Migraine Headaches:
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What Causes, or Triggers a Migraine?

The causes, and triggers, of Migraines are many and unfortunately still not fully understood; and since there is little data to reveal the actual cause of Migraine headaches and thereby limited Treatment options for a cure, identifying the individual Migraine cause, or trigger, of a sufferer is an important defense mechanism in order to reduce the occurrences of Migraines.

Migraine headaches are known to be caused by changes in the level of Serotonin, a brain chemical and high and low Serotonin levels affect the blood vessels differently; when they are high, blood vessels constrict and when they are low the blood vessels tend to swell; Migraines occur when the Serotonin levels are low and fluctuations in Serotonin levels are affected by the levels of Blood Sugar, Estrogen in women; Excessive Consumption of Alcohol and Caffeine and Dehydration.

There are many factors that can cause Migraine headaches; a Migraine trigger is something that stimulates a headache in a sufferer who is likely to be prone to it; however, most of the affected people, are unable to identify the reasons for their Migraines; one of the reasons for this is that there can be a time gap between the exposure to a trigger and the actual Migraine attack, which may vary from a few hours to two days.

The Migraine trigger could be an Accident or Sudden Injury to the Upper Neck; Alcohol; Anxiety; Food Chemicals such as Amino Acids found in Cheese; Chocolates; Coffee and other Caffeinated beverages; Changes in Daily Routine; Dairy products such as Cheese or Milk; Depression; Over Exercising or other Overexertion; Hunger, Irregular or Skipped Meals; Hypertension; some Neurological Defects; Loud Noises; Nuts; Oral Contraceptives and Hormonal Changes or Imbalance in the body, such as those that occur when a woman is Menstruating, or going through the Menopause; the use of Perfumes, Chemical smells, or any other Strong Odours; Physical or Emotional Stress and Tension; some Pickles and Fermented Foods; Pollution or Smog; Food Preservatives such as monosodium glutamate, or Tyramine; Red Wine; Shellfish; Lack of Sleep, Insomnia, or an Alteration in Sleep Patterns; Smoking; Stress; Artificial Sweeteners; Tea; Changes in the Weather, especially Rapid Barometric Pressure Changes, or Sudden Changes in Temperature and Humidity; Visual Strain, an Exposure to Flickering Fluorescent or Bright Lights or anything that Strains the Eyes; or because of some other Disease or medical problem.

If you are fasting, or dieting and are skipping a breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you may become likely to experience a Migraine because fasting causes a release of stress related hormones and lowers the sugar in the blood; therefore, those who have experienced Migraine headaches while fasting, should avoid doing so in the future; Migraines are also caused if the eyes are exposed to very bright lights or some other high intensity visual stimuli such as direct exposure to sunlight, vehicle headlights, or watching television for long periods of time.

Caffeine can be good for the health if consumed in a low quantities, but if consumed in excess, it may lead to insomnia, headaches, Migraines, anxiety, and irritability, and unfortunately, caffeine is present in many of the products that we consume on a daily basis such as coffee, chocolates, tea, cola and OTC analgesics; poor quality of sleep which includes, not enough, too much or even waking up at short intervals throughout the night can also be a cause; well planned sleeping routines have been proven to decrease the frequency and duration of Migraine headaches.

Causes of Migraines in Men:

What causes Migraines in men is still unknown; but experts think that it is due to the expansion of certain blood vessels and the release of certain chemicals, which give rise to inflammation and pain that can vary from one sufferer to another; Dopsmine and Serotonin are two of those chemicals which are to some extent responsible for frequent Migraines in men; these are mood altering chemicals which may cause anxiety and nausea thereby accelerating Migraines in men.

Migraine Symptoms:

Symptoms of Migraine vary depending upon the type and severity or force it occurs with, but luckily, or strangely, in most cases, people get a premonition, some describe it as a signal sent by the body to the brain, hours before they occur; Migraine symptoms include Feelings of Intense Energy followed by Fatigue; Sweet Food Cravings; Intense Throbbing or Dull Pain on one side of head; Nausea, Vomiting, or both; an Irritation with Light, Loud Sounds and Odours; Blurred or Spotted Vision; Sleeplessness and Anxiety Fever with headaches.

The Relation between Magnesium Deficiency and Migraine:

Magnesium is responsible for maintaining an overall healthy body; it absorbs minerals and is responsible for maintaining optimum calcium levels in the body; therefore, maintaining a healthy level of Magnesium can help fight off and curb stress and anxiety; Magnesium is an essential mineral required by the body for maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, keeping a healthy immune system, maintaining heart rhythm, and building strong bones; Magnesium is also involved in at least 300 biochemical reactions in the body; a deficiency in Magnesium can lead to Muscle Spasms, Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, High Blood Oressure, Anxiety Disorders, Migraines, Osteoporosis and Cerebral Infarction.

Conversely, consuming too much Magnesium typically causes Diarrhea as the body attempts to excrete the excess and if Magnesium is not present in adequate quantities it affects the normal brain performance, and due to the brain receptors being adversely affected by the deficiency, the blood platelets get clubbed together; this and the inadequate Magnesium level may well cause an Headache or a Migraine.

Causes of Ophthalmic Migraine:

According to some researches, changes in the blood flow to the part of the brain which is responsible for vision can result in this condition, while other researches say that tightening of the blood vessels behind the eye, resulting in a reduced supply of blood to the eye, causes an ophthalmic Migraine.

What are the possible Triggers of an Ocular Migraine?

