How Does Diet Impact Migraine?

January 26, 2024
May 10, 2021
How Does Diet Impact Migraine?

Has anyone blamed you for having a migraine because of something you ate?  Food is commonly thought to be “the reason you get migraines” but the truth is much more complicated.  Many people do have food triggers for their migraines, and many people with food sensitivities may notice that those same foods trigger their migraines.  But it’s important to realize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet that will eliminate migraines from your life. 

Foods That Trigger Migraine Attacks

You might think that if you have migraine you need to avoid chocolate, red wine, gluten or dairy.   Although some people are consistently triggered by these foods (and if you are, you should avoid them) most people with migraine have no sensitivities to these foods. If you aren’t sure, it’s helpful to track the foods that you ate before the migraine

There are a few ingredients that are more notoriously migraine-triggering.  These are commonly found in artificial flavorings, such as MSG and other fake salts, aspartame and other fake sugars. 

The Deal with Caffeine

Caffeine is a double-edged sword: it is commonly used as a treatment for migraine, and can be found in many combination over the counter and even prescription migraine medications.  On the other hand, excessive and inconsistent caffeine use frequently trigger headaches.  So is caffeine good or bad for your migraines?  

When caffeine is used consistently - such as having the same size cup of coffee at around the same time every day - it isn’t much of a problem, and a little extra can help stop a headache in its tracks.  If you drink 3 or more cups of coffee, or if your caffeine use is very inconsistent, the caffeine might start to trigger headache due to withdrawal or rebounding.  Rebounding is using the same medication that might be effective for your migraine a little too often. Every treatment for migraine has its own limit on how frequently you can use it, and when used beyond that limit it can start to make the headaches more frequent and more severe.  

Migraine Diets

If you simply google “migraine diet” you will see dozens of elimination diets, many of which guarantee a “cure” for migraine.  A recent analysis of the most common diets revealed that none showed statistical improvement in migraine frequency or severity.  A lot of people will find specific things that improve their headaches, but we need to focus on what will work for the vast majority of people with migraine. 

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

If you do have a specific food allergy or sensitivity, you might notice migraine as a symptom of that allergy.  Migraine triggers are often a reaction to changes that occur in the body (think hormones, stress) and your body will react in a way to those food sensitivities as well.  Migraine itself isn’t an allergy, but it can be triggered by the reaction your body has to those allergies. Identifying food sensitivities can help to lower the frequency of your migraines.

If you're interested in starting to track headaches and potential food triggers, you can do so in the Neura Health app. Neura’s approach is a four-step, science-based process that our specially trained board-certified neurologists use to tailor a treatment plan to each patient’s unique issues and needs. 

  1. Receive: Get customized information, education, recommendations and medications by scheduling an initial consultation with your board-certified neurologist.
  2. Record: Input your headaches using the built-in tracker in the Neura app; the data is seamlessly shared with your neurologist.
  3. Review: Meet with your neurologist to discuss progress, adjust medications and format a long-term treatment plan for your needs to manage headaches over the long term. 
  4. Repeat: Track headaches, and meet with your neurologist to discuss progress as many times as you would like. 

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Thomas Berk, MD FAHS
Thomas Berk is Medical Director at Neura Health, where he treats Neura patients via video visit. He is a former Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
About the Author
Thomas Berk, MD FAHS is Medical Director of Neura Health and a neurologist and headache specialist based in New York City. A former Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, he has over 12 years of clinical experience. He graduated from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and completed his neurology residency at NYU as well. He completed a headache fellowship at the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia. He is a Fellow of the American Headache Society and has been on the Super Doctors list of rising stars for the past five years.

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