Foods are a common trigger for migraine headaches. Unfortunately, if you suffer from unpredictable migraines, pinpointing specific food triggers can be tricky and is best accomplished under the guidance of a registered dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in food allergies/intolerance and the elimination diet. The elimination diet involves systematic elimination and re-introduction of possible trigger foods such as milk, wheat, eggs, caffeine, alcohol, corn, nuts, shellfish and monosodium glutamate (MSG). As the list of possible trigger foods is quite long, the process of the elimination diet may prove to be quite tedious, but, it is effective for relieving migraine headaches once the trigger food(s) is(are) identified.
Keeping a food diary is an essential part of the elimination diet for migraine relief. A food diary keeps track of what foods are eaten, in what amounts, and at what time. It also records any symptoms that are experienced at the time of eating or shortly after. This type of tracking may seem tedious but is a temporary exercise that need only be done until the trigger foods are identified. You need not carry any special forms or large notebook; a small notepad, or even a blackberry, is a convenient way to keep a food diary. The format is not important – it’s the details about time, date, amount, methods and moods that are critical to a revealing food diary.
Once the food triggers are discovered, the next step is to eliminate them completely from your diet. This is where having the expertise of a nutritionist comes in handy. Some triggers are actually not whole foods but food additives like MSG, nitrites or nitrates, or artificial sweeteners. A nutritionist can help you identify these additives – and their derivatives – in ingredient list and on food labels. The suspect food or food additive must be eliminated from the diet for at least four weeks to determine if it’s the cause of the migraines. Obviously, it no migraines occur during those weeks, it’s likely that the trigger has been found and permanently eliminated to prevent future pain.
If no change in migraine episodes occurs during the elimination of a particular food, wait a few days and then proceed to testing the next possible trigger on the list, all the while keeping a thorough food diary. This process of trial and error earns the elimination diet the alternate name of the challenge diet for obvious reasons. It is a frustrating process and the results may not be clear-cut. However, some migraine sufferers may have great success and actually discover that they are allergic to their food triggers. This means their migraines are part of an immune response results in exposure to a specific protein found in the allergenic food. An allergy specialist must confirm this explanation – and permanent solution – to their migraine headaches.
Migraine by Joan Raymond. Barnes& Noble Books, New York, 2003. Pages 132-133
Leslie Beck’s Nutrition Encyclopedia by Leslie Beck. Penguin Canada, 2001. Chapter 3, pages 428-429