Nutrition Tips for Headache Prevention

Can certain foods trigger headaches? Can nutritional supplements offer drug-free relief? Read on for Nutrition Diva's tips for preventing headaches with diet and lifestyle changes.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #341

In the first of this two-part series, I shared some tips for getting rid of a headache without resorting to drugs. Today, I have some tips that may be even more useful for those who suffer from frequent headaches: How to prevent those headaches before they start.

Do Certain Foods Trigger Headaches?

If you have a lot of headaches, I bet you've come across lists of foods that are said to trigger headaches: caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, cheese, and artificial sweeteners are among the most common ones. Sure enough, patients report that avoiding these foods seems to reduce the frequency of their headaches.

Yet when researchers have attempted to confirm this, they usually fail to find strong evidence that these foods are actually linked to headaches in any statistically measurable way. It could be that foods are a factor for some but not all migraine sufferers.

As I talked about in a recent show, a small number of people seem to be sensitive to histamines, a naturally occurring compound found in certain foods. For these folks, eating foods that are high in histamines can cause a number of symptoms, including headaches. Others appear to have similar sensitivities to the amino acid tyramine or to nitrites in foods.

Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the commonly cited headache-triggering foods are high in histamines, tyramine, nitrites—or all three! If you were to follow a low histamine diet, such as the one I described in episode #295, you would effectively reduce your intake of all three of these suspected compounds. And, not surprisingly, this approach has been helpful for some (but not all) chronic headache sufferers.

If eliminating common trigger foods (or following a low histamine diet) reduces your headaches, I’d call that a win. But if changing your diet doesn’t seem to make a difference, I think you can go back to enjoying these foods in moderation.

See also: What Does “Moderation” Mean, Exactly?

Can an Anti-inflammatory Diet Reduce Headaches?

A low histamine diet is not the only dietary approach for headaches. Because overproduction of inflammatory compounds in the body can play a role in chronic pain, some experts recommend an anti-inflammatory diet for headache relief. This approach is supported by research, which has found that increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients like monounsaturated fats and omega-3s, and reducing your intake of omega-6 fats, which are thought to be pro-inflammatory, can reduce the frequency and/or severity of headaches.

See also: Does the Ratio of Omega-6 Fats Really Matter?

Translated into food choices, this would mean eating more avocados, nuts, olive oil, fish, flax, and hemp and reducing your intake of corn, soy, and vegetable oils, and processed foods made with them.

As I talked about in episode #41 ("Foods that Fight Inflammation"), an anti-inflammatory diet has many other benefits as well. Whether or not you suffer from frequent headaches, I suggest listening to that episode for more tips on how to beat chronic inflammation with diet.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.