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27 foods that trigger migraines

Categories: Migraine Triggers.

Feb 25, 2019 // By:migrainer // 2 comments

One of the potential migraine triggers is dietary. So, specific food can be a trigger and cause problems for many of us. But how to know which food is a possible trigger, and how it actually works? Therefore, we will write about certain foods as a migraine trigger and try to explain why that kind of food is a possible migraine trigger. There are a lot of articles online where you can read about this kind of triggers, more or less. For this purpose, we created a list of 27 foods that trigger migraines.

Before we list certain food as a trigger, it is good to know the fact that the trigger is specifically a chemical that this food contains. And please read the whole text to understand the processes. Otherwise a list of certain foods as a trigger you may not find helpful or completely understandable.

Dairy products as migraine trigger

The first category of 27 foods that trigger migraines is dairy products. Dairy products contain tyramine and casein, and this is a reason why migraine occurs. So we listed here foodstuffs, such as cheese, aged cheese, and milk.

With this in mind, we can definitely say that dairy products are a type of food to avoid, or to limit in the case of dietary migraineurs. On one hand dairy products can be a trigger for a migraine headache, on the other not. So it is kind of individual, varying from one migraineur to another. The concrete mechanism and process of occurring a migraine are explained below.

Cheese (1)

Cheese is maybe a favorite food for most people. There are a lot of different kinds of it such as Camembert, Cheddar, Emmentaler, Gouda, etc. It is easy to combine with other types of food as a side dish. Therefore, cheese has a wide use in our diet. Specifically, in this case, the chemical trigger is a trace of tyramine. This can be a problem for some nations, especially for French. Their diet is also known by many different kinds of cheese. So if this is a trigger for a migraine, I suppose it is difficult to be a French migraineur. Hang in there, guys.

Aged cheese (2)

As we said, the trace of tyramine is found in cheese, especially in aged cheese. Therefore, the more aged cheese it is, it has more tyramine in it. As we said above, tyramine is a chemical that is a possible migraine trigger. A food that contains a high level of tyramine, combined with the inhibition of monoamine oxidase enzymes, leads to a huge concentration of tyramine in the circulation. Migraine headache occurs when this happens, indeed.

aged cheese and migraines

Tyramine: Mechanism of action

Tyramine is a biogenic amine. Also, it is a migraine trigger and it’s possible to find it in many kinds of food and beverages. For example cheese, aged cheese, wine, beer, broad beans, and sauerkraut.

In normal circumstances, monoamine oxidase is metabolizing tyramine in the liver and gut. Then it is conjugated with enzymes, and as a result of this tyramine fails to enter the systematic circulation. In this case, you are free of a migraine headache.

On the contrary if we have a deficiency in monoamine oxidase and lack of conjugation tyramine with enzymes, we are more likely to have a migraine. Because of this deficiency, tyramine is absorbed from the gut into the circulation. And as a result of this process vasodilation occurs and migraine appears.

Firstly a connection between tyramine and a migraine headache was detected in patients who were treated from depression with monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

And the first controlled study of a relation of tyramine and a migraine was by Hanington.

In his research, tyramine capsules (125mg) produced migraine headaches in 80% of migraineurs. On the other hand in the case of placebo intake, headache occurred in only 8% of migraineurs. After Hannington, more controlled researches revealed and confirmed this connection.

Milk (3)

Milk is one of 27 foods that trigger migraines, but it is a sort of different story with milk. In fact, the problem is the food intolerance of individuals, precisely milk intolerance. Beside this, we can say that the problems are also allergenic proteins and the main chemical trigger, casein. Food intolerance, allergenic proteins, and casein can cause migraine headaches and headaches in general. Therefore, milk intolerance, allergenic proteins, and casein are possible migraine triggers, and if you have established yours, it is good to stop using it.

One study of elimination diet showed that the use of cows milk in diet have caused headaches at most of 82 patients which improved their diet. On the contrary, none of the patients complained after using goats milk.

Therefore let’s explain the concrete process that is happening to us, and understand occurring a migraine.

Casein: Mechanism of action

Casein is a group of phosphoproteins in milk, and it reaches 78.7% of all proteins that milk contains. Also casein is possible to find in other dairy products, sports bars and beverages, commercial tuna fish and packed goods (food). On the labels of products, you can find casein as sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate or milk protein.

Migraine occurs at the patients which have an intolerance or casein allergy. Normally these proteins are not harmful, but in migraineur case a body is registering casein as harmful by mistake. Then the immune system is producing allergic (IgE) antibodies for protection. After this, it comes to a reaction between antibodies and the specific protein triggers. As a result of this process, chemical histamine is released and migraine occurs.

