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Your diet may be the culprit for those pounding headaches.

Arielle Weg
August 01, 2018

We’re all familiar with the obnoxious discomfort that is a pounding headache. That moment you suddenly feel like someone is pressing (hard) on your head from all sides, and it’s increasingly difficult to focus or even keep your eyes open. You think, Did I sleep enough? Am I really stressed out? Maybe it’s the weather. But you might need to start considering what you’ve eaten recently.

It turns out your diet may very well be linked to those painful headaches. If you experience regular headaches and suspect that your diet may be playing a role, the first thing to do is to start keeping a food journal. This will help you look back to find trigger foods that could be linked to your headaches. Anything from a banana, peanut butter, or even dried fruit could be kickstarting that midday discomfort.

We flipped through the pages of the Mayo Clinic’s Book of Home Remedies to see what foods most commonly cause the pain—and we were surprised. Though trigger foods vary based on the individual, there are four foods that are very common culprits when it comes to headaches. The good news is, we also have four remedies that may help treat and prevent them.

Foods That Frequently Cause Headaches

Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most common headache triggers for cluster headaches, defined by excruciating pain in or around the eyes that strikes quickly without warning. Specifically red wine has been found to produce headaches. For some, this is due to the sulfites present in red and some white wines, and for others it may stem from tyramine. Science is still trying to explain why these may set off headaches.

Processed Meats

Nitrates present in processed and smoked meats, like the sodium nitrite in hot dogs, have been found to spark headaches. Other food additives and seasonings like MSG can widen blood vessels, which can elicit headaches as well.

Aged Cheeses and Fermented Foods

Because of the same tyramine you find in wine, aged cheese like blue cheese, Brie, cheddar, and feta may provoke a headache. The same has been found for fermented and pickled foods like sauerkraut.

Chocolate

Maybe it’s the sugar or maybe it’s the caffeine, but many people swear to experience a correlation between chocolate and headaches. There’s no scientific evidence proving this, but food diaries reveal it is a popular headache trigger food.

What Can Help Ease Headaches

Peppermint

The menthol present in peppermint oil has long been used to suppress and ease pain. This is no different when it comes to soothing headaches. Simply rub peppermint oil on your forehead and temples for instant relief.

Caffeine

For many people caffeine in tea, coffee, and soda can ease migraines and headaches. Because some headaches are caused by blood vessels widening, caffeine has the ability to temporarily narrow blood vessels and relieve pain. But do consider caffeine when keeping a food journal, as caffeine can also be a headache trigger for some people (and should should be avoided in that case… obviously).

Riboflavin

Also called vitamin B-2, Riboflavin has been found to ease symptoms of headaches. You can find high doses of Riboflavin in nonfat milk, eggs, almonds, salmon, halibut, chicken, beef, broccoli, asparagus, and spinach.

Magnesium

Magnesium supplements also seem to help those who suffer from headaches, and studies have found lower levels of Magnesium have been linked to headaches. You can find a healthy dose of Magnesium in brown rice, mackerel, spinach, almonds, swiss chard, lima beans, peanuts, hazelnuts, okra, and bananas.

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