What Foods Cause Headaches?
Some headaches are caused by things that happen in everyday life. Triggers can include sleep habits, posture, stress, and diet. If you get frequent headaches, you can adjust your lifestyle to avoid your known headache triggers. This may include removing headache-causing foods from your diet.
Experts believe that food-related headaches make up only about 20% of all headaches. The following foods are thought to contribute to headaches in those cases:
33% of people who get migraines report that alcohol is a trigger. It's not surprising. If you've ever had a few too many drinks, you probably experienced a headache the next day. People with frequent headaches or migraines can get a headache shortly after drinking, or a delayed headache as part of a hangover the next day.
This is the second-most commonly reported migraine trigger after alcohol. Chocolate contains the neurotransmitter beta-phenylethylamine. This can be a headache trigger, especially in people who get migraines. However, experts are not sure if the chocolate itself causes a headache, or if the craving for chocolate is a symptom that comes before a headache or migraine.
Foods Containing Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Many people who get headaches report that this food flavoring gives them one. However, no studies have ever confirmed these reports. More research is needed.
Food and Drinks Containing Caffeine
Caffeine may either hurt or help with headaches. If you already have a headache, drinking a bit of caffeine may help to alleviate your symptoms. During many headaches, the blood vessels around your head swell. Caffeine constricts these blood vessels, reducing your pain.
However, if you drink caffeine regularly and then stop, it may take your body several days or even weeks to readjust. One of the main symptoms of caffeine withdrawal is a headache. The blood vessels in and around your head swell when they are no longer regularly constricted by caffeine.
Processed meats like salami and bacon usually contain nitrates. This is a known trigger for headaches. Of those people who take heart medication containing nitrates, 10% stop due to the headaches it can cause. Even in small amounts, nitrates can cause headaches.
Tyramine is a chemical produced in the natural breakdown of some foods. It is a potential headache trigger. It is found in higher amounts in fermented foods and aged foods. This includes cheeses, especially long-aged cheeses like aged Cheddar and Parmesan.
How to Identify Your Headache Triggers
It can be helpful to keep a headache diary. This is a simple listing of:
- When your headache developed
- How long it lasted
- Possible triggers
- The intensity of the headache
- What helped, if anything
If you're not sure if a food is triggering your headaches, try limiting your intake of that food for 4 weeks. Then, notice if your headaches improve or not, using your diary to track your headaches.
If there is no change after 4 weeks, then it's possible that food is not a headache trigger. It's also still possible it is a trigger, but something else is also a trigger.
Experts do not recommend trying to restrict your diet if you are pregnant. They also do not recommend trying this method for children or teens.
More Headache Diet Tips
How you eat, in addition to what you eat, can also have an effect on headaches. The following tips can help you avoid headaches in general:
- Don't skip meals.
- Make sure to eat breakfast every day.
- Eat plenty of vegetables.
- Eat a generally balanced diet.
- Limit your intake of processed foods.
- Avoid eating foods with labels that have ingredients you don't recognize.
Other Lifestyle Tips to Stay Headache-Free
In addition to your diet, there are other lifestyle choices you can make to avoid headaches:
- Try to get good sleep. Experts recommend trying to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day. Avoid oversleeping or getting too little sleep.
- Stay active. Exercise for at least a half-hour a few times per week.
- Limit your stress. Seek ways to resolve conflicts peacefully. Make sure to take time to destress and relax each day. Examples include deep breathing or listening to relaxing music.
Follow your doctor's advice. If you have chronic headaches or migraines, your doctor may give you prescription medication, supplements, or lifestyle advice. Follow the treatment plan your doctor suggests to avoid headaches.