Migraine is considered a moderate-to-severe type of headache that impacts about
Migraine has a strong
Each individual person with migraine has different triggers which can set off a migraine attack. The sudden onset of a migraine attack can mean calling out of work, missing an important life event, or canceling plans with a loved one.
Identifying clues or patterns that may trigger a migraine attack can help to manage the disease. Common migraine triggers include:
- too little or too much sleep
- hormonal shifts
- changes in weather
- caffeine, alcohol, and water intake
In this article, Jillian Kubala, a registered dietitian, and Deena Kuruvilla, M.D., a neurologist, explain the link.
Older research found that up to
Skipping meals can trigger a migraine in up to
This is because skipping meals and intentionally fasting causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can trigger migraine in some people.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener considered a
This may be because
Foods that contain aspartame include sugar-free candies, desserts, and beverages. It’s also a main ingredient in zero-calorie sweeteners like Equal.
Other foods and drinks
Some other reported triggers include:
- coffee and other caffeinated beverages
- foods high in monosodium glutamate (MSG)
However, this does not mean these foods will cause migraine in all people affected by the condition.
For example, a
Everyone who experiences migraine is different, and what may trigger a migraine in one person may not have the same effect in another.
A combination of personal triggers, such as a lack of sleep, stress, and alcohol intake,
Dietary factors likely play a role in different reactions in the brain that can produce migraine. Dietary factors affect how our brain uses glucose, can produce inflammation, and can change the release of chemicals such as
- citrus fruits
- processed meats
- monosodium glutamate
I am also often asked about specific migraine diets. There are several books out there claiming to heal migraine disease by sticking to a specific diet, but often these recommendations are not based on solid research.
There are a few diets that have shown some benefit with managing migraine disease. These include:
- low fat diet
- ketogenic diet
- Atkins diet
- low sodium diet
However, diet is just one piece of the bigger puzzle. — Deena Kuruvilla, M.D.
Try to eat regularly. Eating every 3–4 hours or so may help reduce migraine occurrence. If you notice that going long periods without eating or skipping meals triggers migraine, try adding in snacks or small meals rich in protein and fiber in between your main meals to see if this helps decrease migraine attacks.
Add protein and fiber to meals and snacks. This can keep blood sugar levels steady while keeping you satiated between meals.
Restrict or avoid alcohol. Some people may be able to
Identify food triggers. Foods and beverages that contain aspartame, MSG, and caffeine may trigger migraine in some people. Also, foods like chocolate, milk, cheese, and nuts have been reported as potential migraine triggers. Keeping a food and symptom journal can help you identify possible dietary migraine triggers.
Try elimination. If you notice that you constantly get migraine attacks after eating a specific food or drinking a specific beverage, consider eliminating the product from your diet for a few weeks to see if headaches improve.
Drink more water. This has been shown to be a simple, yet effective tool for reducing migraine frequency and severity.
Working with a dietitian to adjust dietary patterns
Research shows that following certain dietary patterns may be beneficial for people who have migraine.
For example, a
However, although some diets may be helpful, certain dietary patterns may not be appropriate for everyone. Every person who experiences migraine is different and may have different triggers, dietary needs, and underlying health issues.
Rather than trying a restrictive diet or eliminating foods on your own, try working with a qualified healthcare professional like a registered dietitian to develop a diet and lifestyle plan that is specific to your health needs and symptoms.
In addition to dietary changes, people who experience migraine may consider taking certain dietary supplements.
For example, studies show that people with migraine are more likely to have low levels of
If you’re interested in getting tested for nutrient deficiencies, ask your doctor to perform a blood test. Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you decide which supplements may be the right choice for your needs. — Jillian Kubala
While it is helpful to identify specific triggers, there is no substitute for taking a whole body approach to migraine. Managing specific triggers, leading a healthy lifestyle, and discussing preventive and as-needed treatments with your doctor are all necessary to manage the disease effectively.
While specific food triggers may exist, eliminating them does not necessarily mean that migraine will be prevented.
Ultimately, migraine is a disease that results from genetic and environmental factors and will naturally fluctuate over one’s lifetime. Typically a combination of several triggers can create the stage for a migraine attack to occur. — Deena Kuruvilla, M.D.
Jillian Kubala is a registered dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. She is a nutrition writer and medical advisor for Healthline, Greatist, and Medical News Today. Jillian also runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle changes. She has a backyard farm and is passionate about growing nutritious food and supporting local agriculture.
Deena E. Kuruvilla, M.D., is a board certified neurologist, headache specialist and Director of the Westport Headache Institute. She has served as an assistant professor and associate program director for the Headache fellowship at the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Kuruvilla’s research and clinical work has been widely featured in the press, including Prevention Magazine, Neurology Today, the Hartford Courant, and the Wall Street Journal..