10 Common Migraine Triggers to Be Aware Of

Identifying and Coping With Migraine Triggers

Migraine Triggers

With an introduction from Amy. 

Migraines can take away from your quality of life and leave you immobile for hours, or in some cases even days. When you have migraines attacks, you never know when one can strike, right? Actually, not so much. While it may seem your migraine came out of nowhere, according to experts migraines actually occur from what is known as a trigger.

Migraine triggers come in the form of foods, scents, certain lighting, weather changes, and some environmental factors that you’re exposed to. By learning more about the different types of migraine triggers and how you can prevent them from causing a migraine attack, you can reduce the number of migraines you experience and improve your quality of life.

Here are ten common migraine triggers to be aware of:

1. Diet

What you eat can have a huge impact on the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. Some of the most common culprits when it comes to migraine food triggers are artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate (MSG), preservatives, processed foods, dairy, and gluten.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, are food additives that are synthetic, and which provide a sugar-like taste. They contain excitotoxins which affect the neurological system. The most commonly used sugar substitutes that are not produced by nature are:

  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharine
  • Xylitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Acesulfame k


Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate, is used as a flavor enhancer. It is a non-essential amino acid and one of the most abundantly occurring ones.

MSG is found naturally in cheese, tomatoes and other foods. When used to enhance flavor, it intensifies the flavor of the food it is used in, giving it an umami taste.

It is believed that MSG, a known excitotoxin, causes severe neurological disorders including migraine and seizures. Glutamate is a known to be a part of the pathophysiology of migraine or migraine pathway.


Preservatives are used to help keep food stay fresher and last longer. The most common preservatives used are sulfites, nitrites and nitrates. Foods these are found in include:

  • Dried fruit
  • White wine
  • Red wine
  • Preserved/smoked meats
  • Canned foods
  • Pickled foods


Casein and choline are milk proteins that are very common triggers for migraine. Casein is found in milk products where choline is present in sour cream and whole milk. Milk products may also contain large amounts of free glutamic acid, which is also a migraine trigger.


Grains, such as barley, rye and wheat, contain a protein called gluten. Gluten can cause inflammation, bloating, diarrhea and weight loss. It can also affect the nervous system, which means it can cause headaches or migraine in people who do not have celiac disease. Having a sensitivity to gluten means that you may also experience:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain

Hidden Migraine Food Triggers

There are other food triggers that most people are not aware of. These include dietary histamine, tyramine, and phenylethylamine.

With histamine, allergies come to mind. Histamine is also a component of digestion. A buildup of histamine in the body can cause you to feel flushed, itchy and have headaches.

Tyramine and phenylethylamine are found in the most common food triggers. Tyramine is a product of the decarboxylation of tyrosine during fermentation or decay.

Phenylethylamine, which is an organic compound, acts as a nervous system stimulant.

Dietary Histamine
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Aged cheeses
  • Fermented foods
  • Cured meats
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts
  • Smoked fish
  • Potentially spoiled meat
  • Pickled meat
  • Smoked meat
  • Fermented meat
  • Marinated meat (fish, poultry, and beef)
  • Most pork, except cured ham
  • Chocolate
  • Beans, nuts, seeds
  • Meat, seafood, poultry
  • Raw eggs
  • Sheep’s milk
  • Goat milk
  • Soy milk
  • Whole milk

Next page: More common migraine triggers including stress, weather, hormones, sleep, and more.

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Amy ManleyAmy Manley

Amy Manley is a certified medical writer through the American Medical Writers Association. She has a Bachelor's degree in English and writes to help educate people on various health conditions and how to cope with them.

Oct 15, 2018
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