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Can You Prevent Migraines by Watching Your Diet?

Avoiding trigger foods, including MSG and aged cheese, may help some sufferers prevent migraines. Have you had success with this approach?
Can You Prevent Migraines by Watching Your Diet?
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Migraines are a pain. Even worse than the pain, though, is the life disruption. Some sufferers lose days every time a headache strikes hiding in a dark quiet room. They may feel horribly nauseated or completely enervated. Most would welcome a way to prevent migraines.

Can Avoiding Certain Foods Prevent Migraines?

Q. My husband used to get migraines. He was suffering so much, I decided to see if it was related to food.

For a two-month period, I wrote down what he ate every day. We discovered that within three days before each migraine, he had eaten Chinese food, salted peanuts, sharp cheese or a frozen lasagne. We switched to fewer frozen entrees, moderated consumption of cheese and peanuts and asked for no MSG in our Chinese food.

As a result, his migraines went from once a month to about two a year.

Migraine Headache Food Triggers:

A. Headache specialists consider food triggers for migraine to be controversial (Martin & Vij, Headache, Oct. 2016).  That’s because there are relatively few well-controlled scientific studies of dietary triggers.

That said, there is general recognition that some people may be susceptible to certain foods. Among the most common culprits blamed are alcohol, chocolate, aged cheese, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nuts, salami, nitrite preservatives and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. A food diary of the sort you kept is a very good way to uncover migraine triggers for a given individual.

In fact, a study in children found that many of those who avoided frequent triggers such as aspartame, caffeine, MSG, cocoa, cheese, citrus and nitrites had fewer headaches (Taheri, Nutrition and Health, March 2017). This particular study showed that eliminating the most frequently consumed suspects made the headaches go away.

Learn More:

You can learn more about food triggers, a connection between celiac disease and migraine headaches and nondrug approaches that can help prevent migraines in our Guide to Headaches and Migraines. You may also wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, Show 1033. In it, she describes how she turned to Ayurvedic medicine when conventional medications did not help her own migraines.

If you have had success reducing your migraine headache frequency by altering your diet, please tell us about it in the comment section. We are always interested.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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