Migraine Headaches Part 2 - the Top 10 Triggers to Avoid

In part two of this four part blog series we will identify the most common stressors that can trigger migraines and provide strategies on how to avoid them.  Even though migraine triggers are different from person to person and can be triggered by almost anything, this blog will identify the most likely triggers of migraines.  If you suffer from migraine headaches, the best strategy is to create a migraine headache log so you can track which stressors may be triggers for you.  Start by tracking the 10 most common triggers of migraines, which we have listed below.  Any day you have a migraine, read through this list to see if you have encountered any of these stressors within the last 24 hours.  If so, implement a strategy to remove the stressor and then track the frequency of migraines once you have removed the stressor.

Top 10 Migraine Triggers:

1. Phenylethylamine and Tyramine

These two amino acids are most commonly found in chocolate, cheese, wine, vinegar, nuts, and soy.  They also occur in any foods that are fermented or aged.  These two amino acids are thought to trigger migraines by increasing your body’s blood pressure which in turn increases the pressure inside your head.

2. Tannins

Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols that are found in plants.  Although scientists aren't entirely sure why tannins trigger migraines, it is thought to be linked to the fact that they inhibit protein absorption, which could play a role in serotonin regulation.  The most common way we encounter tannins is through our diet by eating and drinking things like tea, red wine, apples, grapes, dark chocolate, and vanilla. 

3.  Nitrites

Nitrites are preservatives and flavor additives used in processed meats.  Nitrites cause vasodilation of our blood vessels which can trigger migraines in sensitive individuals.  They are most commonly added to sausage, jerky, pepperoni, and other deli meats.  Look for nitrite free meat next time you're shopping for any of these meats at the grocery store. 

4.  Sulfites

Sulfites are used as a preservative in dried fruits, fruits juices, wine, and other processed foods.  They trigger migraines in some people due to their ability to trigger a release of histamine and homocysteine.  High levels of histamine and homocysteine trigger an immune response and result in inflammation, which is a cause of miragine.

5.  Caffeine

People who are caffeine sensitive may develop migraines after drinking tea, coffee, soda, or eating chocolate.  However, in some individuals, low doses of caffeine can actually helps get rid of a migraine once it has started.  Test this one out for yourself to see how your body reacts.

6.  Alcohol

The link between alcohol and migraines isn't entirely understood. Some believe alcohol triggers migraines due to the increase of histamine production. Others suggest it is due to alcohol's diuretic effects on the body, causing dehydration.  In any case, keep track of whether alcohol is a trigger of your migraines.

7.  Emotional Stressors

Emotional stressors are often overlooked when searching for migraine triggers.  Emotional stressors impact our body’s autonomic nervous system.  The autonomic nervous system is responsible for controlling the body’s sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, and heal response).  When you experience emotional stressors, your body activates your sympathetic nervous system.  Although the sympathetic nervous system is good in life threatening scenarios, it is not good when it is activated for prolonged periods of time.  This can results in a host of health problems, one of them being migraines.

8.  Lack of Sleep

Lack of sleep will alter your brain chemistry and can be a trigger of migraines for a lot of people.  Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.  Use a sleep log to keep track of the number of hours of sleep you get and how rested you feel upon awakening.

9.  Overuse of Technology

Staring at a bright screen for several hours during the day can trigger migraines for many reasons.  First our eyes get exhausted easier when staring at bright screens and can result in an eye strain migraine.  This is especially common for people who have light sensitivity once their migraine has set in.  Another reason is due to the strain that overuse of electronics puts on the head and neck.  The muscles, bones, and nerves in our neck play a direct role in the triggering of migraines.  We will explore this relationship in greater depth in a later blog when talking about how chiropractic can help with your migraines. 

10.  Physical Stressors

            As mentioned above, physical stressors can be be a trigger of migraine headaches. This can include poor posture, misaligned vertebrae and cranial bones, overexertion during exercise, and head traumas.