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Is there a link between diet and headaches?

Science has shown that some foods are linked with headaches

27 MAY 2010

Many of us know at least one person who avoids certain foods because they say they trigger headaches. The chances are these friends are right, as there is scientific evidence to back the connection between food and headaches or migraines as well as other health issues. Some of the culprits are ingredients in common foods, so if you suffer with headaches, it's worth reading the small print and checking what you're eating.

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These are some of the additives and naturally occurring substances that are believed to cause problems:

  • Nitrates – found in processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, salami etc.
  • MSG – monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer common in Oriental food, particularly low quality Chinese dishes.
  • Caffeine – and that includes colas as well as coffee .
  • Tyramine – a naturally occurring substance found in many foods including chocolate, cheese, particularly mature cheeses, and nuts.
  • Alcohol.

Don't forget: Hunger itself can trigger headaches, so as well as watching what you eat, you should eat regularly and not skip meals.

Of course, if you get repeated headaches - and particularly if this is a new problem for you - it's a good idea to check with your doctor.

The flip side: If some foods cause headaches, others may have a beneficial effect. Vitamin B, for example, strengthens the nervous system and may help keep headaches at bay. There are plants, too, such as lemon balm, boldo leaf, passionflower, ginkgo and mallow flower, which can be taken as supplements or in herbal teas to ward off or relieve headaches.

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