Did you know that there are different kinds of headaches? Tension headaches can result from tight head or neck muscles. This could happen, for example, if you’ve stared at a computer screen for too long or have been going through a stressful situation. A migraine is much more intense and can last anywhere from 4 hours to several days. Some things that cause migraines are genetics and fluctuations in the hormone, estrogen. Catamenial migraines happen in the first 2 days of a woman’s period. Visit the Cleveland Clinic website for more information about headache prevention, treatment, and when to see a doctor.
Sometimes, foods trigger headaches. We see patterns in the types of foods that do this. They usually contain phenols, tyramine, sulfites, or histamine. These ingredients are not necessarily “bad”. Phenols have antioxidant properties. Tyramine is a precursor to dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Sulfites are an antibacterial preservative. Histamines are a normal part of immune response. For some people, avoiding these types of foods could prevent headaches. You should consult your doctor before doing an elimination diet.
- Champagne (phenols & tyramine)
- Red Wine (phenols, tyramine, and sulfites)
- Beer (tyramine)
- Sherry (tyramine)
- Vermouth (tyramine)
- Coffee (caffeine withdrawal)
- Tea (caffeine withdrawal)
- Soda (caffeine withdrawal)
- Cider/ home-made root beer (histamine)
- Aged & fermented cheddar, Emmentaler, stilton, brie, bleu, and camembert cheeses (tyramine)
- Sour cream (histamine)
- Yogurt (histamine)
- Ice cream (if sensitive to cold temperatures)
- Bananas, figs, raisins, sometimes citrus
- Dried fruit (histamine & sulfites)
- Eggplant (histamine)
- Sauerkraut (histamine, tyramine)
- Spinach (histamine)
- Tomatoes (histamine)
- Avocados (histamine)
- Salad bar items (sulfites)
- Gluten (if you have celiac disease)
- Anchovies (histamine)
- Hot dogs (nitrates)
- Bacon (nitrates)
- Ham (nitrates)
- Salami (nitrates)
- Shrimp (sulfites)
- Fish (tyramine)
- Chocolate (phenylethylamine, tyramine)
- Vinegar (histamine)
- Soy sauce (tyramine)
Do you notice any potential food triggers? If your doctor thinks it’s a good idea, you can work with a registered dietitian to systematically remove and re-introduce triggers. A dietitian will also make sure that your diet is overall nutritionally sound during the process.
Total Nutrition Technology offers a test called a Mediator Release Test. This is a food sensitivity test that measures the histamines, prostaglandins, cytokines, serotonin, etc. released from immune cells in response to 170 foods and chemicals. Clients who choose this test are guided through an Immunocalm Diet that is customized to their test results and food preferences.
In addition to food triggers, sometimes people get headaches when they go long stretches without eating. You might feel better when you eat regular meals throughout the day. If you don’t have regular mealtimes, try structuring regular times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Carry snacks with you just in case you can’t sit down for a full meal. Check out this list of Healthy Grab-and-Go Snacks.
Headaches could also be caused by high blood pressure. If your doctor has advised a DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a registered dietitian can teach you about the diet and help you apply it to your life and food preferences.
Read more about How to Prevent Headaches Naturally.