As a migraine sufferer, you’d probably do ANYTHING to stop migraines for good, including giving up any food that could carry that dreaded “trigger” label.
Many have experienced temporary relief from their migraines once they identify what food triggers to avoid. Unfortunately, the most common way to find your food triggers is to eliminate a long list of suspects for a time and then reintroduce them one by one.
Sounds easy enough, right? And maybe if you were only cutting out a few foods from your diet, it would be easy. But knowing where to start when cutting out food is confusing and overwhelming.
For example, if you were to Google “elimination diet for migraines,” one of the first results would be a Web MD article that lists possible food triggers, including:
- Baked goods or any items containing yeast like bread and cakes, including sourdough
- Caffeine including coffee, tea, and soft drinks
- Fermented dairy products such as yogurt or kefir
- All nuts and nut butters
- Soy, soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso, or soy additives in processed foods
- Citrus fruit
- Dried fruit
- Red plums
- Passion fruit
- Cured or smoked meats
- Nutritional yeast
- Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and curry
Personally, my migraines got so bad, (one even lasting an entire year), that I cut EVERYTHING out and basically only ate chicken, rice, and vegetables and drank water for a very long time in an effort to get myself back on track.
But I still couldn’t shake the migraines; I continued to deal with 3-5 a week no matter how many trigger foods I could. What’s more, the stress of worrying about what I could and couldn’t eat was only making things worse.
It affected everything part of my life. I didn’t trust food, I stopped eating out with my friends, and my relationships suffered while there was still little improvement in my migraines.
I didn’t know it then, but I was missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. My diet was only partially to blame for how I was feeling, and no amount of food elimination would fix that.
If you’re cutting out foods right and left and still not getting migraine relief, you might be missing key puzzle pieces.
Changing your diet isn’t enough to stop migraines for good.
Other Factors Contributing to Your Migraines
Pain is your body’s way of communicating with you and telling you that something is wrong. We can react to our migraine pain in two ways. We can either take pain medication and use other treatments to try to make the pain disappear (if we’re lucky) or take what our body is saying as a warning that something deep inside needs to be addressed.
Since every system of your body works in harmony together both in a physical and emotional/mental way, that means the pain you feel in your head is likely a sign that something is wrong somewhere else.
If you’re still searching for that trigger food without success, an elimination diet may not be your solution. It’s more likely one or several of the following factors are playing a large role in your migraines.
Look, I know that this is such an overused reason for literally everything in life. And I had my fair share of people tell me “you must be stressed” or “maybe you should try to cut back on stress” as the way to “solve” my migraines.
However, stress is ONE crucial factor to consider.
Many people notice that when they are overly stressed, migraines are more likely to set in. Maybe it’s after a long week of work, while you’re traveling, or just before a large social event.
Have you noticed a pattern of when your migraine sets in? It might be a sign that it’s time for you to slow down and perhaps start saying “no” when your plate begins getting full.
Elimination diets can also contribute to stress. If you’re constantly worried about what’s in your food, how you’re going to get “safe” food on the run, while traveling, or going out with friends, or how to politely turn down food that you used to enjoy, then it won’t matter how “good” you’re eating. That stress will build up, and rather than meals being something you look forward to and enjoy, they can become a source of anxiety that leads to further migraines.
Stress also affects your hormones and gut health, which can trigger migraines, as you’ll see later on.
Rather than over-eliminating food, focus on eliminating stressors in your life. When you can’t immediately eliminate that stress, work on finding ways to relieve that stress. Pursue a creative outlet, go for a walk, or get a massage.
Now, mental-emotional stress isn’t the only stress we deal with. Physical stress can be just as much of a problem and can include:
- Environmental toxins
- Getting too little or too much exercise
- Working all day at a desk
- Not getting enough quality sleep
- Poor posture
So working to cut back on physical stress can also contribute to eliminating migraines.
Minerals are the spark plugs of our bodies. If we have too much of one and not enough of another, our body will have trouble functioning properly and could also experience toxicity. In either case, a mineral imbalance could be contributing to your migraines regardless of how many trigger foods you cut out.
Some common mineral imbalances I see include low potassium, sodium, and magnesium and high copper and calcium.
When your body doesn’t have the proper mineral balance, it can’t detox harmful heavy metals from your system that could be contributing to your migraines. It can also cause muscle cramps and tightness that can aggravate your head and neck, triggering headaches.
