Skipping the morning cup of coffee, consuming processed foods or drinking too much alcohol may trigger headaches for people battling migraines, according to scientists including one of Indian origin who also found that low-fat diets can help better manage the condition.
There are two different approaches to preventing headaches with diet. The first approach would be an elimination diet that avoids foods and beverages known to trigger headaches, researchers said.
The second approach would be follow a comprehensive diet whose very composition may prevent headaches, said Vincent Martin, professor at the University of Cincinnati in the US.
Researchers, including Brinder Vij, associate professor at UC, performed an exhaustive review of more than 180 research studies on the subject of migraine and diet.
“One of the most important triggers for headache is the withdrawal of caffeine,” said Martin.
“Let’s say you regularly pound down three or four cups of coffee every morning and you decide to skip your morning routine one day, you will likely have full-fledged caffeine withdrawal headache that day,” he said.
That said, too much coffee may also present a risk, no more than 400 milligrammes daily – one cup is 125 milligrammes – is probably the maximum for migraine patients, said Martin.
“Large amounts of caffeine can bring on anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as headaches,” he said.
Another trigger for migraine is monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer used in a variety of processed foods, including frozen or canned foods, soups, international foods, snack foods, salad dressing, seasoning salts, ketchup, barbecue sauce, and heavily in Chinese cooking, said Martin.
“You eat more natural things such as fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and fresh meats. MSG is most provocative when consumed in liquids such as soups,” he said.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly reported dietary trigger factors for migraine and studies suggest vodka and red wines, especially those with highest histamine content are problematic, said Martin.
There is a lot of interest in gluten-free diets, but they are only helpful in lessening headaches if the individuals suffer from celiac disease, which can be established by a positive blood test or intestinal biopsy, he added.
There have been three comprehensive diets whose very composition may prevent headaches such as low fat and low carbohydrate diets as well as those that increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease the amount of omega-6 fatty acids, according to Martin.
Low fat diets restrict the amount of fat to less than 20 per cent of your daily energy requirements, Vij said.
“The beauty of these diets is that they not only reduce headaches, but may produce weight loss and prevent heart disease,”he added.