with Aisling Murray from Whelehans Pharmacy
Migraine: Foods to Avoid
This is the final of my series of three articles in Examiner about migraine.
Food additive triggers
Additives like flavour enhancers, sweeteners and preservatives can all lead to migraines. They include monosodium glutamate (MSG) which can cause a condition known as “Chinese restaurant syndrome”; one of the main symptoms of this is headache. MSG is present in packet soups, Oxo cubes, soy sauce, certain crisps, sauces and Chinese restaurant food. Always check the food label to identify if a food contains MSG. Aspartame (sweetener) is present in diet fizzy drinks, sweets, sugar free foods and diet foods, it can cause headaches and in severe cases migraines. So many of us buy diet or sugar free foods and think “healthy”; but for a migraine sufferer these foods can trigger an attack.
Sodium nitrate can also trigger your migraine. It’s present in processed foods and is used primarily in cured meats to prolong their shelf life. When sodium nitrate is consumed in food it causes the body to produce nitric oxide, this is a gas which expands the blood vessels. This can then result in an individual becoming more susceptible to a migraine.
Sulphites are present in dark alcoholic beverages, but they are also present in dried fruits, apricots, figs and prunes; this preservative has been known to trigger migraine in some. Sulphites are also present in citrus fruits like lime and lemons.
How to identify a food trigger
Food can be a trigger for only 20% of migraine suffers and can be wrongly blamed for an attack in the majority of cases. In order to identify what is really causing your migraine you need to refer back to you food diary. It’s important to also note that if a certain food does trigger a migraine, it may not be the only contributing factor. Fasting or skipping meals can bring on a migraine so eat little and often. If you wish to identify a triggering food then an elimination diet may be the best solution.
To identify what foods may be triggering your migraine, an elimination diet may be one solution. Unfortunately in order to identify the triggers you may need to follow this diet for a number of weeks. This will give your body time to adjust to a new way of eating. It’s only a temporary diet as it can be very unbalanced. When the migraines have stopped or are not as regular then you can start to reintroduce other food groups into your diet.
When reintroducing food, do it one day at a time and one food at a time. For one whole day start with a food you suspect is the least likely to cause a migraine and eat that food a number of times in the day. So if you are testing citrus fruit, then have an orange for breakfast, snack on grapefruit and add lemon juice to your water. The following day you need to revert back to your elimination diet and follow it again for an additional 48hours before testing a second food. Continue this process until you find the problematic food group. The common migraine trigger foods such as dairy, caffeine etc. should be added back into your diet last.
Continue your regular diet and eliminate all foods from the particular food group. If you suspect dairy to be causing your migraines’ then avoid, milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream and all dairy foods stuff. If you achieve relief with the avoidance method then reintroduce the food to ensure your theory is correct. Once you discover what food is triggering your migraine you need to determine how much of that food you can consume, everyone’s therapeutic index is different some people can tolerate a little while some people cannot ingest that food at all.
If you are avoiding any food/food group for some reason, you should consult a nutritionist. A Nutrition consultation can help identify food triggers, recommend an elimination diet, and formulate meal plans. Alternative foods may need to be introduced to ensure you are not missing out on essential nutrients. Also consider that food may not be the only triggering factor so do not eliminate a food unless you are sure it is exacerbating the symptoms of migraine.
Upcoming Migraine Talk
Whelehans Pharmacy in conjunction with Migraine Association of Ireland is hosting a Migraine Information evening on Tuesday June 23rd (tonight) at 7pm in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar. Admission is free. Speakers on the night will include Dr. Martin Ruttledge, Consultant Neurologist from the Beaumont Migraine Clinic. Dr Ruttledge is one of the top neurologists in the country, and the top when it comes to migraine and headache. There will be other speakers including myself (Nutritionist Aisling Murray) and Pharmacist Eamonn Brady and help and advice from Migraine Association of Ireland on the night. Call the Whelehans Pharmacy at 04493 34591 for more information or to book a place.
Aisling Murray has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and offers a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for an appointment