Additionally, minerals are vital to your cardiovascular health, which could contribute to constricted blood vessels in and around your brain, leading to migraines.
Researchers now suggest a link between migraines and vitamin deficiencies. In these studies, they found that those who suffer from migraines (about 18% of women worldwide) were also defiant in vital nutrients, including:
- Vitamin D – Direct sunlight
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2) – Dairy, organ meats, chicken, beef, mushrooms, eggs
- Folate (vitamin B6) – Tuna, chickpeas, dark leafy greens
- Niacin (vitamin B3) – Beef, poultry, liver, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, avocados
- Vitamin B12 – Fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, dairy
- CoQ10 – Oranges, strawberries, lentils, fatty fish, organ meat
- Carnitine – Red meat, chicken, fish, avocados, legumes, dairy
- A-lipoic acid – Red meat, carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli, potatoes.
If not done carefully, an elimination diet can further deplete you in both these vitamins and the abovementioned minerals, worsening your migraines.
Also, keep in mind that whole food sources are always easiest for your body to metabolize and use. Over supplementing could cause further imbalances and depletion. This is why it’s so important to test with an HTMA (hair tissue mineral analysis), so you don’t make matters worse and get the exact nutrients you need.
Poor Nutrient Absorption
Because of a leaky gut, or gut infections, you might be cutting out all the triggers and eating all the vitamin-dense food you want, but you aren’t absorbing the nutrients.
A leaky gut or gut dysbiosis can prevent you from absorbing necessary vitamins and minerals as well as cause further inflammation and stress in your body from food particles leaching into your bloodstream.
In fact, many times, the reason most people can handle certain foods while others can’t is because they have an immune response to a specific food. That food may or may not be listed on your elimination diet, so you could be cutting out the wrong food altogether.
Instead of eliminating what you think is causing the problem, it’s best to test for food sensitivities, so you don’t waste your time, money, or sanity on an elimination diet.
Gut infections such as parasites, bacteria, H.Pylori, yeast, fungi, and candida can also steal vital nutrients from you, contributing to migraines. You can not begin to heal your gut, absorbed nutrients, and eliminate migraines until you’ve treated these infections.
You can get a full review of any gut infections with a gut pathogen test. Only then can you move forward in your healing journey.
It’s no surprise that sudden changes in hormone levels trigger migraines. Many women notice a correlation between their menstrual cycles and migraines regardless of what they eat.
The quick decline in hormones just before your periods start often corresponds with headaches and migraines, so an elimination diet might not be your answer.
Women also notice that other changes in their hormones, such as during pregnancy and perimenopause or taking hormonal birth control, also increase migraines.
So why don’t all women get migraines when estrogen and progesterone drop right before their periods? Because as long as your hormones are balanced, they will follow a pattern of gently rising and lowering throughout the cycle.
Hormone balance doesn’t mean you have the same level all month long. That’s why using hormonal birth control isn’t “balancing” your hormones.
The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone, especially at the right time and in the right amount, will result in a symptom-free cycle, including eliminating migraines.
I use a dried urine hormone test for comprehensive hormones or a DUTCH test with my clients to better understand how their hormone levels are doing.
Of course, getting to the bottom of why their hormones are reacting the way they are is most important, but this test gives us a good place to start addressing what’s causing migraines.
One thing to keep in mind…
Many migraine sufferers will have a combination of the items mentioned above. And that’s because the body is a system where everything works together in unison. If one thing gets out of whack, other systems will start to compensate, and eventually, multiple systems are working below optimal levels.
The positive side of this is that when you start to get the systems back in working order, they all start to go back, running optimally together, which leads to majorly cutting down or eliminating your migraines.
Get Real Help for Your Migraines
Identifying your food triggers isn’t necessarily a bad place to start relieving migraine pain, but it still might not be enough.
Rather than cutting out pages worth of food and limiting yourself to bland and less nutritious, “safe” options, it’s easiest and most cost-effective to get functional testing done first. You’ll discover which food is causing your migraines, how to balance your minerals, improve your nutrition, and work with your menstrual cycle so you can kick migraines to the curb.
If you’re ready to get real help for your migraines and find the root cause rather than just treat symptoms book a free consultation to learn more about the functional tests I offer with my 1-1 coaching program.