Food Allergies Cause Migraine Headaches

By Dr. Leo Galland

Food Allergies Cause Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches, described in the ancient medical texts, have been around for thousands of years. Now research published in medical journals such as the Lancet has discovered food allergy as one cause of migraines.

 

If you or someone you love suffers from migraine, you know the symptoms: blinding pain, so severe it causes nausea, sometimes associated with jagged vision, flashing lights, numbness or tingling, lasting for hours.

 

Although a group of drugs called triptans can be effective at relieving migraine, preventing these headaches is a major challenge.

 

Many factors may act as migraine triggers, including stress, odors, temperature and hormonal changes, but the single migraine trigger over which you have the greatest control is food.

 

Migraine Headaches and Diet

 

Over the past 150 years, numerous researchers have reported a link between migraine and the food we eat. Some scientists attributed this link to allergy, others to a chemical effect of food on the brain.

 

Migraine diets have been developed but are of limited value for most people. They’re based on the idea that certain foods, like nuts, cheese, and chocolate, contain chemicals that produce changes in blood flow, which trigger the onset of headache.

 

The problem with the chemical induction theory of migraine is that it’s never been proven to really occur.

 

The only headache that’s been proven to be chemically triggered is red wine headache, which is quite distinct from common migraine.

 

When studied in double-blind placebo control trials, Tyramine, found in aged cheeses and the principal food chemical believed to trigger migraine, was incapable of causing migraine headache. (1,2)

 

Food Allergies Provoke Migraine Headaches

 

In contrast, numerous studies have shown that the immune system is involved in migraine. Italian researchers found that people with food-induced migraine develop complexes in their blood in which food proteins clump together with antibodies directed against these proteins; these are called circulating immune complexes [3].

 

Their appearance is associated with an intricate set of immune responses, which indicate that some type of allergic reaction is taking place. [4,5]

 

The significance of understanding that food allergy provokes migraine is the recognition that everyone’s “migraine diet” will be different, depending upon which foods they’re allergic to.

 

Many researchers have shown that an allergy blocker called sodium cromoglycate, taken orally before food, can block the induction of food-induced migraine [6-10] and appears to work by preventing the formation of food-containing circulating immune complexes. This type of allergic reaction cannot be detected by conventional allergy testing, which is based on the presence of a type of antibody called IgE [11]. IgE antibodies are important for conditions like hay fever, but do not appear to play any role in migraine.

 

Food Allergy, IgG Antibodies, and Migraines

 

A recent double-blind placebo-controlled study demonstrated that dietary changes based on the presence of a different type of antibody to food protein, IgG antibody, is an effective strategy for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks [12]. IgG antibodies are the main type of antibodies found in circulating immune complexes. In this study, patients with frequent migraine headaches (at least 4 per month), had their blood screened for IgG antibodies to 266 foods. For each individual, foods to which they had high levels of IgG antibodies were identified. They were then given diets prepared with or without these foods, in such a way that neither they nor the scientists studying them knew which foods they were eating. When people consumed the diet that eliminated the high IgG foods, the frequency of migraine headaches was significantly reduced. The migraines were not completely eliminated, however, and their severity was not reduced. The headaches that occurred were the usual migraines the patient habitually experienced.

 

IgG Food Allergy Testing

 

IgG food allergy testing is commercially available through many different laboratories in the U.S. It is not a perfect test, but it can help people with migraine headaches and their doctors create an individualized diet that will reduce migraine frequency.

 

Identify Food Triggers for Migraines

 

If IgG food testing is not available to you or does not help you to design an effective migraine diet, you can identify food triggers for migraines by using a technique called “elimination and challenge”.

 

You can find the details of this technique and studies showing its effectiveness, especially for migraine with onset in childhood, in an article I wrote with Dr. L. M. McEwen, A Role for Food Intolerance in Childhood Migraine.

 

Dietary Supplements and Migraine Headaches

 

In addition to diet, there are several nutritional supplements that have been shown to decrease the frequency of migraine headaches in controlled clinical trials.

 

Supplements That Can Help Migraines

 

(The amounts given are approximate based upon the research, of course the amount each person should take varies according to the individual.)

