Food is one of the most common triggers of migraines. However, identifying food triggers one by one means it can be a long time before you experience a reduction in your migraines. Instead, some people prefer to use an elimination diet strategy.
In this strategy, you simultaneously eliminate most migraine-causing foods all at once. You only slowly reintroduce them, and then see which ones result in migraines.
This strategy can be effective, but it can also be time-consuming, and it’s possible to end up coming to the wrong conclusion about your foods.
Basic Elimination Diet Strategy
The elimination diet strategy for migraine control is fairly straightforward. Some foods are more likely to cause migraines than others, although which ones are the culprit for any individual can vary widely. Rather than trying to eliminate foods one by one and see which ones give you relief, it’s best to eliminate them all so you can experience relief immediately, then reintroduce them slowly to see which ones cause migraines.
In general, the foods eliminated during phase one of the diet are:
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Processed meat and fish
- Cheese and dairy
- Alcohol and vinegar
- Citrus fruits
- Fresh breads and other yeast-risen bakery goods
In addition, you should eliminate all dietary supplements, unless your doctor has specifically prescribed them. Other people recommend a low-carb diet to reduce migraines. Follow the minimal diet for three months to give your body time to detoxify. Then slowly reintroduce foods, about one every two or three days. Keep track of what foods you’re reintroducing using a spreadsheet.
Typically, foods will trigger a migraine within hours after it’s eaten (usually less than six), but be suspicious of anything you ate during the previous 24 hours.
How Effective Is an Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet is a huge commitment to lifestyle change, and we’d like to be able to say that it provides dramatic improvement for everyone. However, the truth is that there hasn’t been much research into the effectiveness of elimination diets. What research there is suggests we should have a cautious optimism. People see a reduction in migraine intensity and frequency. It may cut migraines by about a third.
Migraine Triggers Aren’t All Chemical
Most people assume that foods trigger migraines because there are chemicals in the food that set off the migraine process. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the problem is not the food itself, but the process of eating the food. Chewing, specifically, is a bodily function that can set off migraines because it irritates parts of the trigeminal nerve.
People with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are prone to this type of migraine, and often TMD treatment can reduce migraines to the same or greater extent than an elimination diet. If you suspect chewing might be to blame for your migraines, you should see a neuromuscular dentist who understands how these different elements work together to cause migraines.