In most cases of dietary migraineurs it is recommended to reduce or limit dairy products in general.

Canned or processed meats as migraine trigger

We defined dairy products as the first group of food triggers, as a second group, within the list of 27 foods that trigger migraines, we could categorize canned or processed meats. The problem with this type of food is that contains nitrites. With the ingestion of a large number of nitrites, you could increase their level and provoke a migraine. 

salami and migraines

Therefore, the bacon, salami, hot dogs and ham are on this list.

Bacon (4)

Salami (5)

Hot dogs (6)

Ham (7)

The four foodstuffs which you can see above are easy to combine with other food as a side dish or use it as a fast snack, indeed. But the main chemical triggers, in this case, are nitrites and nitric oxide. In other words, nitrites are causing vasodilation and migraine headache occurs.

Nitrites and nitrate oxides: Mechanism of action

Nitrites are another possible chemical trigger. They are formed from nitrates in the intestine and saliva. About 75% of nitrites comes from a daily intake of certain food. To enumerate, the most common food that we use in large amounts are cured meats and vegetables. About 3,5% to 20% of nitrites come from the first type of food (cured meats) and about  2% comes from vegetables.

Precisely, it is about the disorder. When it comes to a consumption of nitrites, the result is a transformation of nitrates to nitrites. This type of headache is also called “Hot dog headache”.

To prove this, Henderson and Raskin conducted an experiment with a migraineur after the usage of bacon, ham, frankfurters, and salami. It’s about a blinded challenge with sodium bicarbonate and nitrite solution. The results showed that headache occurred in 8 of 13 nitrite doses intake. On the contrary, after using the placebo a subject didn’t report a headache at all.

Cereal food as a migraine trigger

Cereals have wide use in our nutrition, and you can find it in different forms. Because of this on this list we have bread, wheat and corn. Of course, the usage of cereals has its benefits on the one hand, and could cause problems on the other. Below, I will explain how this type of food can cause us problems and provoke a migraine headache.

Bread (8)

The main reason of occuring a migraine are gluten and intolerance

Wheat (9)

Also, main cause of migraine in this case are gluten and intolerance.

About Gluten intolerance and how migraine occur?

Today we can find Gluten and gluten-free food. For some of us, Gluten could be quite harmful, and it can cause us lots of health problems including a migraine. The whole process of migraine occurring is based on the intolerance on Gluten. Gluten as an ingredient is not harmful by itself. But sometimes our immune system declares gluten as a harmful. Then our immune system is producing allergic (IgE) antibodies for its protection. In the reaction between antibodies and gluten, some of the chemicals are released and that causes vasodilation. As a result of this, migraine occurs.

So its kind of similar to the case of casein which is already explained above.

Corn (10)

Corn, especially processed corn, is highly allergenic because it contains large amounts of glutamic acid. Also, it is hard for our stomach to process it and it can cause inflammatory. Besides that, it has a high level of sugar. All of this could mess up chemicals in our body and provoke a migraine. Therefore, it is one of 27 foods that trigger migraines.

corn headache

Sweets as a migraine trigger

Sweets and desserts are one more group of food that trigger a migraine headache. Reasons for having a migraine after eating sweets are increased the level of sugar, dyes, or possible intolerance on milk. As one particular foodstuff, I would like to separate here is chocolate. Above all the main chemical trigger here is Phenylethylamine.

Chocolate (11)

Chocolate is maybe the most popular and favorite dessert. Lots of people like it, indeed. But is it good for migraineurs, especially dietary migraineurs? Specifically a chemical trigger, in this case, is phenylethylamine. Beside this one, theobromine, caffeine, and catechin are also possible chemical triggers. Therefore, chocolate is one of the 27 foods that trigger migraines.

Phenylethylamine: Mechanism of action

Phenylethylamine (further on in this article PEA) is a biogenic amine. And monoamine oxidase enzymes are metabolizing PEA. Unlike PEA, caffeine and theobromine are methylxanthines. These chemicals could change cerebral blood flow. As a result of this process, norepinephrine is released from sympathetic nerve cells and headache occurs.

To prove this theory, it was implemented a double-blind controlled study. Participants of this experiment were migraineurs which supposed that the chocolate was a migraine trigger. Therefore, migraineurs were challenged with placebo or chocolate (40gm bar) ingestion. As a result of experiment 5 of 12 people reported a typical migraine after chocolate ingestion. On the contrary, none of the 8 people reported a migraine after using a placebo. Symptoms of migraine headaches have appeared in a time interval of 3,5 to 27 hours.

