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Throbbing Migraines! Can Foods Trigger Them?

Saturday, August 07, 2010
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‘Sheena, a middle aged woman has frequent episodes of pulsating, pounding headache on one side. It usually starts as a dull ache that worsens within minutes and often lasts for a day. This is a typical migraine ache’. A lot of people get migraine- about 11 out of 100 and is evident in age 10 to 46y.

Migraine is caused by abnormal brain activity, which is triggered by stress, certain foods environmental factors or some unknown causes. The exact patho-physiology of migraine is still unclear. Also, there is no known cure for migraine headaches. Treatment aims at preventing symptoms by avoiding or changing triggers and is highly individualistic.

The association between certain foods that trigger migraine is well recognized by patients as well as physicians. Foods like cheese chocolate, wine, smoked fish and meats, baked, fermented and pickled foods, preservatives and additives are known to haste migraine attacks. ‘Elimination diets’ are long used for their potential to treat migraines and are designed to track down any unusual pain triggers. However, convincing scientific evidence about these diets is still lacking.

A recent study, published by the International Headache Society has explored the association between migraines, antibodies and food allergens. Study cohort of 30 patients with migraine was tested for IgG (Immunoglobins) antibodies against 266 different food antigens. Every individual was given a diet rich in foods for which they had antibodies, this was followed by a brief period of usual diet and consequently diet free of foods that produced antibodies. Eliminating foods for which patients had antibodies remarkably reduced the number of migraine attacks and also days spent with headache. This, study indicates that food allergens could trigger migraine; the cause for that pulsating headache could be immunologic.



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28 September, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar WHO rates migraines as a leading cause of disability, world wide. An exciting news report in TOI today disclosed about a new study which identified a faulty gene to be the prime cause for migraines. An International team led by Oxford University has found a gene called `Tresk' in families of migraine sufferers and if it is defective it tends to trigger pain nerves in the brain causing a severe headache. Now it will be easier to find solutions to fight migraine and improve the quality of life for these unfortunate people.

27 August, 2010 | Geetanjali Kelkar | Reply

Geetanjali Kelkar Evidence shows that people suffering from migraines with aura- a transient disturbance such as light flashes or zigzag patterns are more prone to heart disease and stroke. Those who suffer from migraines therefore need to be extra cautious with their diet, physical activity and lifestyle. Never ever neglect the migraine bouts and get treated soon.

23 August, 2010 | Geetanjali Kelkar | Reply

Geetanjali Kelkar A recent study suggests that headaches are common among teenagers-5% boys and 8% girls suffer from frequent migraine headaches. Being overweight, smoking and lack of exercise aggravate migraines. Lifestyle counseling is an integral part of treatment of migraines. The usual advice to the patients is to
(1) Eat regular balanced meals
(2) Get plenty of sleep
(3) Stay hydrated with drinks that do not contain caffeine
(4) Exercise at least 4 times a week.

28 September, 2010 | Samyukta | Reply

Samyukta @Geetanjali for the last 1 year I have found if I tie my hair up and go out in the sun I land up with a severe headache which does not get better even with a pain killer. Only sleeping it off for a couple of hours seems to set it right. Could it also be due to migraine?

12 August, 2010 | Archana | Reply

Archana In my 20's I always used to get migraines after eating Chinese food, so I stopped eating it as everyone said it was due to the MSG.
Now a days, I tell the restaurant not to put MSG in my food specially, but I still get migraines, but they are not as severe.

What else could it be?
I love my Oriental foods.
Any ideas?

12 August, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Dear Archana, glad to note that the severity of your migraine is less, after eliminating MSG in your diet. Similarly you have to find out your other triggers by observation and elimination. In fact if you register on, you can keep a log on all that you eat. It will help you keep track of your everyday intake and it’s for posterity. All the best!

11 August, 2010 | Uma | Reply

Uma I usually get migraine symptoms close to my periods. Is it a symptom of PMS?

12 August, 2010 | Poonam Vaswani | Reply

Poonam Vaswani Hello Uma,
There is evidence to show that fluctuations in estrogen levels can lead to migranes. Women prone to migranes may get an attack 2-3 days prior to their period, and may continue for 2-3 days after the period starts.
Viji, has given you some great tips for tackling your PMS.

11 August, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Dear Uma
Yes PMS can give you awful menstrual Migraines. When you know it is time for your period, make sure you get enough sleep and drink plenty of water We suggest you note your other triggers that may also kick start a headache, such as food, stress or other activities to prevent or reduce the onslaught before PMS. Some people are sensitive to a compound called tyramine avoid processed meats, raisins, nuts, avocados, all things from cans, red wine and aged cheese as they all have high amounts of tyramine. So we suggest you talk to your gynaecologist and work towards reducing the frequency of attacks or intensity of pain.

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