Migraine triggers in food - specifically sodium nitrite

My dear fellow migraine sufferers,

Have you noticed triggers for your migraine headaches? I know for sure that one of mine is sodium nitrite. I don’t remember how I figured it out, but it gets me every time.

I have two others. MSG seems to do it, and caffeine is my anti-trigger (meaning I get a migraine if I go too long without some).

My biggest problem is all the different prepared foods that sneak things like sodium nitrite and MSG in. I know to avoid pepperoni, salami, and other processed meats. I just realised today that there’s sodium nitrite in ArmourStar corned beef hash (too late, I’m afraid). I ask for no MSG at the Chinese place, even though I think they just laugh at me and liberally sprinkle it all over my noodles.

Yup! I have a point. I was thinking maybe we could compile a list of known and commonly eaten foods that contain sodium nitrite or MSG. I am also hoping there are others with this particular trigger who may know of some alternative brands that leave the vile stuff out. I miss pepperoni!

I’ll start with most pepperoni and salami, most beef jerkies, and the corned beef hash. Progresso soups also contain MSG at times, such as the chicken and wild rice variety.

Caffeine is one of the things migraine sufferers may be urged to avoid.

From the FDA on potential triggers:

alcoholic drinks (especially red wine)
foods containing a chemical called “tyramine” (for example, aged cheeses, sour cream, and yogurt)
dairy products
foods with additives such as nitrites, MSG, or aspartame.
A change in caffeine intake, either up or down, can also trigger migraine.
Other lifestyle factors, such as change in sleep habits and even overuse of headache medicines, may sometimes provoke migraines, as can environmental factors, such as:

change in weather (often the approach of a low-pressure weather front) or temperature
high altitudes
bright or fluorescent lights or sunlight
loud noises
strong odors

You might as well add: annoying people, the “vapors”, chemtrails and the Antichrist. Triggers are highly individualized, it seems.

My mother was convinced that MSG was her major trigger. When I had migraines years ago they were associated with too much sleep or relief from stress (after exams).

Onions, flourescent lighting, strong floral aromas, the smell of pepper.
The pepper doesnt’ hit me like it did when I was a kid. Every time my mom would cook with pepper, like in a roast, I would go outside and not come in until dinner time. If I stayed, a brain gouging migraine would ensue.

I pretty much grew out of them .

For me, foods don’t normally trigger migraines - pepperoni, red wine, choccies, cheeses - not a problem (Yay!).

I’ve found from experience that the trigger is simply a combination of lack of sleep + stress. Also, working on the computer for too long when I’m tired can be a trigger - I think from the eye strain. And, as others have noted, it’s not caffeine per se that acts as a trigger - it’s a drastic change in level. I try to drink decaff, but when I’m recovering from a migraine, I find that tea with milk is helpful.

Another trigger is a sudden change in air pressure. I can usually count on one major migraine in the spring, when we get our first big sunny prairie spring days, with the associated sustained high pressure system. That one took me a while to figure out.

This would be me + bacon.

This relates to food, sure enough, but it’s not really a Cafe Society topic. I’m sending it to IMHO, because you seem to be looking for personal experiences and opinions. If you’re looking for factual info on what food allergies cause migraines, we can move it to GQ.

I afraid I got a very different mental image than the the one intended :smiley:

Haven’t had a real migraine in years now, thankfully, but that probably means I’m about due. I’ll typically go for years without one and then suffer through a string of them within a relatively short time period of weeks or months before they go back into remission. I’ve never really understood why.

Anyway, I don’t have any food triggers that I know of, thankfully. I can eat all of the egg rolls, bacon and red wine I want.

My big triggers are bright and/or flashing lights, stress/lack of sleep, and strong, typically chemical, smells. One of my worst experiences was caused by the bright sunlight glinting off a lake. I almost never go outside on bright days without wearing dark polarized sunglasses due to my fear of a repeat experience.

Strong smells are a close runner-up and the worst tend to be things like colognes, perfumes, disinfectants and room deodorizers, gasoline, tar, etc. As a kid, I remember riding in the back of my father’s brand new, never before driven Toyota Camry and being overwhelmed by that new car smell. That experience has long been factor in my preference for used cars (well, that and a lack of money).

Chocolate. Seems mostly to be cheap milk chocolate, but it might be just that I don’t eat an entire dark chocolate bar at one sitting. Half a Hershey bar is pretty easy to get down but will have my eyes screwed shut in just a few minutes (gives me time to finish the damn thing, tho). I’m kind of lucky that mine don’t last long, “cluster migraines” I think they’re called. Not long enough to get to the Imitrex.

Cold air blowing on my forehead can do it too, but that’s not really a food, is it?

Your triggers and mine are almost identical. For me, a sudden change of altitude’ll do it, too. Flying in itself is always a joy, but flying from say Seattle (at sea level) to mile-high Denver is a guaranteed 3 day marathon.

Oh, and don’t forget scrolling text. Ow.

Most other sweetners will trigger a migraine if I ingest too much in a day, but it just takes one sip of a Splenda laced drink. AFAIK, that’s my only food trigger.

My most common triggers are lack of sleep and not eating enough.

I started getting visual migraines about 4 years ago. Just the visual thing, no head-ache. I’ve figured out by trial and error that they appeared to be caused by drinking Peppermint Tea made by a big (used to be small) company. Very weird.


…but I understand the distinction. No prob on the move, it just seems that my question has gotten a bit lost here.

Don’t know if you’re male or female, but for women triggers can vary with your menstrual cycle.

There are about 10 days during the month when I can drink Red wine - otherwise it’s a killer.

Cheese is pretty bad, more than 2 drinks in a night is pretty bad, and I have to work up to that.

Rebound is terrible - they give you a narcotic because you are in so much pain, and the next day you have a worse migraine. Be careful with narcotics.

Certain kinds of noise, and fluorescent light can be triggers.

Stress is probably the biggest trigger of all.

I gave up coffee as a regular thing - now I use it as a drug to get the caffeine when I need a boost.

When I’m having a bad time with migraines (and that means weeks of constant migraines) I go on the “migraine diet”:
[li]no alcohol[/li][li]no caffeine[/li][li]no chocolate (a special category of caffeine)[/li][/ul]

To digress a bit - I get terrible migraines. I can have a migraine for 6 months straight. And then another one. I just recently got Botox for migraines - and it’s amazing. Killed the migraine cycle. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who frequently suffers from migraines