So the chocolate may be a reason for your migraine, but not necessarily. But do not despair, maybe this isn’t your problem. Therefore you are free to enjoy chocolate delicacies.

Fruits and vegetables as a migraine trigger

One more category of food trigger I would like to add in this text is fruits and vegetables as a migraine trigger. Ingestion of fruits and vegetables is very healthy because of vitamins that we need, indeed. But specific fruits and vegetables could be a possible trigger for migraine headaches. Of course, it depends from one person to another. And it is also a very important quantity of fruit and vegetable ingestion and of course a variety of it. You probably wouldn’t like to have a vitamin deficiency or vitamin suppression.

On the list below (12-22) you can see some of the fruits and vegetables which I added as a migraine trigger. Specifically, chemical triggers in the case of fruits and vegetables are tyramine, PEA, nitrates, nitrites, and lots of amines. Processes and mechanisms which include these chemicals are explained above in this text. So it is the same story but different foodstuffs. Below you can see the concrete chemical trigger in each fruit and vegetable individually.

Lemon (12)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache are tyramine and PEA.

Orange (13)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache are tyramine and PEA.

Pineapple (14)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache are tyramine and PEA.

Avocado (15)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache is tyramine.

Grapes (16)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache is tyramine.

grapes migraine trigger

Watermelon (17)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache is tyramine.

Beans (18)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache is tyramine.

Onion (19)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache is tyramine.

Nuts (20)

Chemical trigger of migraine headache is tyramine.

Beetroot (21)

Beetroot contains nitrates and nitrites, and they are the reason of migraine headache.

Tomato (22)

It is possible that lots of amines witch tomato contains are causing a migraine headache.

Caffeine beverages as a migraine trigger

As the third group of 27 foods that trigger migraines, we can add caffeine beverages, such as tea or coffee. Accordingly, to the explanation which you can read below, it’s about caffeine dependency, and it is probably good to regulate caffeine intake.

Coffee (23)

We absolutely like beverages that will raise our mood or wake us up. I don’t know for you guys but my favorite is definitely coffee. Of course, there are a lot of types of coffee, but one common thing for all types is caffeine.  As caffeine is a possible chemical trigger for a migraine headache, coffee is on our list. Besides caffeine may induce a migraine, caffeine withdrawal may also cause migraine headaches. It’s kinda like a two-edged sword.

Tea (24)

Tea is another possible trigger for a migraine. When it comes to tea, it is the same story as with a coffee, caffeine or caffeine withdrawal – definitely may cause a migraine.

green tea migraine

Caffeine and caffeine withdrawal: Mechanism of action

Caffeine ingestion in larger quantities could cause quite a harm to us. It is reasonable why do we use this kind of beverage. With the modern age and the rush of life, it is difficult to finish all our daily tasks indeed. It keeps us awake and gives us specific strength. Therefore, it’s reasonable why do we need this kind of stimulation. On the other side, the ingestion of caffeine in larger quantities is a big health risk.

On one hand, caffeine is a possible migraine trigger even in small quantities. That means that caffeine may be harmful to you even in small amounts. And migraine is a result of this. On the other hand, you may not find small doses of caffeine harmful to you, and you can use it even in larger quantities. But if you reduce caffeine intake at once, you may provoke a migraine headache. In this case, headaches begin within 24 to 48 hours.

Mainly, it is about caffeine dependency, because headache usually occurs with caffeine withdrawal. When you stop the intake of caffeine, it comes to vasodilation and increased arterial blood.

For children which consume 200mg caffeine per day there is a high probability of withdrawal headaches, especially for migraineurs.

Besides coffee or tea, you can find caffeine in more stimulant beverages. The level of caffeine varies from one beverage to another. In some of those, the level of caffeine is very high, such as a cup of coffee, there is 150mg of caffeine in 5-ounce. Unlike, there is only 35 mg of caffeine in a 12-ounce cola can.

Alcohol as a migraine trigger

The seventh group of 27 foods that trigger migraines is alcoholic beverages. It is good to know that not all alcoholic beverages trigger a migraine headache, but only the ones with increased levels of histamine. Or the ones which include tyramine, sulfites and phenolic flavanoids in migraine occurring process.

For example, if you drink a large amount of alcohol, such as vodka, you could experience a hangover headache the next day. But, if you drink red wine in a large amount, because of the increased level of histamine, you could experience a migraine headache the next day. Beside histamine, tyramine and PEA are also chemical triggers here.

