Foods that trigger migraine headaches: understanding dietary triggers for migraine attacks

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Migraines are a common neurological disorder characterized by severe headaches, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances.

While the exact cause of migraines is still not fully understood, research suggests that certain foods can trigger migraine attacks in susceptible individuals.

In this study review, we will explore the research evidence on foods that commonly trigger migraines and discuss strategies for managing migraines through dietary modifications.

Background: The Impact of Diet on Migraines

Many people who experience migraines have identified specific triggers that can initiate or exacerbate their migraine attacks.

These triggers can vary from person to person, but certain foods are commonly reported to trigger migraines. Understanding these triggers and making informed dietary choices may help individuals manage their migraines more effectively.

Foods That Commonly Trigger Migraines

While the specific triggers can differ among individuals, several food items have been identified as common culprits for triggering migraines.

It is important to note that not all individuals with migraines will be affected by these foods, and triggers can vary. Here are some common food triggers reported by migraine sufferers:

  1. Caffeinated Beverages

Caffeine is a double-edged sword when it comes to migraines.

While some people find that caffeine can alleviate their migraine symptoms, others experience migraines triggered by excessive consumption or sudden withdrawal from caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and energy drinks.

  1. Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine, beer, and spirits, have been associated with migraine attacks. It is believed that certain substances in alcohol, such as histamines and tyramine, can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals.

  1. Chocolate

Although chocolate is a beloved treat, it contains substances like phenylethylamine and tyramine, which may trigger migraines in some people.

Dark chocolate, which has a higher cocoa content, is more likely to be a trigger than milk chocolate.

  1. Aged Cheeses and Dairy Products

Aged cheeses such as blue cheese, cheddar, and Swiss cheese, as well as other dairy products, contain tyramine, a substance known to trigger migraines.

Individuals who are sensitive to tyramine may need to limit their consumption of these foods.

  1. Processed Meats

Processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats often contain additives such as nitrites and nitrates, which can act as migraine triggers.

These additives are used to preserve the meats but may provoke migraines in susceptible individuals.

  1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, contain high levels of naturally occurring chemicals called citrus amines, which have been reported to trigger migraines in some people.

  1. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and sucralose, found in many sugar-free and diet products, have been associated with migraines in certain individuals.

Paying attention to labels and minimizing consumption of foods and beverages containing these sweeteners may be beneficial.

  1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a flavor enhancer commonly found in processed and packaged foods, as well as in some Asian cuisine. Some individuals report migraines triggered by MSG consumption.

Research Evidence on Food Triggers for Migraines

Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between food triggers and migraines. While individual responses can vary, here are some key findings:

Caffeinated Beverages

A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that caffeine consumption can have both triggering and relieving effects on migraines, with the outcome dependent on the individual’s caffeine consumption habits and withdrawal patterns.


Research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry found that alcohol, especially red wine, was a significant trigger for migraines in a large cohort of migraine sufferers.


A study published in the Journal of Clinical Neurology found that chocolate was one of the most commonly reported food triggers among migraine patients, with 22.5% of participants reporting chocolate-induced migraines.

Aged Cheeses and Dairy Products

A review published in the journal Nutrients highlighted the association between tyramine-containing foods, including aged cheeses, and migraine attacks, especially in individuals with a genetic predisposition.

Processed Meats

Research published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that nitrites and nitrates present in processed meats were associated with an increased risk of migraines.

Citrus Fruits

A study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience reported that citrus fruits were identified as migraine triggers in a subset of migraine patients.

Artificial Sweeteners

A systematic review published in the journal Nutrients indicated that artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame, could trigger migraines in susceptible individuals.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Research published in the journal Cephalalgia found that MSG consumption was associated with an increased risk of migraines, particularly in individuals who were already prone to migraines.

Managing Migraines Through Dietary Choices

While triggers can vary among individuals, many migraine sufferers report specific food items that trigger their attacks.

By identifying and avoiding these trigger foods, individuals can potentially reduce the frequency and severity of their migraines.

It is important to note that individual responses to food triggers may vary, and keeping a migraine diary can help identify personal triggers.

Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can provide further guidance in managing migraines through dietary modifications.

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