Can Cheese Cause Migraines?
So many foods can seem perfectly benign until migraine headaches begin to cause problems. Once you’ve experienced the throbbing, pounding, eye-aching pain of a migraine, you’ll likely look at your daily menu a bit differently. After all, what you consume will directly affect every process in your body.
Cheese has long been considered a problem food for migraine sufferers, and while there is good reasoning behind this, the issue isn’t as clear and simple as you might imagine. A lot comes down to the type of cheese, and certain characteristics of the aging process.
The good news is that you won’t necessarily need to cut out cheese altogether, but you may need to be more careful. You’ll want to know which cheeses are safe to eat and which are not, why they cause problems, and what that means for the rest of your diet and your migraine management plan.
Pinpointing the Problem Ingredients
Unless you’re lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, it’s not the milk in cheese that will cause you problems. Instead, your cheese-related migraine comes down to a couple of compounds known as vasodilators, which dilate the blood vessels in your brain.
Most experts point to tyramine as the major culprit behind cheese-triggered migraines. Tyramine is an amino acid belonging to a family of compounds called amines. Amines cause blood vessels to constrict, then dilate, and if you’re vulnerable to migraines, this constriction and dilation can lead straight to a pounding headache.
Tyramine develops in food as it ages or ferments. Different cheeses contain different amounts of the troublesome compound, and it can be difficult to measure each precisely. Alcohol and chocolate are also loaded with amines, so you’ll want to keep them out of your diet, too.
Like amines, nitrates cause your blood vessels to dilate, which can bring on a migraine. The term “hot dog headaches” has been used to describe the aftermath of eating processed meats treated with nitrates. Although nitrates occur naturally in a variety of foods, the amount in processed, smoked or preserved foods is much higher — and very problematic for migraine sufferers.
Cured meats are the biggest offenders when it comes to nitrates, but smoked (or otherwise enhanced) cheeses are not far behind. Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels closely to make sure there are no additives that could cause problems.
Which Cheeses Are Safe to Eat?
Since cheese develops tyramine during the aging process and nitrates are used as a preservative, fresh or young cheese is generally safe to eat. Here are some good choices:
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
- Soft goat cheese
- Fresh or stringy mozzarella