 

Magnesium – generally about 300 milligrams per day

Coenzyme Q10 – generally about 300 milligrams per day

Alpha-lipoic acid – generally about 600 milligrams per day

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) – generally about 400 milligrams per day

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) – dose will vary with preparation

 

For more on the benefits of the mineral Magnesium, see my article

 

 

To get more information on the herb feverfew, read my article

 

 

More information about the research that’s been done with these supplements, including references, can be found, without charge, at the health application I created called Pill Advised, by logging in and looking for beneficial interactions between supplements and drugs for migraine. To locate the references, after login, enter the name of a migraine drug or enter “sumatriptan”, which was the first migraine-specific drug. You can also use the application to learn more about drugs, supplements and over the counter medications you may want to know about.

 

To learn more about the health application, watch the Pill Advised Channel on Youtube.

 

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Do you experience migraines or headaches?

Have you taken anything for it, and what helps?

Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

 

Best Health,

Leo Galland, MD

 

Important: Share the Health with your friends and family by forwarding this article to them, and sharing on Facebook.

 

REFERENCES:

 

  1. Forsyth WI, Redmond A. “Two controlled trials of tyramine in children with migraine.” Dev Med Child Neurol 1974; 16: 794-79
  2. Moffatt A. M., Swash M, Scott D. F. “Effect of tyramine in migraine; a double-blind study.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatr 1972; 35: 496-499.
  3. Marteletti P, Sutherland J, Anastasi E et al. Evidence for immune-mediated mechanism in food-induced migraine from a study of activated T-cells, IgG4 subclass, anti-IgG antibodies and circulating immune complexes.” Headache 1989; 29: 664-670
  4. Marteletti P. T cells expressing IL-2 receptor in migraine. Acta Neurol (Napoli) 1991; 13: 448-456
  5. Marteletti P, Stirparo G, Rinaldi C et al. “Disruption of the immunopeptidergic network in dietary migraine.” Headache 1993; 33: 524-527
  6. Marteletti P, Bussone G, Centoze V et al. “Prophylaxis of food-induced migraine with cromolyn sodium: efficacy of short- and long-term use.” Cephalalgia1989 (suppl 10): 441-442
  7. Mansfield L.E., Vaughan T.R., Waller S.F. et al. “Food allergy and adult migraine: double blind and mediator conformation of an allergic etiology.” Ann Allergy 1985; 55: 126-129
  8. Monro J,BrostoffJ,Carini C. et al. “Food allergy in migraine.” Lancet 1980; 2: 1-4
  9. Monro J, Carini C, Brostoff J. “Migraine is a food allergic disease.” Lancet 1984; 2: 719-721
  10. Paganelli R, Levinsky R.J., Brostoff J. et al. Immune complexes containing food proteins in normal and atopic subjects after oral challenge and effect of sodium cromoglycate on antigen absorption. Lancet1979; 1: 1270-1272
  11. Doering P. “Drug therapy of food allergies.” In: Perkins J. E. (ed) Food Allergies and Adverse Food Reactions. Aspen Publishers, Gaithersburg, Maryland. 1990. pp 69-79
  12. Alpay K, Ertas M, Orhan EK, et al. “Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: a clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial.” Cephalalgia. 2010;30:829-37.

 

18 thoughts on “Food Allergies Cause Migraine Headaches

  1. Missy

    I used to get really bad gastrointestinal symptoms from gluten. I eliminated it from my diet after a lot of trial and error. I also used to get frequent headaches. I noticed that after eliminating gluten for a significant amount of time (several months) and then accidentally being “glutened”, I got a really bad headache. I didn’t think anything of it until it happened again a few months later. I’m glad I found the reason and am thankful I don’t suffer nasty headaches anymore!

  2. pilladvised Post author

    Thanks for sharing your story. Glad to hear that you discovered a solution to the migraines.

