Wednesday Wonders: Migraine Triggers

November 18, 2009

Q: I was reading your post about apples a few weeks ago and was wondering if apples cause migraine headaches. A friend of mine who gets migraines said apples are a trigger, but I had never heard this before. Is it true? — Carl

A: Hi Carl,

The jury is out on whether apples cause migraines or not, but keep in mind that food can affect people in different ways. For some, the skin of apples, especially the more acidic varieties like Granny Smith, can trigger a migraine, and for others, bananas or avocados are the problem.

What is important for people with migraines or any type of food intolerance, is to figure out what contributes to the ailment. The best way to do this is to keep a food journal and write down when the migraine begins. This way you can see if a pattern forms.

Some foods that have been commonly linked to migraines and should be avoided if they affect you include those that contain:

  • Tyramine: aged cheese (e.g. brie, blue cheese, Parmesan), miso, smoked fish and meat, avocado, soy sauce, chocolate, peanuts
  • Tannins: red wine, red grapes, raisins, chocolate, eggplant, some nuts
  • Nitrites: hot dogs, bologna, sausage, smoked fish and meat  (look for nitrite-free meats)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): some potato chips, soy sauce, soups, dressings
    • Note: the key word here is some. Most restaurants and food companies have removed MSG from their foods.
  • Caffeine: chocolate, caffeinated tea, coffee
    • For some people, caffeine helps migraines short term, but once the caffeine wears off the migraine can come back.

Migraines can also be due to non-food causes, such as stress, lack of exercise, or dehydration. If you suffer from migraines and eliminating potential causes does not help, speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian.

Do you have a Wednesday Wonder? Keep on sending your Nutritioulicious questions to me at  jessica@nutritioulicious.com!

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  1. Hi Jessica!

    I love your blog – great information here. Thanks so much for bringing apples as a Migraine trigger to your readers!

    Headache Specialists tell us Apples contain tannins, especially apple products like apple juice and cider. Many people will do okay with apples, but juice and cider (or other apple products) cause problems.

    Not everyone’s Migraines will be triggered by every potential edible no-no, but triggers that are too small by themselves to cause a problem, can add up with others and result in a Migraine attack. This is one of the reasons that finding trigger foods can be so terribly difficult. Add to that these foods can trigger an attack days after you eat them and well, it may seem almost impossible to find what your triggers are. An elimination diet may be the best way to see if certain foods are causing problems for you. Remember too, that triggers may change throughout your life. It might not trigger a Migraine today, but 10 yrs from now may be a different story.

    If you suffer Migraines, your best bet is seeing a Headache Specialist. These doctors are Neurologists that do nothing but treat headaches including Migraine. They are the better equipped to help you figure out your triggers and treat your Migraines as they keep current with the latest and greatest research. They are full of resources!

    1. Thanks for reading Ellen, and for your great comments. Elimination diets are a great way for people to find out what is effecting them for any food intolerances. By slowly removing and adding back one food at a time and seeing the effect the removal has on the body, people can often determine the problems. It is best to do elimination diets with the guidance of a registered dietitian.

  2. I’ve had migraines since I was 10 (so for 16 years). Figured out in college (by keeping a food journal) that apples and grapes are triggers for me. I’ve found through much trial and error that anywhere apples and grapes are, a special kind if migraine pain follows. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are raw, dried, cooked, juiced, or made into vinegar…..migraine always follows. I have a aunt who is a pediatrician and she said apples and grapes have a specific sugar they produce and she believes I’m sensitive or allergic to that sugar chemical. Idk. I just know to stay away from anything with grapes or apples (much harder than one thinks). Happy to know other people struggle with apples too (selfish, I know…but I feel less alone in this).

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Leah. It’s helpful for others to hear what works and doesn’t for people as sometimes things resonate. Migraines are really variable and everyone has different triggers. I’m glad you have figured out what you are sensitive too and hopefully you can manage your migraines better as a result.