Doctors have known for some time that some foods and drinks can trigger migraine headaches in some people. That's an important fact to remember around the holidays, when your food and beverage consumption may take some crazy twists and turns.
Dr. David Dodick, Chair of the American Migraine Foundation, cautions people who suffer from migraines to keep their guard up over the next few weeks.
“This is the season in which many people overindulge in things that can trigger attacks of migraine,” he said. “It’s important to think through food and beverage choices, to help reduce the risk of having a migraine attack.”
Keep up your routine
For starters, Dodick says you need to eat regularly. Skipping or missing meals is a much more common trigger of migraine than any particular food, so it is important to stay on a dietary schedule, even through you might not feel like it after loading up on cookies at a Christmas party. By all means, he says, don't skip breakfast.
Here's a common-sense tip. If previous migraines have helped you identify certain foods that you suspect are triggering attacks, avoid that food during the holidays. Remember that stress can also trigger an attack, so the combination of food and holiday stress can make a migraine more likely.
When offered a choice of wine, choosing white over red may improve your odds. For many sufferers, red wine is a common trigger.
Reduce alcohol consumption
Drinking little or no alcohol may also help you avoid an attack. Because alcohol and dehydration can trigger a migraine attack, alternating a glass of water with an alcoholic beverage may help keep a migraine at bay.
Eat more healthy food during the holidays. In addition to not skipping meals, limit your intake of processed foods, sodium, sugar, and caffeinated and carbonated drinks.
The hours before bedtime are also very important. Cut out the caffeine by early afternoon and avoid snacking after dinner.
Know your triggers
“Knowing your food triggers and planning in advance can increase your enjoyment of holiday activities with fewer migraine attacks,” Dodick said. “If you don’t know whether you have food triggers, we suggest trying to eliminate specific dietary foods and beverages, such as red wine, processed meats, nuts, chocolate, aged cheese, monosodium glutamate, and gluten-containing foods, to see if they are causing migraine attacks. If these attacks decrease, introducing these items back one at a time can identify the culprit(s), should they exist.”
Not everyone who suffers from migraine headaches has food triggers, but for those with these triggers, avoiding them can often mean fewer attacks.
A migraine is very different from the garden variety headache. According to the Mayo Clinic, a migraine can cause intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
An attack can last for a few hours or a few days and can be so severe that the sufferer can only lie down in a dark room and wait for it to pass.
Usually they hit you like a bolt out of the blue but can have a few warning signs, such as flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in your arm or leg.