  3. Hadley Ravencroft

    Dr. Galland and PillAdvised: I am a 40 yr old woman with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy (ambulatory), many other conditions, including classic migraine since I was 5 yrs old. I have taken prophylatic meds daily for at least 20 yrs in various classes (the triptans, beta and calcium channel blockers, SSRI/SSNI/Tricyclics in antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antinausea, etc etc (herbal,mineral and vitamin supplements, gluten-free, etc, etc) and your article about “dietary changes based on the presence of a different type of antibody to food protein, IgG antibody, is an effective strategy for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks [12]. IgG antibodies are the main type of antibodies found in circulating immune complexes” is very exciting. I have a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation and work as a Program Director of a Center for Independent Living(non-residential) in Urbana IL. My current neurologist is very informed, and your research verifies a connection between the bodies immune response to food we ingest. Any more information about this, or a potential connection between cerebral palsy and migraine of which you are aware…contact me (many of my friends and consumers with cp have classic migraine). Sincerely, Ms. Hadley Ravencroft, M.S., Urbana IL

  4. loshakova

    In the 80’s, and again from 2004-2008, I suffered from severe migraines that lasted from days to months. The headache would start with stabbing pain behind my right eye, then radiate back to the mid-temporal region. The pain was accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, dizziness, and sometimes loss of vision in the affected eye. Occasionally, I would get left-sided or bilateral headaches, but most of the time they were on the right side.

    I kept a food diary, but wasn’t able to link my migraines to specific foods. Allergy tests were not helpful. I was given Relpax, Imitrex, Lodine, Topamax, Frova, Topamax, Toradol injections, and acupuncture. It seemed like nothing really helped. Finally, in the middle of a 6 week headache, I did some research of my own into non-pharmacological approaches to migraine treatment. I found two papers that talked about alternative headache remedies including butterbur, coenzyme Q10, B2, and feverfew. I decided to try coenzyme Q10 and B2. They have greatly helped me. I take 400 mg per day of each supplement; I still get the occasional migraine, but it never lasts longer than one day, which I consider a huge improvement. Also, the frequency of the migraines is greatly diminished — instead of having at least a 3-4 day migraine every few days, I now have a 1-day migraine maybe once every 6 weeks.

    I’m including the references for the two papers I read below.
    1. Schiaperelli P. et al. Non-Pharmacological Approach to Migraine Prophylaxis, Part II. Neurol Sci (2010) 31 (Suppl 1): S137-S139.
    2. Bianchi A. et al. Role of Magnesium, Coenzyme Q10, Riboflavin, and Vitamin B12 in Migraine Prophylaxis. Vitam Horm. 2004;69:297-312 (Review).

  5. Rox

    Butterbur worked for me. I took a larger amount for one month then reduced amount for daily use. My headaches are now fewer than 4 per year. I was getting monthly or more frequent migraines. I believe I found the protocol via :HSI newsletters….

  6. Becky Holdford

    I’ve had common and classic migraines all my life (everyone in my family has them to some extent). I used to have 3-5 per month. I take Maxalt to abort the headache but it makes me very drowsy; still it’s better than a migraine. I also have clinical depression and was recently put on Pristiq. In the 9 months I’ve been on Pristiq, I’ve had 2 migraines and both of those were early in the treatment. A huge improvement! I’ve tried many things to try to prevent migraines: Topomax, Depakote, butterburr, feverfew, meditation, dietary changes, etc. Nothing was very helpful and Topamax caused some memory problems I’m still trying to get over. This is just my two cents’ worth.

  7. Deborah Holter

    I am a researcher with lifelong genetic migraines. Migraines are caused by a problem with the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve in these people is disturbed by solar activity that induces seismic activity. This accounts for more than 90% of those who have participated by providing information from first symptom to the end of the migraine.

    Food allergies are the rare cause. My research has shown that when a migraineur reaches for a food that is considered a trigger, in fact they are providing themselves with a food that originally came from the region where the quake will occur. Eating these foods, may in fact, provide some slight immunity but not prevention of the migraine symptoms.

    However, red wine is a no no. Beer is also a problem.

  8. Linda

    I am 47 and I have had migraines the last 7 years. I have also been diagnosed with RA/Psoriatic Arthritis. I have noticed some triggers: hormonal, stress, weather, heat or cold, food. I am very active: a homeschool mom, run a charity org., teach Bible class in the jail not to mention a home based buisneess and two grandchildren. These migraines have made my life sooo miserable. I sometimes have them 2 or more days a week. Sometimes they last into the next day.