Therefore, on this list and in this category we have wine, especially red wine and beer. But how migraine occurs in this case? You can read about the specific details of this process below.

Wine / Red wine (25)

Most people like to have a glass of wine with dinner. Some of us even begin a day with a glass of wine. But, please do not be offended with this line, I am not judging. Be careful with wine, it can cause migraines indeed. Wine, especially red wine is a possible trigger for a migraine headache. Specifically a chemical, in this case, histamine, phenolic flavonoids, tyramine, and sulfites.

Beer (26)

One of the possible beverages that can provoke a migraine headache. Of course, due to its composition. Chemical triggers here are, histamine, tyramine, sulfites, and phenolic flavonoids, roughly like wine.

beer and migraines

Histamine and phenolic flavonoids: Mechanism of action

We wrote about tyramine at the beginning of this text. As regards of histamine, it can induce headaches with a mechanism of releasing nitric oxide from the vascular endothelium. On the other side, flavanoids are releasing serotonin from platelets, and as a result, migraine occurs.

Condiments as a migraine trigger

We use condiments all the time, some of us more and some less. It depends on a taste, definitely. Some people love spicy food, saltier, juicier, greasy or acidly. With this in mind, I would like to talk about condiments as a migraine trigger. There are a lot of different types of condiments, and their usage can improve the taste of food, indeed. Of course, we need them in our nutrition, but in normal quantities. On the contrary, if you use them in large quantities, they could cause us health issues. One of the issues is a migraine headache, and you can induce a migraine headache with vinegar ingestion.

Triggers, in this case, are also tyramine and PEA. Process and mechanism of tyramine and PEA you have already read above. So, there is no need to repeat me.

Vinegar (27)

–Tyramine and PEA


So, guys, we came to the end of this list “27 foods that trigger migraines”. Therefore from all the above let’s have a quick resume.

Firstly, all foodstuffs which are on this list are important for our nutrition.

Secondly, each individual foodstuff has its benefits. And with the ingestion in reasonable quantities, you maintain the level of vitamins. Of course, it’s good to have a glass of wine sometimes, or eating chocolate, but don’t exaggerate with it. A lot of food can cause us health issues if we aren’t careful and if we eat large quantities of it.

Categories by type of food

Thirdly, we categorized eighth groups of food that trigger a migraine headache:

1.    Dairy productswhich contain milk, cheese, and aged cheese

2.    Can or processed meatshot dog, ham, salami and bacon

3.    Cereal foodcorn, bred and wheat

4.    Sweets productschocolate

5.    Fruits and vegetablesavocado, orange, lemon, pineapple, tomatoes, grapes, beetroot, onion, nuts, beans, and watermelon

6.    Caffeine beveragescoffee and tea

7.    Alcoholic beverageswine/red wine and beer and

8.    Condimentsvinegar

Categories by chemical trigger

Also, we can create categories by chemical triggers for migraine, such as:

1.    Tyramine induced migraine

2.    Allergenic proteins or casein induced migraine

3.    Nitrites and nitrites oxide induced a migraine

4.    Gluten and intolerance induced a migraine

5.    PEA induced migraine

6.    Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal induced a migraine

7.    Histamine and phenolic flavonoids induced a migraine

In this case, one foodstuff can belong only to one group. For example, avocado belongs to tyramine induced migraine. On the other hand, pineapple belongs to tyramine induced migraine and PEA induced migraine. But both foodstuffs, avocado, and pineapple belong to the fruits and vegetable category. So that means that one foodstuff can belong to two or more categories of chemical triggers.

As from all the above, we can say that the most dominant chemical trigger of migraine is tyramine.

And for the end, dietary migraineurs have to be very careful with ingestion of some food. They have to pay attention to quantities of the ingestion of specific food. Also, they need to be careful when they are avoiding or limiting certain foods. It’s all about controlled balance, indeed. As far as this topic is concerned, I will make an effort to write an article about it soon. And you can read about best food for migraine headaches here.

I hope that this is reasonable for reading. I have really tried to explain mechanisms and processes with chemical triggers as readable as it can be. It is a little bit boring, but in order to understand it, it was needed here.

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Comments (2) | Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for the interesting and very helpful article. I enjoyed reading it and benefitted from it. It has explained the mechanism for the migraine headache yesterday (swiss cheese) that I was researching.

    I have also read that a migraine occurs when there is too much of a substance in the body, and that it is good to avoid the same substance until it diminishes in the body. Then, the body can tolerate it again in small quantities better at a later time. Just wanted to pass that along and to ask, do you agree with this concept?.

    Cindy Okusako
  2. Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it


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