With migraines affecting 38 million men, women and children in the United States alone—and about 1 billion people worldwide—chances are you know someone who suffers from migraines. Maybe it is you, or your partner, or your parent. And anyone who has suffered even one migraine—a headache that is so much more than just a headache, accompanied with nausea and disturbed vision—has, no doubt, heard countless bits of advice about how to prevent said migraines, most of it around avoiding certain trigger foods like the plague: Chocolate. Caffeine. Alcohol. (And a whole array of other random foods.) But, we wonder, is it really necessary to abandon these foods completely? Is each one as migraine-inducing from one person to the next? Well, after looking at research related to the cause of migraines (hey, if we are going to give up chocolate, and coffee, and wine, it better be for a valid reason), the answers to these questions are yes and no. While there is a case for being conscious of your diet, it appears that the root cause of migraines is much more personal—and much less generalized—than most think. Let us explain.
One expert, Vincent Martin, M.D., from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, reviewed over 180 research studies to find the proven effects of diet on migraine. In short, here is what he found.
- Yes, chocolate can be a trigger—though there is no effect for a great deal of people.
- Too much caffeine is linked to migraines, though not in the way typically thought. The effect of caffeine is usually only a trigger if stress or anxiety is heightened from caffeine. (In other words: If you get the jitters from coffee and you also suffer from migraines, you may want to skip that cup of coffee. Sorry.) And, conversely, those of us who are regular caffeine drinkers may find that skipping that daily coffee may actually result in headache and migraine.
- Alcohol is one of the most common triggers (specifically red wine and vodka), but, again, not for everyone.
- Eliminating gluten from the diet is only effective if the sufferer has a known celiac disease.
- Nitrates have been linked to migraine occurrences; preserved meats are one of the most common forms of nitrates that people ingest in their food.
- MSG in other processed foods can also be a trigger.
So. As you can see, the findings suggest that while there are general triggers for migraines, these triggers are not true for every migraine sufferer. The primary takeaway here, according to Merele Diamand and Dawn Marcus, M.D.s from the American Migraine Foundation, is to create a diet that works for you, and identify your own triggers. Makes sense, right?
Follow a healthy diet for overall health benefits, and consider whether the common triggers are true for you. Start with eliminating some from your diet, and look for the resulting effects on your system. Know that fresh fruits, vegetables and water will will boost your immune system, balance your hormones and foster an environment where any triggers are less likely to eventuate. Keeping a food diary is one great way to determine if your diet and headaches are linked. If you suffer a migraine, examine the foods you ate in the past 12-24 hours to find causes and links, and if you are a chronic sufferer, maintain that food diary (along with a lifestyle / stress diary) for a minimum of four weeks to become clear on these possible links. From there, adjust your diet—and lifestyle—accordingly.
We are all different. Our genetic structure, development, medical history, environment and lifestyle all play a role in the creation or depletion of health. It is less about good or bad, and more about finding what is true for your body and your life, and creating a unique healthy lifestyle from there.
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