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Employee Wellness: Is Your Diet Causing Your Migraines?

Starting your journey to ease migraines means looking at different parts of your life. Yes, medications help, but did you know that your diet can reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines, too? In this blog post, we’ll explore some dietary practices that could change the way you handle migraines.


What are migraines?  

Migraines are recurring headaches that often are paired with nausea, light and noise sensitivity, confusion, and blurred vision. Migraines typically last 4-72 hours and the frequency varies from person to person. Migraines can be treated with over-the-counter and prescription medications, but our diet can help with migraine treatment as well. 


Dietary Practices to Help 

  • Stay hydrated 

    • Nearly one-third of migraines can be prevented with proper hydration, according to The American Migraine Foundation. Our bodies need both electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, as well as adequate fluid to work efficiently. Throughout the day, you constantly lose fluid through bodily functions such as sweating and urinating. If you are not replenishing by drinking enough water throughout the day, a migraine may attack. Although fluid needs vary from person to person due to lifestyle factors, a good recommendation would be to drink half your body weight in ounces. For example, a 150lb person would benefit from drinking 75 ounces of water daily. 

  • Incorporate more magnesium 

    • Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals found in the human body. It has been proven to aid in bone, muscle, and heart health, as well as the nervous system by playing a role in both nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Magnesium balances and influences serotonin levels, which in turn also constricts and dilates blood vessels. Imbalances or changes in both blood flow and hormones can often result in a migraine. Eating more magnesium helps regulate serotonin and blood vessels, reducing migraines. Magnesium recommendations vary from person to person, based on gender and stage of life. 

  • Maintain a consistent eating schedule 

    • Hunger can often trigger migraines. Additionally, abnormal blood sugar levels have also been linked to both migraines and headaches. By eating consistently throughout the day, we can avoid that ravenous hunger and associated symptoms we feel with drastic blood sugar drops. A general rule of thumb could be consuming 6-8 small balanced meals each day. 

Top 5 Dietary Triggers 

While triggers are not often easily identified, each person who experiences migraines has them. A good practice to incorporate is to keep a “migraine journal,” where you record when you develop a migraine, as well as stress levels, weather, sleep, and dietary intake leading up to the migraine attack. By doing this, you can eventually identify and learn how to avoid migraine triggers. Below are 5 of the most common dietary triggers: 

  • Tyramine and Histamines 

    • Both tyramine and histamine-containing foods have been shown to cause migraines due to the way the body breaks them down. Some foods that contain these compounds include fermented foods/drinks, aged cheeses, and cured and processed meats. 

  • Alcohol 

    • There are numerous reasons why alcohol is a common trigger for migraines. Although alcohol contains both tyramines and histamines, it is also a diuretic, causing dehydration, which causes headaches and migraines. Hangovers and alcohol withdrawal are also known to cause migraines. 

  • Caffeine 

    • Much like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic. Caffeine can also cause migraines due to its role in vasoconstriction and dilation, resulting in a migraine due to changes in blood flow. Caffeine withdrawal has also been shown to cause both headaches and migraines. 

  • Food additives  

    • Food additives, specifically nitrates and nitrites, have been known to cause migraines also due to their role in vasoconstriction and dilation. Additionally, nitrates and nitrites convert to nitric oxide in the body, which contributes to oxidative stress, another common cause for migraines. 

  • Artificial sweeteners  

    • Although there is limited scientific evidence, artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and sucralose, have been associated with headaches and migraines, with some studies suggesting a connection to migraine onset. Artificial sweeteners are often found in diet, sugar-free, or “zero” foods and drinks. 

Understanding and identifying migraine triggers can be a huge step in managing and preventing migraines. Triggers vary from person to person, so keeping record in a migraine journal can help you recognize patterns and make lifestyle changes to reduce them. It's essential for individuals to be mindful of their own sensitivities, as only a few were included above. By adopting healthy lifestyle practices, you can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.  


Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by 

downloading our brochure.   

Written by: Maddie Powell, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern. 





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