It all starts as a hot pain right behind your eye and then gradually builds to a crescendo until you can’t stand noise, light or maybe even the slightest touch. You may even want to die instead of bearing this pain, “say Agatha Yeager, a Houston women in her 40s. As soon as migraine hits her, she wishes for a temporary death while lying helpless in a pitch-dark room with a cool towel over her eyes.
Migraine headaches are quite different from regular headaches, which are mostly concentrated above the neck. Migraines may start in your head, but its blistering attack may soon spread to your whole body, causing nausea, severe throbbing head pain, dizziness, vomiting, tremors, cold hands, and sensitivity to sound and light. They can last for a few hours, but in most cases may last more than a day.
Like any nuclear missile, some forms of migraine headaches may even send out some “red alerts” before they actually launch an attack. It’s known as aura. Some may experience this aura as multiple small dots, flashing lights, areas of total darkness, or zigzagging lines and tingling or numbness in leg or arm. Other symptoms, include restlessness, strange odors, confusion, hallucinations, and speech impairment.
Mostly, migraines are hereditary, so you’re more susceptible if your dad or mom had them. And you’re also more likely to experience them if you’re a women, as they are four times more susceptible to men. For all those who get migraine attacks, many things can set off an attack-during ovulation, changing hormone levels prior to menstruation, stress, poor eating or sleeping habits, chemicals or preservatives in foods, or sometimes low blood sugar. Sometimes changes in weather or movement to higher altitude may also prompt onset of migraine.
Though exact reason for that initial spasm is still a big mystery, but the reaction seems to be related to some brain chemical.
“We understand that neurotransmitter serotonin has a big role in triggering migraines,” says Bob Rapoport, cofounder, MD and co-director of the New England Center for Headache and Stanford, Connecticut, and also an assistant professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. “In fact, most of the new migraine medications work by stimulating serotonin receptors in the brain.”
Fingers off Various Migraine Triggers
Even though people who experience frequent attacks may prefer to take preventive migraine medications, others can easily diminish their migraine attacks with some lifestyle changes, especially diet, say experts. To get rid of migraine headaches, you need to fill up on natural, whole, and unprocessed foods, especially grains and vegetables, they say.
“It’s possible to prevent migraines at least 48 percent of time by just making few dietary changes,” says Robert Freitg, associate director of Diamond Headache Clinic based in Chicago. However, this can be accomplished successfully if you avoid food triggers and eat healthfully. Many foods act as triggers for migraines, and they are cheese, wine, onions, nuts and tomatoes.
While it’s still not clear why some of these food trigger migraine symptoms in some people, some chemical culprits have been detected in others. Among these, the most prominent ones are called vasoactive amines.
Five foods that can easily trigger migraine symptoms
Many cured meats may have nitrites, certain chemicals added to salt while curing meats. Unfortunately, these nitrites may also dilate your blood vessels, setting the stage for migraine attacks.
Head pounders, also referred to as hot dog headaches, are caused by nitrites, and in this case worst offenders are meat or meat products like bacon, hot dogs, salami and ham. However, these head thumping chemicals are also found in abundance in many preserved meats as well. If you really want to lower your risk of getting frequent migraine attacks, it’s best to switch to fresh meats instead of preserved ones.
For many, enjoying a hot fudge sundae studded with tasty walnuts is a midsummer night’s dream. For all those who suffer from migraine, however, this really mouthwatering treat can turn out to be a nightmare. Chocolate, along with other common foods, contains good amount of amine called pheylethylamine that can cause constriction of blood vessels, followed by dilation, triggering a migraine headache.
Scientists believe that worst thing in amines is tyramine, an amino acid mostly found in aged cheese and foods such as liver and pickled herring. If you experience migraine attacks, you need to keep a close watch on homemade yeast breads and many alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine, say headache experts. These foods-as well as pods of snow peas and lima beans-contain these dreaded amines.
“Alcohol is actually at the top of list of foods that can affect people with migraine,” says Dr. Habber. “It’s a good vasodilator, meaning it can expand blood vessels, thereby triggering migraine. Chocolate is the second biggest offender.”
Surprisingly, even citrus juices and fruits can sometimes trigger migraines in people sensitive to food factor in citrus called synephrine.
Ah, Sunday! A day you normally would like to spend in your bed watching your favorite movie or listening to music, but wake up with an eye-popping headache! This seems to be the story for many who are prone to migraines.
Noticing that many of these people get most of their attacks on their days off, researchers studied their caffeine-drinking habits and found that all those who had headaches on their days off consumed about thrice as much caffeine daily and then slept on their weekends than those who didn’t experience any weekend headaches.
By sleeping, the migraine group was successful in delaying their first caffeine fix for the day by few hours. But that delay then triggered a withdrawal headache. “Even if it’s not a migraine, it feels and acts just like one,” says, Dr. Joshua.
Actually, caffeine can have different effects on migraine, and it all depends on how much you’re used to. More than 3 cups a day can trigger headaches. But if you don’t take it regularly, just one cup can even provide you lasting migraine relief.
“Caffeine has an ability to constrict the dilated blood vessels around temples,” says Dr. John Paul. “It also improves the efficacy of any pain medication. That’s why it’s used in most headache medications.”
Low magnesium levels in some people may also trigger a head-pounding bomb. In a study in 207, researchers found that low-magnesium levels in full 8 percent of 77 migraine sufferers. While experts feel that these kind of shortages may be just one component of migraines, they also see no harm in improving your magnesium intake by including foods rich in this mineral, such as seafood and whole grains, as a preventive measure.
Monosodium glutamate is famous for bringing out all those spicy and wonderful flavors in that wonton soup, but if you’re among those who’re sensitive to this flavor enhancer, then it can also bring on a big headache.
Like many other headache triggers, MSG can launch an attack by dilating blood vessels and then exciting some nerves in your brain. Mostly, those who get headaches from MSG may have some other symptoms as well, such as feeling of slight pressure on face and neck, abdominal cramps, sweating, and tingling in the fingers. If you feel you get headaches due to MSG, ask your food to be prepared without it or any seasoning salt (which contains MSG).
Although MSG can cause headache in anyone, it can also trigger migraine. Researchers feel that MSG is toxic to brain and may trigger electrical dysfunction in brain that may start the migraine process.