  9. Debra S. Walling

    From one who can be out of sync for days at a time from a migraine I extend my thanks for the informative article. Nothing I take or do helps my migraines… it’s like I go on a mini-vacation from life until the pain decides to subside. Afterwards I am so drained of energy and not as quick to snap back from the episodes. I am thrilled to have stumbled upon this article which gave far more info and insight into migraines then what has been given to me over the course of time. Thank you for the information — a welcome change then just being slapped with a prescription for migraine medication and sent on my merry way. Being one who prefers to take a deeper look into the reasoning why migraines might occur in the first place trying supplements or herbs is my first choice so will surely try some of your suggestions. Thank you again! D.S.Walling – St. Petersburg, Florida

  10. Jonathan Stigner

    I have suffered from between 4 and 8 aural migraine attacks per month since about 15 years of age, with attacks usually lasting for 24 to 48 hours (with the initial 2-3 hours of partial blindness accompanied with zig-zag patterns of flashing lights). Over the years I have found that certain foods (such as bananas, beer, and recently, mushrooms) are some of my migraine triggers, and that drastic changes in weather also act as a trigger. Having tried most of the recommended migraine medicines available I have found that none have any noticable effect on the pain or duration of my migraines, and herbal remedies I have found have no real effect either. The only pain killer that does have some effect contains paracetamol combined with propifenazon and caffeine (although I suspect the caffeine inhibits my ability to sleep when I feel I most need it). I hope this has been of some help to you, and thanks for your informative article.

  11. Lynn Case

    A migraine voice from the past. About 1980, Winsted, CT. Migraines 24/7. You are so right about food being a cause. I cleaned up my diet and although I am still bothered by allergic reactions, the migraines almost never occur. Of course, I cleaned up my environment as well as food but thankfully things are better. Now, about Lyme disease, I visit the rheumatologist Dec. 29 and hope she can determine what is causing my muscle/joint pain that has gotten worse daily since Sept.

  12. Imani Kazana

    I have had severe migraines for many years, caused by foods, exposure to mold, and a variety of other triggers. The only natural product I’ve found to work to erase them is “butterbur”, which comes in a product called Petadolex. It truly relaxes the blood vessels in the head, which is the source for the other symptoms (stomach, eyes, etc.)

  13. Nikki Cipponeri

    I have suffered with migraines for the last 6 years but since the birth of my 3rd child the migraines have been horrible. I have tried topamax, toredol, zomig, imitrex, relpax, treximet, fioranol, fiorocet, muscle relaxers, physical therapy, chiropractors. I have also tried butterbur and feverfew combination. The only thing that helps at times is Maxalt, but I hate taking it because it restricts my blood vessels and makes my chest pound. I have done MRIs, Cat Scans, gone on birth control and still nothing has helped. I am hoping the elimination diet might clue in on some of it. I get the worst migraines before and after my cycle. My doctor is now looking into biomedical replacement for me during my cycle. We shall see. It is so frusturating and exhausting. I have tried to go for second and third opinions but they just want to throw anti-depressents, valium and blood pressure medications at me. The side effects are awful.

  14. Cath

    I started getting two-day right-sided migraines induced by small quantities of lager or red wine (but not other types of alcohol)about 5 years ago (when I was 40). I had a high tolerance to alcohol previously and rarely suffered from hangovers. I thought it strange that I had suddenly had such a strong reaction the day after drinking only one or two glasses and also that I started with just a runny nose and then a mild headache, which developed during the day into a full-blown migraine 24 hours after drinking and lasted for a further 24 hours – usually accompanied by nausea and yawning and in some cases by repeated dry vomitting (it is impossible for me to keep down even water for the first 12 hours or so and it’s a while before I can eat again). After investigating the cause and symptoms, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an allergic reaction (and one experienced by many people with similar symptoms who find no ‘cure’) and that it is possibly linked to the rise in the level of histamines provoked by beer and wine. I did try taking an anti-histamine after having a glass of wine and before going to bed. This did seem to work the first couple of times but I found the anti-histamines made me feel woozy for the next 24 hours so prefer not to take them and have since given up wine but try having a beer now and again which is a little like russian roulette – it appears that I can drink up to 2 glasses of some brands but not even 1 of others – I am fine at the time but have an extreme reaction the following day. Bottled beers seem worse than draught or cans. I tried to think what might have triggered this allergy and remembered that around 5 years ago I had an allergic reaction after touching my face with fingers that had been dipped in wine and chocolate sauce (long story!) while I was taking antibiotics for an ear infection and my defences were low. One side of my face swelled up and I had to take anti-histamines to reduce the swelling. At the time, the doctor thought I might be allergic to the anti-biotic but there is no reason why that should have affected only one side of my face – particulary the thin skin around my eye- and the trigger of the wine/chocolate mix only occurred to me later. I know that the easiest thing would be to give up alcohol but as I enjoy the ocassional glass of wine or beer I hope that I can find a way of controlling the allergy. I have yet to try some of the mineral and vitamin supplements recommended but any advice would be appreciated.

