If you’re one of the estimated 38 million American who suffer from migraines, you know that they are no ordinary headaches. Along with blinding, throbbing pain, migraines are often accompanied by disabling symptoms including visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face. And they can last from a few hours to several days.
I’ve suffered from migraines for over 2 decades, unfortunately, and have also counseled many clients who have this debilitating condition. My own experience with migraines has taught me a lot about nutritional changes I can recommend to clients to help reduce the frequency of migraines and, once a migraine occurs, reduce its duration and severity. Every person who suffers from migraines is unique, so there is no “one-size-fits-all” list of triggers or remedies. In my effort to cope with this condition, I’ve been able to uncover what helps me the most.
For me, a healthy diet is a must. I have found that if I stick with a low-sodium, relatively unprocessed, and mostly plant-based diet, I can reduce the frequency and intensity of my migraines.
If you struggle with migraines, it’s important to take steps to identify foods that might play a role in triggering your migraines. Everyone is different, but here are some potential foods that you should monitor to see how they affect you. A good way to do this is to eliminate them ALL and then add them back one by one so you can find the culprit(s).
Common Migraine Trigger Foods:
- Chocolate (anything made with cocoa)
- Aged or fermented cheeses
- Sour cream
- Soy products
- Soy sauce
- Processed meats (smoked, cured, aged, canned pickled)
- Citrus fruits
- Baked goods with yeast extracts
- Additives including MSG
My own food triggers are common to many other migraine suffers. Drinking alcohol of any kind (even a little, like a half glass of wine) will almost certainly bring on a migraine. Same for nitrates and sulfites often found in processed foods. The frequency of my meals is also a factor — going for more than 4 or 5 hours without a meal or snack can be a trigger. Ditto for hydration – if I don’t get enough fluids, there’s a good chance I’m headed toward a migraine.
Here are a few other things I’d recommend to better manage migraines:
Speak to a physician who will take your condition seriously. It took me years before I found a great neurologist who took the time to listen and work with me to find the right treatment. Now more than ever there are medications and therapies that can help prevent migraines (or reduce their frequency) or stop an attack when it starts – so you need a doctor who can help you make the most of your treatment options.
Keep a migraine log. This is essential for getting a handle on your potential triggers. This should include a record of everything potentially related to the onset of your migraine, as well as the migraine itself. Food, stress, work, weather, hormonal changes, sensory stimuli (lights, noise, physical exertion) should all be considered. I have found my ‘migraine diary’ invaluable in helping me uncover my migraine triggers.
Get regular exercise. For some people (I am one of them) extreme physical exertion can be a trigger. But walking, yoga, swimming, can be a big benefit. Find out what works for you and stick with it.
Reduce stress. I know, this can be a tough one given the hectic pace of modern life, but this one can be key. I have found that yoga and meditation can sometimes (not always) help me avoid a migraine.