AARP: 4 foods that can trigger migraines

UC experts provide tips on managing diet to avoid painful headaches

The American Migraine Foundation says that 39 million Americans suffer from migraines. AARP published a story on foods that trigger migraines and the article cited Vincent Martin, MD, director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute who says that up to 50% of people who get migraines report having a food trigger.  Although food triggers can vary from person to person, Martin says, there are a few usual suspects that can bring on these headaches from hell.

Vincent Martin, MD, shown here at Medical Arts Building and in front of the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute. UC/Joseph Fuqua II

Vincent Martin, MD, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the UC College of Medicine, director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute/Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Marketing + Brand

Martin tells AARP that when it comes to headaches, "caffeine is a two-edged sword."

If you have a bad migraine, a stiff cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage may actually help your headache. In fact, many over-the-counter analgesic medications, such as Excedrin, contain caffeine along with the pain-relieving ingredient.

On the other hand, if you consume caffeine on a daily basis, your brain becomes acclimated to that dose, Martin says. “Studies have shown that if you normally drink two cups of coffee per day, and on one day, you drink four or five cups of coffee, then you’re more likely to have a migraine,” he says.

About 29 to 36% of people who suffer from migraines say alcoholic beverages bring on their headaches. But not every vintage, brew or spirit is the problem. “It probably depends on what kind of alcoholic beverage you’re talking about,” Martin says. One study showed that red wine was far more likely to lead to a migraine than vodka. 

AARP also reports other data shows that alcohol is more likely to be a trigger if it is consumed during a time of stress. Plus, dehydration could be a contributing factor, says Hope O’Brien, MD, an adjunct professor of neurology at the UC College of Medicine.

“Wine tends to be a diuretic,” O’Brien says, “and we know that dehydration is a migraine trigger.”

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