Is your Diet Causing your Headache?

Headaches: They can seem to come out of nowhere with pounding pain that can ruin your day. But what if you learned they aren’t as random as you think? Specific factors like stress, lack of sleep and even what you ate or drank that day can cause headaches and migraines (severe headaches that often come with symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to light and sound).

Wondering if one of your favorite foods is a trigger? Here are four common culprits:

  • Aged Cheese: Many aged cheeses, a category that includes Swiss, cheddar and parmesan, contain a substance named tyramine. Tyramine, naturally created in fermented or preserved foods, has the potential to cause headaches if excessive amounts build up in one’s system. Cheeses with less tyramine include part-skim mozzarella, ricotta, havarti and American cheese.
  • Flavor Additives: Some common ingredients used to season food can cause pain-inducing migraines. Three of the big ones to watch out for are monosodium glutamate (MSG), usually found in packaged and restaurant foods, the sweetener aspartame and nitrites and nitrates, commonly found in processed meats. Also look out for foods flavored with too much salt. Sodium can increase blood pressure, leading to a headache.
  • Beer, Wine and Liquor: Consuming alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, which can potentially cause a headache or migraine. Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, which can dehydrate you and increase your risk for a headache. And if your drink has sulfites in it, you can increase it even more. High levels of sulfites are commonly found in some wine, beers, cocktails and champagne.
  • Caffeine: While some caffeine can help you avoid headaches (it protects you from caffeine withdrawal if you’re used to having a certain amount), drinking too much in one day (more than four to five cups), can cause a migraine or headache. And similar to alcohol, caffeinated drinks act as a diuretic, leading to dehydration and increasing your risk for a headache.

Food and drink triggers vary from person to person. When you experience a headache, write down what you ate 24 hours prior to help identify your sensitivities. This will help you notice trends and see what foods to watch out for. One of the best solutions is hydration. Keeping properly hydrated helps stave off headaches, keeps your blood sugar balanced and counteracts against these pesky triggers.

For more about how food impacts your well-being, follow A Healthier Michigan on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Gonzalo Malpartida

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