Researchers have hypothesized that this is because aged cheeses contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid that can affect blood vessels and trigger a headache (1).
Other foods high in tyramine include those that are aged, cured, dried, smoked or pickled, including cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, salami, sauerkraut and tofu.
Unfortunately, the evidence on tyramine and migraines is mixed. Yet, more than half of the studies looking for a relationship between tyramine and migraines found that tyramine could act as a trigger in some people (3).
High-quality studies are needed to confirm this link, though it’s estimated that approximately 5% of people who suffer from migraines are sensitive to tyramine (3).
If you feel your migraines are triggered by hard cheeses, this may be the reason why.
Summary: Aged cheeses and other foods high in tyramine are often considered migraine triggers. The evidence is mixed, but there may be a link.
Chocolate is a commonly reported migraine trigger.
This may be because high levels of certain fats in the blood lead to the production of prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins can cause your blood vessels to dilate, potentially leading to migraines and increased pain (10).
One study on this association found that at the beginning of the study, participants eating a high-fat diet containing more than 69 grams of fat daily had nearly twice as many headaches at those who ate less fat (10).
They also found that after reducing their fat intake, the participants’ headache frequency and intensity decreased. Nearly 95% of the participants reported a 40% improvement in their headaches (10).
Another study on a low-fat vegan diet found similar results, with reductions in headache pain and frequency (11).
However, in both studies, other factors besides fat intake were changed, such as weight loss or excluding animal products.
Therefore, it’s not possible to say for sure that lowering fat intake alone was responsible for the improvements.
Summary: Eating a diet high in fat may increase the frequency of migraines. Consequently, lowering fat intake has been shown to improve migraine intensity and frequency.
People often point to red wine, rather than alcohol in general, as a migraine trigger.
Evidence seems to support the idea that compounds specifically present in red wine, such as histamine, sulfites or flavonoids, could trigger headaches (4, 17).
As evidence, one study found that drinking red wine, but not vodka, provoked headaches (18).
However, the exact cause of this is still unknown.
Regardless, it’s estimated that alcoholic drinks can trigger migraines in approximately 10% of people who get migraines.
While there isn’t a need for most migraine sufferers to avoid alcohol completely, those who are susceptible should limit their consumption (4).
Summary: Alcoholic drinks are one of the most well-known migraine triggers. However, alcohol is not a problem for everyone who gets migraines, and the reason why is unclear.
9. Cold Food and Drinks
Most people have heard of the “ice cream” headaches that cold or frozen foods and beverages can trigger.
However, these foods and beverages may also provoke migraines in susceptible people.
One study asked participants to hold an ice cube between their tongues and the roofs of their mouths for 90 seconds in order to study cold-induced headaches (19).
They found that this test triggered headaches in 74% of the 76 migraine sufferers who participated. On the other hand, it triggered pain in only 32% of those who suffered from non-migraine headaches (19).
Another study found that women who had experienced a migraine within the previous year were twice as likely to develop a headache after drinking ice-cold water, compared to women who never suffered from migraines (20).
Therefore, migraine sufferers who notice that their headaches are triggered by cold foods may want to avoid ice-cold or frozen foods and drinks, including frozen yogurt, ice cream or slushies.
Summary: People who suffer from migraines may be more likely to experience a cold-induced headache than the average person. Therefore, it may be a good idea to avoid very cold foods and drinks.
The Bottom Line
Although diet will not cause someone to start getting migraines, it is one of many factors that can trigger a migraine in someone who frequently experiences them.
Therefore, migraine sufferers who have dietary triggers may find relief by avoiding any foods they are sensitive to.
The best way to identify if certain foods trigger migraines for you is to create a food and symptom diary and check to see if any patterns emerge.
Additionally, make sure to pay particular attention to the foods and drinks in the list above.
Limiting common food triggers is a good place to start reducing the frequency and severity of your migranes.