  15. Allison Roberts

    I am about to try your suggestion of the vitamins you’ve listed. I have tried numerous things for my migraines which mostly come during my menstrual cycle or the week after. I often can have one for 14 days straight. Immitrex works for me, but often only for 24 hours. I have twice had to go to urgent care for a shot of morphine, as the Immitrex did not take hold (tho thankfully rare). I take a daily proprananol, perscribed by my doctor, and that has kept them from occuring every week, but still I am still getting them more than I’d like. I also find that alcohol makes them worse, so I generally do not drink anymore. And chocolate does seem to exacerbate them as well. I have eliminated most dairy and wheat from my diet, and about to try to eliminate eggs. I wish I could find the answer…so far, no luck, but I’ll keep trying. I did find accupuncture to be helpful while I was doing it, tho it is not always an affordable option, I did find it helpful.

  16. Arielle

    Hello. Iam a 30 year old female. 2 years ago i began being plaged with these migrains. They last hours and even days. My vision becomes impaired. Most of the time it is across my forehead but sometimes it starts in the base of my neck and radiates from there with sharp pains. I have yet to find a cure. Do you have any ideas? The doctors say it is stress, but I seem to have it whether i am stressed or not. Any ideas?

  17. MumofZac

    I have a son that has been diagnosed with Basilar Migraines. Lately I have begun to wonder if the migraine is the SYMPTOM and not the problem. He started having migraines as young as age seven. However, when he was 17 the migraines changed.He now has distinctly different migraines. The type he has had since he was young is a different pain and seems to be consistent with certain triggers and have been managed well with basic migraine treatments. The Basilar Migraines are a completely different (yet distict and consistent) kind of migraine pain and symptoms. We have a wonderful nurse practitioner and neurologist who are doing the best they can to figure this out but they readily admit they are flying by the seat of thier pants. We just have trial and error for treatment options. Medications initially appeared to have moderate success controlling and reducing the occurrance but recently they have gotten worse and tweaking the medicines and managing what we thought were the triggers has not been completely beneficial.His life has been put on hold because we never know when he will have a migraine and suddenly pass out and start shaking. I was reading some info on allergic reactions and several of the symptoms are the same. I really wonder if it is some sort of allergic reaction. Maybe it is not necessarily a full out anaphylactic reaction but a lot of the symptoms are dead on for the migraines. Any thoughts?

  18. Lisa

    Hi,

    I think I have found the group trigger for my migraines. I am 44 year old female, when I was a child Opal Fruits (Starburst) sweets used to give me a headache but I didn’t suffer from significant headaches any other time. My mum and grandmother both suffered from migraines but they both never found a trigger. Then I started suffering from migraines in my 30’s around my menstrual cycle which I put down to hormonal changes. Then they stopped by about 40 but now the only migraines I suffer from started a year ago and it’s taken me all year to figure out the trigger which is fruit, mainly citrus but also citric acid which is in a lot of food and sauces. I am still getting used to checking food ingredient labels and most recently didn’t check the ceasar salad dressing I ate last night which must have contained lemon juice (doesn’t have to be fresh juice either) so even the small quantity that was in the sauce on my lettuce has given me a migraine usually around 6 to 10 hours after I have eaten and the severity will be dependent upon the amount and as this was probably about 2 teaspooons . This migraine will last between 24 and 48 hours of mild to moderate sickness, blinding pain over my right eye and right side radiating down to the right side of my neck, sometimes I will get split vision in both eyes. I now avoid any fresh fruit except bananas, I avoid all jams and marmalades, chutney etc which rules out most desserts cakes. I also found that caramel and golden syrup will react in the same way. I am still trying to find out exactly what fruit I can eat but am too afraid to try. Have made an appointment at the doctors to ask if they can test me for allergies but by the sounds of these findings I will not be successful. Any ideas?

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