a second thought, goes through your stomach to help you feel better. Food behaves the same way.
Food is the fuel we need to survive. When we put the wrong fuel in the tank, things start to go wrong and break down. Here is a list of foods that can trigger headaches and some simple explanations of why.
Common Headache Triggers
- Alcohol (most commonly wine, because of sulfites and preservatives). Alcohol causes the body to dehydrate, which is a known trigger for headaches.
- Caffeinated drinks (coffees, tea, and sodas). Many people do not process caffeine well, which may trigger headaches. Plus, the artificial sweeteners used in these beverages may be the cause for some people.
- Artificial sweeteners and “sugar-free” products. Organic stevia is an exception if it does not contain additives and comes from natural sources.
- Beans, as most beans contain tannins.
- Thyramine is a natural amino acid that aids in blood regulation. When consuming too much, or for more sensitive individuals, any thyramine can trigger headache.
- Foods that contain Thyramine: Peanut butter, nuts, bananas, citrus fruit, dairy products (more potent in aged cheese), wine, figs, chicken liver, smoked fish, fermented products (olives, pickles, vinegar, soy sauce, etc), processed meats, pickled foods, onions.
- MSG. We must be very careful with this one as “healthy” foods can contain MSG in them too. For example many veggie burgers use msg to enhance their flavor. When looking at ingredients, MSG is also known as hydrolyzed vegetable protein and maltodextrin. Many cold and rainy days we want to run to the corner and grab a soup – make sure they are freshly made without any “powders” as most soup powders do contain some form of MSG.
- Nitrates. This is a tricky one, because it can disguise itself very well. They are freely added to packaged foods all over the country as they are not regulated by the FDA. Obvious nitrites to avoid:
- Deli meat/cold cuts, ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, smoked fish. Yes even the expensive salami’s have nitrate so please be weary when you eat them.
We can be sensitive to one, some, all or none of these triggers. The best way to find out is to eliminate all these things for 2-3 weeks and slowly re-introduce them into your diet while monitoring symptoms. We want to keep in mind that these food sensitivities can trigger pain instantly or have a delayed onset by up to 48 hrs. Always speak to a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying issues.