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There are 14 different subtypes of headache, according to the International Headache Classification of these, the most common are primary headaches including migraine and tension-type headache.
It’s a generally held belief that rich foods such as chocolate can trigger headaches, but the relevance of diet in headache is controversial, and the evidence that exists on individual foods is a little sketchy. So, the good news is, you don’t need to give up the chocolate fix yet.
Instead, recent studies have focused on differences in the metabolism of substances that help control the nervous system in migraine sufferers. One of these is tyramine, which is found in aged cheese (including cheddar), red wine and processed meats. So, it would be wise to at least rotate these out of your diet for a while if you suffer with migraines.
According to the New York Headache Centre, other triggers may include the artificial sweetener aspartame, monosodium glutamate (a thickener often used in Chinese takeaways), nitrates (found in root vegetables such as beetroot) and nitrites (found in cured meat).
Gluten intolerance has also been linked to headaches – in a recent study, 35% of people with gluten sensitivity reported headache as a symptom.
One Swedish study found – perhaps unsurprisingly - that women who drank more alcohol were more likely to report frequent headaches. Caffeine withdrawal and meal skipping have been connected in other studies.
All in all, the foods that exacerbate headaches may be different for different people. Keeping a food and symptom diary may help you to recognise your own triggers.
A balanced diet is more important than specific foods. Two nutrients that have been studied are magnesium – which tends to be lower in migraine sufferers – and riboflavin. Magnesium is found in leafy vegetables, grains and nuts, while riboflavin is found in meat, eggs, beans, nuts and dairy.
Meanwhile, a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience found that people who had a snack to eat in the evening were 40% less likely to have a headache the following day than those who didn’t eat in the evening - pointing to low blood sugar as a trigger. Staying hydrated is important too.
Some supplements are considered helpful for headache sufferers and at the very least, are worth a try. The American Academy of Neurology recommends the herb Butterbur for migraine prevention, but it was withdrawn from sale in the U.K. due to concerns about liver damage. Feverfew, Coenzyme Q10 and magnesium supplements are also commonly used. A well-balanced combination supplement offers the greatest potential benefit, especially if it is rich in B vitamins.
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