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Foods That Cause Headaches

Foods That Cause Headaches

Dealing with a headache is infuriating enough. Trying to figure out  exactly  what caused it … well, that in itself could just about give you a  headache.  Many people who suffer from chronic headaches, including  those who experience migraines,  often get so fed up with them that they discover the factors that  trigger  their headaches so that they can avoid them in the future. For  some people,  environmental elements, such as cigarette smoke or heavy  perfume, bring on  headaches. For others, excessive stress or lack of  sleep is enough to cause an  attack. And according to some experts, up to  30 percent of headache sufferers  are affected by the foods they eat.  What kinds of foods cause headaches, and  why?

Let the Cheese Stand Alone

There’s no conclusive evidence to prove which foods cause headaches,  and not  every headache and migraine sufferer is affected by food. But  the accepted  reality is that many people are, so avoiding headaches  means avoiding certain  kinds of food. One of the biggest triggers is cheese, specifically the aged varieties. Cheese  is high in an enzyme  called tyramine, an amino acid known to raise blood  pressure, which can  contribute to headaches. Tyramine forms from the breakdown  of protein  in foods, so the longer a food has aged, the greater the amount of   tyramine present. Blue or moldy cheeses, Brie, Muenster, Parmesan, and  cheddar  tend to be the worst offenders.

Plenty of foods besides cheese contain tyramine as well. People  who are  headache-prone are usually cautioned to avoid processed and aged  meat products  (like salami, pepperoni, and hot dogs), pickles, fava  beans, avocados, and most  kinds of nuts. Tyramine’s most severe effects  happen to people taking monoamine  oxidase inhibitor medications, but it  has the potential to affect anyone.

Red, Red Whine

Red wine negatively affects so many people that “red wine headache”  is  sometimes considered its own syndrome. Having a sensitivity to red  wine isn’t  the same as developing a pounding headache after drinking a  bottle or two  (that’s called a hangover, of course); true red wine  headaches usually develop  within just a few minutes after someone drinks  the wine. People used to blame  the headaches on sulfites, the compounds  added to wine to halt fermentation or  act as preservatives. In the  early eighties, the FDA began to require wine  producers to state on  their bottles whether their wines contained sulfites,  since a small  portion of the population is allergic to them, so many people  assumed  that sulfite allergies were what caused the infamous red wine  headaches.  In fact, sulfite allergies are much more likely to trigger breathing  problems than headaches and are far less common than people think. Also,  white  wine usually contains more sulfites than red wine, yet few people  complain of white wine headaches. No one is sure, but some  people think that it’s  actually the mouth-puckering tannins that cause  the reaction, since experiments  have shown that tannins cause the  release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that  has been linked to  headaches. Other scientists reject the tannin theory and  blame  histamines, which are present in red wine in levels twenty to two   hundred times those of white wine. Some believe that the histamines  trigger an  immune response and inflammation, which can result in a  headache. However,  there are inconsistencies and holes in all of the  theories about red wine, and  controlled experiments have failed to  pinpoint exactly what links it to  headaches.

A Chemical Culprit

Some food additives are known to trigger headaches in sensitive  individuals.  As with other triggers, scientists don’t know exactly what  about nitrates, artificial sweeteners,  MSG, and food colorings causes  headaches, but their prevailing belief  currently is that these substances  increase blood flow to the brain.  Headaches caused by additives tend to be  slightly different than regular  headaches. Those caused by MSG can result in  pressure or a burning  sensation in the face, neck, and chest, dizziness, and  abdominal  discomfort. Highly processed foods of any kind, such as Velveeta  cheese  or frozen TV dinners, also cause the same symptoms. Unlike migraines,   which are usually felt on only one side of the head, headaches caused by  food  additives tend to occur on both sides.

Other foods that have been known to cause headaches include  cultured dairy  products, chocolate, dried or pickled fish, canned soup,  nut butters, pudding  and ice cream, freshly baked bread, dried fruit,  overripe bananas, papayas, and  any beverages containing caffeine.

The list of foods that could potentially trigger headaches is so  long, it’s  nearly impossible to avoid everything. Doctors recommend  keeping a food journal  to monitor your diet and see how it correlates  with headaches. It’s a lengthy  trial-and-error process, but once you  find out exactly which foods seem to  trigger your headaches, it becomes  easier to avoid the specific offenders.

By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline

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