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10 reasons why you suffer from migraine
Priya Khanna, Seema Tarneja
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April 11, 2005

Very often, migraines and headaches are mistaken for each another.

But there is a thin line of demarcation between the two. Dieticians Priya Khanna and Seema Tarneja explain:

Headache? Migraine?What's a migraine?

Migraine is a throbbing headache, usually on one side of the head, caused by the narrowing and dilating of blood vessels on one side of the brain. An attack may last upto two days.

There are two main types of migraine:

Common: A slowly developing severe headache, lasting from a few hours to two days, made worse by the smallest movement or noise, accompanied by nausea and sometimes vomiting.

Classical: Headache preceded by an aura which generally takes the form of a visual disturbance.

This may consist of:

What's a headache?

Headaches, on the other hand, are a common complaint. For the most part, they happen because of muscular tension in the head, neck or shoulder or due to congestion of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain and muscles.

Generally, there is a sensation of a tight band around the head, a feeling of pressure at the top of the head, a bursting and throbbing sensation, eye and neck pain, dizziness.

Stress -- thanks to a hectic, competitive lifestyle -- is a cause, but changes in dietary habits may also be the culprit.

Dietary factors known to activate the headache mechanism are called 'migraine triggers'.

Here are some causes are known to precipitate migraines and headaches:








Poor posture

Sleep deprivation


Bright lights


Head trauma



Food allergy


Eye strain

Oral contraceptives


Hormonal changes

Low blood sugar


Head injury

Chemicals that trigger migraines

Here are some chemicals in foods that trigger migraine headaches:

1Tyramine and other amines, including phenylethylamine and histamine

Patients with dietary migraine are sensitive to tyramine-containing foods. Tyramine leads to dilation of the nerves in the brain, resulting in a rush of blood, which tiggers the migraine.

Tyramine is found in:

Phenylethylamine is found in chocolates; octopamine in citrus fruits; histamine in red wine and beers.

2. Chocolate-induced migraine

Phenylethylamine, theobromine and caffeine are chemical triggers present in chocolate. They may cause a headache by altering the cerebral blood flow.

3. Caffeine withdrawal headache

Caffeine causes constriction of the cerebral blood vessels. When the caffeine intake is interrupted, the blood vessels dilate and the increase in cerebral blood flow results in headache.

4. Alcoholic beverages and migraine

Alcohol per se is probably not a migraine-provoking chemical, but the tyramine and histamine contained in many red wines and beers are said to provoke migraines.

Some believe grapes that are organically grown and wines that are free of sulfites are less likely to trigger headaches. Stress may act as a secondary trigger in some situations.

A person who suffers from migraines and is exposed to a stressful and tiring work environment may complain of an inability to tolerate wine, whereas the same person on a relaxing vacation may drink and enjoy the same wine without suffering headaches.

5. Nitrates, Nitrites headache

Hot dogs and other cured meats like bacon, ham and salami contain nitrates.

Beets, lettuce, celery, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes contribute the largest portion of nitrate to our daily diet.

Nitrites are formed by the reduction of nitrates and are responsible for headaches, and flushing of the face and neck.

Nitrites can cause low oxygen levels in the blood, which imparts a slate grey colour to the skin.

6Aspartame triggered migraine

If you already have a headache, and if you consume anything containing aspartame (artificial sweeteners like Sugar Free, Diet Coke, Equal), you might get a migraine.

7Ice cream headache

Such a pain is generally located above the forehead or behind the eyes. It may be caused due to a reflex constriction of blood vessels around the head, resulting in a headache.

8Food allergy and migraine

Various foods, like cow's milk, eggs and wheat cereal, in addition to amine-rich chocolate, orange and cheese may provoke headache in people susceptible to migraines.

9. Monosodium glutamate or the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

Also known as MSG, this has been linked to the frequent use of MSG in some Asian foods.

There are reports of flushing, tingling, dizziness and headache. It is also generally found in frozen foods, canned soups, salad dressings, processed meats, sauces and snack foods.

10. Hunger and hypoglycemic headaches

Fasting and consequent low blood sugar levels may trigger headaches in patients with migraine.

Avoid consuming anything high or rich in carbohydrates. Else, it could result in a rapid secretion of insulin, thus lowering blood sugar levels.

Next: Diet tips for those suffering from migraine!


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