The Chronic Migraine-Diet Connection

Have you ever eaten a delicious meal, only to find yourself woozy in the grip of a migraine attack a few hours later? There may be a link between your diet and your chronic migraine flare-ups. What you choose to eat and drink–and when you choose to eat and drink it–may have a more significant impact on your pain than you might realize. Being thoughtful about your diet might help you manage your chronic migraine better.

Learn about your trigger foods.

A number of factors are notorious for triggering migraine. Some of the worst offenders are stress, hormones, and irregular sleep patterns. But certain foods and beverages are also known to taste delicious when you consume them, only to trigger a throbbing migraine flare-up a few hours (or even a day) later.

Unfortunately, a well-known trigger food is chocolate. That may come as bad news to some of you with a sweet tooth, but here’s some good news: not every so-called trigger food will be your personal trigger food. You may find that other foods or ingredients in foods are more likely than others to lead to migraine exacerbations. For example, consider these other common triggers:

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You might find you’re better off avoiding some of these, or eating them less frequently. In other cases, you might not notice much of an effect. It’s all about figuring out your specific trigger foods. You can keep notes or a diary to help you determine if you tend to develop migraine attacks after eating certain things.

Plus, the dose may matter. A couple of bites of a trigger food might not be enough to lead to a migraine, but a larger amount might do the job. And if your body is already stressed by other triggers, you may be more vulnerable to a migraine if you also consume a trigger food.

Be careful with caffeine.

Some people with migraine struggle with caffeine consumption. In fact, caffeine is not an uncommon migraine trigger. You’ll enjoy a cup or two of coffee or a soft drink, but the pleasure is short-lived, as your next migraine attack is often on the horizon. Cutting back or cutting out the caffeine may help you ward off a flare-up.

However, other people find that some caffeine can bring them some relief from their migraine pain. Ultimately, it depends on how caffeine affects you. And it can also depend on how often you turn to caffeine. Daily caffeine use may actually head to rebound headaches, which are sometimes called medication overuse headaches.

Don’t skip meals.

Too busy to take a break and eat lunch? You may pay the price later. When you skip or delay a meal, you may be unintentionally encouraging a migraine to begin brewing. Some people discover that hunger can trigger a migraine. One strategy to consider is eating four or five smaller meals throughout the day, rather than a couple of big meals. If you blend some protein with a carbohydrate, this can give you some energy while also help you stay full longer.

Use caution when considering specific diets.

In general, eating a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is good for you, even if it doesn’t specifically address your chronic migraine.

But you may also hear about other possible diets that can help you avoid migraine attacks. For example, there’s a theory that a gluten-free diet might help some people with migraine. And research does suggest that migraines seem to be more prevalent in people with certain gastrointestinal disorders, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. However, experts caution that more research is necessary before they can make a recommendation to steer clear of foods containing gluten. You could certainly discuss the subject with your doctor, especially if you already know you have a GI disorder.

Embrace healthy choices.

Ultimately, eating a healthy overall diet will do your body good. But you still need to be mindful about which foods and beverages may trigger a migraine attack. If you continue to have problems even after eliminating your trigger foods, check in with your doctor. There may be other strategies you can try to help you manage your chronic migraine.

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