Alcohol Abuse; Caffeine; Aged Cheese; Chocolate; Oral Contraceptives; Hunger; Rich Meat; Premenstrual Changes; Stress and Red Wine are all associated triggers of an Ocular Migraine; this type of Migraine has no cure, but at the same time does not normally require any kind of Treatment; however, if the symptoms are recurring frequently, you may need some medication that targets the factors which trigger the disorder.

During an attack, or the onset of, Ocular Migraine symptoms, it is important for the affected sufferer to stop whatever ongoing activity they are involved in, such as driving, jogging, running and anything else which requires sharp vision; they should stay inactive in a safe place until the symptoms have subsided.

Migraine Prophylaxis:

Prevention is always better than a cure 'Prophylaxis Prevention'; therefore, in order to help ascertain what causes your Migraine attacks, you should create a diary and write down all of the things you ate, drank or did, before each Migraine attack; maintaining a record of when, and around what, your Migraines occur, can help you to recognise a pattern and once a trigger can be identified, it can easily be removed or managed; unfortunately, you may have to suffer a few Migraines before you are able to isolate a trigger, but the sooner you start, the sooner you can isolate and remove a trigger and hence suffer less Migraines.

It is also important to stay active by eating healthy food and having regular exercise; Yoga can be particularly useful, as it helps to reduce stress levels and induce peaceful sleep; GPs and other medical practitioners often prescribe preventive medicines such as beta blockers, anticonvulsants, or tricyclic antidepressants.


Migraine Triggers List:

Many Migraine attacks are preceded by what is medically known as a Prodrome, which is a precursor, or a set of symptoms that occur early on as a signal of an impending Migraine attack; the Prodrome precedes an Aura, which is a perceptional disturbance, or a telltale sign that some Migraine sufferers inherently recognise as a precursor to an attack, it could be a specific smell, a distorted pattern of light or a general period of confusion, although this is not common to all Migraine sufferers.

It's important to understand that Migraine triggers are different for different people and while some triggers are common, the only person who can truly compile an exhaustive list is someone who suffers from this debilitating condition.

Identifying the internal or external factors that can set a Migraine in motion, will enable you to avoid these factors over time; making a comprehensive Migraine triggers list may involve going over the occurrences of a couple of days that precede an attack and trying to identify a pattern between successive sessions; along with external factors there has been evidence to show that certain foods can set off a reaction, that in turn, behaves as a trigger, which prompts the formulation of a Migraine trigger diet that will limit the contents of meals to foods that are perceived as 'safe'.

Identifying Migraine Triggers:

Whilst identifying what constitutes Migraine trigger foods, remember that eating such items can prompt a Migraine attack that can start up to 48 hours after the food has been consumed; try and record your eating habits in a food diary, which can help a good deal in the formation of a comprehensive list of trigger foods over time; a summary of potential foods that trigger Migraines is listed below:

In particular, foods containing Tyramine, an Amine compound, can be some of the most prone to set off a Migraine attack; Tyramine may cause the dilation of blood vessels and elevate the Blood Pressure, which some believe can trigger an attack; high levels of Tyramine are found in Beans, some Aged Cheeses; Chili Peppers; Chocolate and Cocoa products; Olives; Pickles and Processed Meats.

Other food triggers include most Alcoholic Beverages; Aspartame and other Sugar Substitutes; Coffee and other Caffeine products; Fruits like Avocados, Bananas, Citrus Fruits and Plums; Cured Meats like Bacon, Pepperoni and Salami; anything that contains Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancing food additive, which includes processed foods such as Instant Noodles, Packet Soups and Ready made Meals like TV dinners; Foods that contain Soy products; Sulfites in Red Wine and Freshly Baked Yeast Bread.

NB. For some regular coffee drinkers, a Lack of regular Caffeine can trigger withdrawal symptoms that in turn can set off a Migraine attack.

When creating a Migraine triggers list, remember that the triggers are specific to the individual and the above lists are only guidelines that can help you to identify the triggers, or possible sources of triggers; unfortunately, it may take several Migraine attacks before you are able to form a comprehensive list of the things to avoid, but once you have identified your Migraine triggers, keeping the Migraine attacks at bay will become much easier.

Other Amines which can trigger Migraines include Phenylalanine, Phenylethylamine, Octopamine, Serotonin, Dopsmine and Histamine; Migraine sufferers should also stay away from all Tobacco related products, as it contains Nicotine which also intensifies Migraine attacks; for many people though, dietary Amines are quickly broken down and hence don't pose a threat; foods that are known to be high in Amines that lead to Migraines are Cheeses; Fruits like Avocados, Bananas, Dried Figs, Papayas, Pineapples, Plums, Raisins and Tomatoes; Canned or Processed Meats; Nuts; Peanut Butters; Canned Soups; Spinach; Tofu; Vegetables like Beans and Onions; Yeast and yeast extracts and Yogurts.

Food Preservatives:

Food preservatives or additives are also closely associated with Migraine headaches and a lot of processed foods contain food additives in varying amounts; the ones known to trigger Migraines are Aspartame; MonoSodium Glutamate (MSG), which is commonly used in Chinese foods; Nitrates; Nitrites and Sulphites.

Milk contains a protein known as 'Casein' which creates histamines, which in turn produce mucus; if the histamine level increases, a lot of mucus is produced, which puts pressure on the brain membranes, thus triggering Migraines; Dairy products to be avoided in order to minimise the intensity of Migraines are Cheese; Milk; Sour Cream and Yogurt.

Migraine Related Information Leaflets


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