Are Food Allergies Causing Your Migraines?

Searching the medical literature in PubMed.gov using the search terms “migraine” and “food allergies” will provide you with nearly 160 different studies of this kind, so do yourself a favor and don’t dismiss this potential connection. One randomized, double blind, cross-over study published in 2010 found that a six-week long diet restriction produced a statistically significant reduction in migraines in those diagnosed with migraine without aura. Some of the top migraine-inducing foods identified include:

Wheat and gluten Cow’s milk (including yoghurt and ice cream) Grain cereals Cane sugar
Yeast Corn Citrus Eggs
Aspartame MSG

 

I’d advise you to avoid as many processed foods as possible, as they contain a variety of food colorings, flavors, preservatives, and other additives that might promote headaches and migraines, in addition to other food allergy symptoms. Questions that can help you determine whether or not you might have a food sensitivity or allergy include:

  • Do you experience bloating after meals, gas, frequent belching, or any kind of digestive problems?
  • Do you have chronic constipation or diarrhea?
  • Do you have a stuffy nose after meals?
  • Do you have low energy or feel drowsy after eating?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to investigate further. Keeping a detailed food diary is the easiest way to start tracking down potentially migraine-inducing foods. Keep in mind that eliminating your migraines is not the only health benefit you can reap from identifying food allergies or sensitivities. Eliminating food antigens is also critical for gut health. I’ve written extensively on this topic, as medical science is now beginning to realize just how important your gut is, not just for physical health, but emotional and psychological health as well.

One of the best things you can do if you believe you are suffering from a food allergy is to do a diet elimination challenge. Simply remove all foods that contain what you believe you are allergic to and see if your symptoms improve over the next several days. If you don’t have an idea of what foods you are allergic to, you can stop all the ones in the chart above. Keep in mind that depending on your typical migraine frequency, you may need to avoid the suspected food(s) for a few weeks in order to evaluate whether it had an effect or not.

To confirm the results, you’ll want to reintroduce the food or drink (on an empty stomach). If the suspected food is the culprit you will generally be able to feel the allergy symptoms return within an hour, although migraines can sometimes have a longer lag time than, say, bloating or drowsiness.

Beware of Aspartame and MSG

Both aspartame and MSG are notorious for causing headaches and triggering migraines. Aspartame can also trigger other neurological symptom such as visual disturbances and tingling in the extremities. I actually diagnosed my sister, who was also my office manager when I started practicing, with a migraine. She had the visual aura that is common and makes you feel like you are having a stroke. She was highly reactive to aspartame and if she even sniffs any she will get a migraine.

One of the primary problems with aspartame is the methanol it forms in your body. Methanol acts as a Trojan horse, being carried into susceptible tissues in your body, such as your brain, where an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) converts it into formaldehyde. This in turn can wreak havoc with sensitive proteins and DNA.

All other animals have a protective mechanism that allows methanol to be broken down into harmless formic acid, but according to aspartame expert Dr. Woodrow Monte, there’s a major biochemical problem with methanol in humans, because humans simply do not have this protective metabolic mechanism. Migraineurs will likely recognize several of the symptoms of methanol poisoning, which include headache, throbbing migraine, ear buzzing, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness and shooting pains in the extremities, behavioral disturbances, and neuritis.

Diet for Migraine Relief

Quite a few people have reportedly rid themselves of migraines on the Paleo diet, which can be summarized as “any food that can be eaten without being processed.” That means no grains, bread or pasta, and no pasteurized dairy, but does include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, some nuts and oils along with wild caught fish, organic poultry and grass-fed lean meats.

I believe a return to “real food” is one of the most profound interventions for the 21st century. We’ve strayed so far from the foods we are designed to eat, going back to basics and refocusing your diet on fresh, whole, unprocessed, “real” food can improve just about anyone’s health, regardless of what health issues you need to address. You can easily mold your diet around the principles of Paleo eating by following my nutrition plan. The full details are described in the plan, but generally speaking, the following key factors apply to anyone seeking a “healthy diet”:

Eliminate all gluten products Organically grown produce, and grass-fed or pastured animal products that are free from additives and genetically engineered ingredients
Eliminate all artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame. My sister is one of many who will get a guaranteed migraine if she consumes any aspartame. Obviously, even if you don’t have migraines, there simply is no reason to ever consume aspartame Carbohydrates primarily come from vegetables (except corn and potatoes, which should typically be avoided). Dramatically lowering your intake of non-vegetable carbs could improve leptin and insulin signaling which could also improve migraines
Focus on unprocessed, whole foods, eaten raw or only lightly cooked (ideally, try to eat at least one-third of your food raw, or as much as you can manage) Food from high-quality, local sources

Quick, Natural Tips to Relieve a Migraine

Preventing migraines begins by avoiding the triggers. Most often this means eating healthy whole foods (avoiding most processed ones) and managing your stress effectively. Following my eating plan seems to reduce migraines by about 80 percent, although it does take some time to work. It’s a lifestyle switch, not a quick and easy fix. Avoiding wheat, grains, sugar and all fluids but water seem to be particularly effective.

Regular exercise may also help to keep migraines at bay by improving your response to stress along with the underlying inflammatory conditions that can trigger migraines. Ideally, those are the things to focus on so that you can reduce your migraines altogether. That said, should a migraine strike and you need immediate relief, you could try one or more of the following:

Stimulate your body’s natural painkilling ability. By putting pressure on a nerve just under your eyebrow, you can cause your pituitary gland to release painkilling endorphins immediately Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). Newcomers who use this simple process by themselves achieve relief 50 percent to 80 percent of the time and, in many cases, the relief is complete and permanent. More sophisticated uses by an EFT expert may be required for some migraine sufferers
Take 10 teaspoons of cayenne pepper in a glass of water.Endorphins are released by your brain when the cayenne hits your stomach lining. Another alternative is to swallow a dollop of wasabi paste Green apple scent. One study found that the scent significantly relieved migraine pain. This may also work with other scents that you enjoy so consulting with an aromatherapist may be beneficial
Hot/Cold compress: Alternate hot and cold compresses on your forehead and/or behind your neck Massage your ears, ear lobes, and the “crown” of your head — the ring of muscles that circle your head where a crown would sit

 

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