One of the most common triggers of migraine headaches is food. But there are a variety of foods that are notorious for triggering migraines and cluster headaches, as well as other symptoms. But can an allergy to a food also cause headaches?
Food Allergies Can Cause Headaches
While just about any food can be a trigger for a migraine headache, the specific food that triggers a migraine is often difficult to pin down because it doesn’t always cause a headache. For example, eating chocolate may trigger a migraine one day and not the next. In fact, in most cases, a so-called trigger will only cause a migraine occasionally. There is no rhyme or reason to it.
Food allergy headaches are different because every time the offending food is eaten, it causes a reaction which, in some people, manifests as a headache. However, it is rare for a true food allergy to cause a headache. In most cases, a true food allergy is severe, causing reactions such as hives or anaphylaxis (inability to breathe due to a swollen airway).
Celiac disease, for example, is an autoimmune disease, so it’s not a true allergy to gluten. While the immune response triggered by gluten for those with a wheat allergy is similar to those in people with celiac disease, this response only occurs in the small intestine which damages the intestinal lining.
In fact, most food-related headaches are caused by a food intolerance which is the result of your own biochemistry. Although there has not been much research in this area, food intolerances can cause significant health problems. A variety of foods can cause a food intolerance, but the most common offenders include:
- Cane Sugar
- Cow’s Milk
- Grain Cereals
Processed foods are also common triggers. Ingredients such as food colorings, preservatives, artificial flavorings, and other additives are common headache triggers. Aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate) are additives that are notorious for causing migraine and cluster headaches. Both of these additives are neurotoxins, specifically excitotoxins, meaning they kill brain cells by overstimulating them until they die.
Aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in most diet sodas, is particularly dangerous. It is made up of aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Methanol is wood alcohol and a poison. When it is oxidized in the body, it is broken down into a neurotoxin known as formaldehyde which can cause cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and other chronic illnesses.
Symptoms of Food Allergy Headaches
Continued consumption of aspartame, MSG, or any of the above food triggers can lead to chronic headaches including migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches. Food allergies can cause other symptoms that accompany their headaches including:
- Digestive problems such as bloating after meals, excess gas and burping, flatulence
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic constipation
- A stuffy or runny nose after meals
- Fatigue, lack of energy, or drowsiness after eating
Diagnosing and Treating Food Associated Headaches
Diagnosing a food allergy headache is extremely difficult. While there is testing for food allergies, they are not very accurate giving a false positive result about 40 to 60 percent of the time.
Other ways to diagnose food allergy headaches include an elimination diet or food challenge. An elimination diet involves removing all possible food triggers from the diet and adding them back into the diet one at a time and recording the result. When a trigger is found, it is removed, and the elimination diet continued to determine other triggers.
A food challenge entails giving the person increasing amounts of a food that is thought to be a trigger until a reaction occurs. This type of test is considered the most accurate way to check for a food allergy.
A food diary is another way to check for food-related triggers and is a common practice in any migraine clinic. When you get a headache, you write down what you ate prior to the headache along with any symptoms or auras you had before the migraine or headache. This makes it easy to track foods and food combinations that may be triggers. A food diary can be an excellent ally for tension headache treatment as well as chronic headache treatment.
Preventing Food Related Headaches
Preventing food allergy headaches can be as simple as avoiding specific trigger foods once you figure out what your triggers are. But some triggers are difficult to avoid because they are found in most processed foods, this can also make those triggers difficult to find.
If you’re having difficulty finding your trigger foods, it may be time to talk to a headache specialist at a headache treatment clinic to learn more about how to prevent headaches caused from allergies. Contact the National Headache Institute for more information on our cutting-edge treatments including stem cell treatment. Call today to schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations.