Migraine Triggers

Migraine Management: What Triggers a Migraine?

Migraines can ruin a day, a week, a special occasion and impact practically every area of your life, but with a little bit of knowledge, you can lessen your migraine days. Migraine triggers are all around us, and everyone has certain things that are more likely to trigger a migraine for them. Some people are very sensitive to certain perfumes, while others can practically bring on a migraine with too many drinks or certain kinds of medications. Here we’ll examine some of the most common migraine triggers to help you avoid as many headaches as possible.


Any increase in stress, whether physical, emotional or psychological, has been shown to increase the occurrence of migraines. In fact, up to 80% of migraine suffers say that tension can trigger a migraine. This can occur in the middle of a stressful event or afterward. Either way, if this is a trigger, it is important to find ways to manage your emotional and physical state appropriately, whether it’s through exercise, therapy, meditation, yoga or just time for yourself. Any of these can reduce stress, and therefore the likelihood of a migraine.

Food Triggers

Edible triggers can be different for everyone. Different items can even trigger migraines in a different part of our lives or menstrual cycles. However, some common edible triggers should be avoided if you experience frequent migraines.

  • Hard or ripened cheeses
  • Fermeneted or pickled foods
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Sourdough bread
  • Avocado
  • Raisins, figs or red plums
  • Snow peas, fava beans, lima beans and broad beans
  • Extraneous caffinated beverages like coffee, tea or soda
  • Overconsumption of alcoholic drinks
Food Additives

Food additives are a very insidious migraine trigger. Unless you carefully check the label, many of these additives could slip by you and cause a migraine. Here are some of the most common additives that trigger migraines, and places that they might be hiding.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener often used in “fat-free” foods, diet sodas, other diet beverages (like powdered mixes), sugarless candies. Usually, this aspartame only shows up in “diet” or specialty items, making it easier to avoid than some other additives. Researchers aren’t sure why aspartame causes migraines in some people, and studies show mixed results. However, many patients report increased or worsened migraines after consumption of aspartame.

Monosodium glutamate or (MSG) is another additive that, while research can’t pinpoint why it seems to cause headaches, people agree that for some, it does. This flavor enhancer is more difficult to avoid. It is used to add a savory flavor, usually those items that are highly processed or prepared. MSG is often found in:

  • Practically all fast-food items
  • Processed chicken and sausage products
  • Ranch dressing, dipping sauces and gravy
  • Salty snack chips
  • Deli meats
  • Prepared soups (in a store or in a restaurant )
  • Soy sauce
Menstrual Cycles

As your menstrual cycle moves through the month, hormones wax and wane. This change in hormone levels is one of the most common migraine triggers. Many women get migraines like clockwork at a certain point in their cycle, usually right before menstruation, or perhaps during ovulation, which occurs around day 16 of your cycle. Birth control medications can help regulate hormones, and this can have a positive outcome on the total number of migraines you experience. Regular exercise and eating well can also help balance out the hormones that cause these migraines.

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