Can certain food cause migraines?

Dr. William Wien, DO
Family Practitioner

A chemical called tyramine found in certain foods and beverages is known to trigger migraines in sensitive individuals. Tyramine is found in significant quantities in red wine, sharp cheeses, and nuts. In addition, certain substances in processed luncheon meats and chocolate can trigger migraines, as can Nutrasweet (or aspartame), the common non-caloric artificial sweetener.

Chocolate doesn’t trigger migraines, says Mark Green, MD, director of the Center for Headache and Pain Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. There may be a link to migraine prodomes. In this video, he explains.

Over the past 150 years, numerous researchers have reported a link between migraine and the food we eat. Some scientists attributed this link to allergy, others to a chemical effect of food on the brain.

Migraine diets have been developed but are of limited value for most people. They're based on the idea that certain foods, like nuts, cheese, and chocolate, contain chemicals that produce changes in blood flow, which trigger the onset of headache.

The problem with the chemical induction theory of migraine is that it's never been proven to really occur.

The only headache that's been proven to be chemically triggered is red wine headache, which is quite distinct from common migraine.

When studied in double-blind placebo control trials, Tyramine, found in aged cheeses and the principal food chemical believed to trigger migraine, was incapable of causing migraine headache.

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