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7 Common Migraine Triggers

A friend of mine suffers from migraines and as we know there is not much you can do but ride it out. The pain, vision problems (including aura at the onset), and nausea that accompany migraine headaches can be debilitating; especially if they stick around for hours or even days.

Research shows migraines affect about 15% of adults, so they’re fairly common. And women are three times more likely than men to get migraines. And, while the exact cause is not known, there are lots of known triggers, including stress, lack of sleep and food choices.

Many foods and drinks are common triggers of migraines. Today let's explore those triggers and figure out what causes yours, and hopefully avoid future headaches.

You may have noticed yourself that certain foods and drinks trigger your migraines. Sometimes the migraine comes on within an hour of the food or drink. Other times it may happen several hours, up to a day later. Once you have identified a trigger, avoid it to reduce or eliminate your migraines. Caffeine is a common trigger for migraines in some people, as is salt. And watch out for hidden salts (i.e. processed and fermented foods).

One of the main ways these foods and drinks set off migraines is by their action on the blood vessels in the brain. The inflammation causes change in the nerve cells that create pain. This pain is different from a regular headache, being much more severe and long-lasting, so best to do what you can to avoid one.

You may be sensitive to one, or many of these foods and drinks. They prompt migraines in some people, but not all.

Foods to avoid if you get migraines

The first food that commonly triggers migraines is hard cheese like cheddar and Swiss; this is because they contain "tyramine" which is from an amino acid in the protein found in cheese. Other foods high in tyramine include those that are aged, cured, dried, smoked or pickled. These include sauerkraut and tofu.

The second common migraine-triggering foods are cured or processed meats. Things like hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon are in this category; this is because of their nitrates and nitrites that can dilate those blood vessels in the brain. Even if these are not a trigger for you, it's best to eliminate them from your diet because of other health issues they're associated with like colon cancer.

I wish I had better news, but the third common migraine triggering food is chocolate! The evidence is conflicting, as some studies show a link and others don’t. You may or may not be sensitive to chocolate's effects on the brain; you have to eliminate it to find out.

Artificial flavors like monosodium glutamate (MSG) also trigger migraines. MSG is often found in Chinese food and is a common migraine trigger. There is not a lot of research on this, but it's something to consider eliminating from your diet to see if it makes a difference.

Drinks to avoid if you get migraines

Alcohol is a common trigger for headaches and migraines. Red wine and beer seem to be the most common culprits. We're not sure why, but it may be red wine's compounds such as histamine, sulfites, or flavonoids.

Ice and ice-cold water have also been shown to trigger headaches and migraines. So try not to eat or drink things that are too cold (brain-freeze). I like room temperature water myself.

Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame are another common trigger. Aspartame is in diet sodas and other processed foods to make them taste sweet without adding sugar. As with MSG, there is not a lot of research on its effects with migraines. But again, it is something to consider eliminating from your diet and see if that makes a difference.


There are many common food and drink triggers for migraines. Maybe one, or more of these trigger migraines for you. The best way to know is by eliminating them from your diet for a few weeks and see how that works.

The list includes hard cheeses, processed meats, chocolate, alcohol, ice water, and artificial flavors and sweeteners.

Do any of these trigger migraines for you (or someone you care about)? Try an elimination diet to find out what works for you - grab one here


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