Anyone who has ever suffered a migraine knows that the intense headaches can be completely debilitating. Chronic migraines (defined as having 15 or more headache days a month) and episodic migraines (having less than 15 a month) can be even harder to deal with. Many times they require prescription medication to alleviate the intense pain.
Most people agree that prevention is key when working with migraines. If you never get a migraine, you won’t have to treat it. The best way to avoid triggers is to be aware of them! If you’re just beginning to suffer from migraines and want to know what to look out for, or if you just want to know more, we’ve put together a pretty inclusive (but not exhaustive) list of common migraine triggers.
Food Migraine Triggers
There are so many foods that can trigger migraines. If you’re on a natural, plant-based diet, you’ve made a good start at eliminating triggers. First, let’s go over the things that aren’t very healthy anyway that are also migraine triggers.
- MSG (Read a whole lot more about MSG allergy here.)
- Nitrates and nitrites (found in processed meat)
- Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame)
- Some artificial colors (notably Yellow 5)
Hopefully you’re already avoiding all those things, though. It’s no secret that they’re unhealthy for everyone, on top of causing migraines. But there are a lot of foods that are allowable for most people but harmful for migraine sufferers.
High tyramine foods
- Cured meat
- Fermented foods (such as sauerkraut or pickles)
- Aged cheese (cheddar, swiss, gorgonzola, blue cheese, etc.)
- Citrus fruits (these aren’t too high in tyramine, but should be eaten in moderation)
- Yeast breads
- Sodas (that’s on the don’t drink list, of course!)
- Beer from the tap
- Red wine
- Nuts/nut butters
- Some beans
- Cultured dairy products
Environmental Migraine Triggers
I know it’s overwhelming to read such an inclusive food list, but now I have to give you a few more common migraine triggers. It turns out that your environment can have a huge effect on your neurological well-being. These are some of the more common environmental migraine triggers:
Scents and smells
- Cigarette smoke
- Heavy perfume
- Cleaning products (We can help with that – learn to make all your own natural homemade cleaners!)
- Diesel smoke
- Barometric pressure changes
- Allergens (dust, mold, pollen)
- Fluorescent lights (Ever notice how your headaches are always worse at the office? It could be the lighting!)
- Flashing lights (Be careful around haunted houses, movie theaters, and video games.)
- Computer/cell phone screens
- Bright sunlight (Squinting too much can cause a headache, plus the light hurts your eyes.)
Lifestyle Migraine Triggers
If you’ve cut out all food triggers and environmental triggers for your migraines and you’re still suffering, you might have to take a closer look at your lifestyle. The routine that you go through every day could be causing you migraines.
- Sleeping too little
- Sleeping too much
- Changing your sleep schedule
- Using the wrong pillow and/or mattress
- Ill-fitting headbands
- Tight buns or ponytails
- Bangs that obstruct your vision
- Wearing the wrong prescription contacts or glasses
- Tightly-fitting glasses
- Tightly-fitting sunglasses
- Sunglasses that obstruct your vision
- Getting too little exercise
- Getting too much exercise (Elevating your blood pressure and heart rate can give you a headache.)
I know I’ve just thrown a lot of information your way. Keep in mind, though, that it’s very unlikely that all of those migraine triggers apply to you and your headaches. You might not even have triggers from every category.
If you are overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin to understand what causes your migraines, starting a migraine journal can be very helpful. Write down every potential trigger you encounter, and keep a coordinating calendar of your migraine days. Eventually, you should be able to notice a pattern of what is giving you headaches.
Be aware that even with the best of prevention plans, it’s likely that you won’t be able to get rid of every single migraine. The point of identifying your triggers is to be able to avoid them when you can. Every migraine you prevent makes all of the work worth it!
Do any of these migraine triggers affect you?
Are there any I’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!