Types of Food that Might Worsen Migraines

Food rich in histamine, sulfites, and capsaicin can worsen migraines in sensitive people if consumed often.
Types of Food that Might Worsen Migraines
Sofía Quintana Alonso

Reviewed and approved by the physiotherapist Sofía Quintana Alonso.

Last update: 09 October, 2022


Migraines are a type of intense headache that’s sometimes accompanied by digestive symptoms and intolerance to light. These annoyances can be attributed to different causes, like stress or lack of rest. Furthermore, specialists indicate that some types of food can worsen migraines.

We don’t know for sure what causes migraines but some say that certain habits might trigger them. In today’s article, we’ll tell you what types of food trigger them.

Common things that worsen migraines

A man with a headache.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, migraines can occur at any time of day and last several hours. Brightness or noise can increase the symptoms. In some cases, it may be accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and dizziness.

There are many migraine triggers such as stress, lack of sleep, excess of work as well as happening through hormonal factors, scents, noises, and even time changes.

Some studies suggest that foods rich in histamine could also trigger a migraine attack in sensitive people who cannot effectively degrade this substance. In these cases, a reduction in histamine ingestion could be more effective than pharmacological treatment. At least according to a research of el Instituto Nacional de Pediatría de México.

Note that the body naturally produces histamine as well as DAO (diamine oxidase), the latter is the enzyme that degrades it.

Producing and ingesting too much histamine while having a deficiency of DAO (or taking food that blocks it) could result in a reaction that manifests as migraines and allergy symptoms. However, the data isn’t conclusive.

Thus, consult a specialist if you think you may have a problem with excess histamine.

Types of foods that worsen migraines

Some types of food that can be potentially problematic are either rich in histamine, contribute to increased histamine production in the body, or block the action of the enzyme DAO.

In addition to histamine sensitivity, people with migraines may not adequately tolerate capsaicin (found in peppers) or sulfites. Below are some of the ones that can trigger migraines:

Read these Five Simple Tips for Fast Migraine Relief

It could be due to other factors. However, it’s likely that something in your diet is the cause. These are the foods that may make migraines worse.

1. Soy sauce

Soy sauce, commonly used in Asian gastronomy, contains histamine. It’s for this reason that its consumption isn’t recommended for people who are sensitive to this substance. This is because it may cause migraines, according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine.

2. Pickles

Pickled foods and other canned foods often contain a significant amount of histamine. Thus, the histamine content multiplies in fermented goods. This information hasn’t been verified with scientific data though. Some pickled foods are:

  • Peppers
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Eggplant

Try to cut out any food that’s made with processes that include brine or vinegar.

3. Hot peppers

Spoicy peppers.

Some specialists advise reducing the intake of spicy dishes. They say the capsaicin in these could either cause headaches or worsen migraines. However, other studies, such as this one entitled Capsaicin Jelly Against Migraine Pain, explain that its intake may decrease headache pain.

4. Nuts can worsen migraines

These are delicious, full of proteins, and sating. However, they also contribute to the excessive secretion of histamine. In addition, almonds, nuts, and cashews contain sulfites, among others.

Sulfites could enhance the symptoms of migraines and trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, according to a study conducted in 2011.

5. Plums

Plums have a reduced amount of histamine but also contain tyramine, a substance that specialists advise eliminating from the diet since it is considered a potential migraine trigger. These are the same ones who authored the review Tratamientos Alternativos en Migraña y Otras Cefaleas. Limit their consumption to once a week if you can’t live without them.

6. Bananas, citruses, and avocados

The combination of tyramine and histamine in these types of fruit may worsen migraines. However, there’s no scientific proof of a relationship between amines and headaches.

Bananas, citruses, and avocados all contain these amines. In addition, bananas and citruses also stimulate histamine production. It’s for this reason that the book Preventing Headaches & Migraines recommends reducing their intake or avoid them entirely when you have a migraine.

7. Flour


Whole-wheat flour is healthier than refined flour but either one could worsen migraines. Wheat has a moderate histamine content, but chemical yeasts present in industrial bread or pizza contain higher concentrations.

Note that some people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance may experience headaches when consuming gluten-containing flours.

8. Processed meat

Sausages and processed meats, smoked or not, are also among the types of food the book mentioned above (Preventing Headaches & Migraines) advises to avoid. Minimize their consumption if you regularly experience migraines.

9. Cheese

These dairy products, especially those that are cured or aged, contain high levels of histamine according to the 9th Meeting of the BAL thematic network study. Thus, try to skip the Parmesan, Manchego, Padano, or Pecorino cheeses if you often experience migraines.

10. Dairy products worsen migraines

In addition to containing histamine, dairy products such as yogurt or milk provide casein, a protein that’s problematic for many people. Thus, a casein intolerance often manifests as a headache.

Consult your doctor if you think you may have a food intolerance.

11. Alcoholic drinks


A person rejecting an alcoholic beverage because they worsen migraines.

Alcohol is already bad for your health when consuming it in excess, but it also contains high amounts of histamine. Furthermore, there’s a theory that it would block the action of the enzyme DAO, which is responsible for degrading histamine. These hypotheses haven’t been tested though.

Alcoholic beverages are one of the most common and most obvious triggers of migraines. Wine, beer, and ciders contain sulfites, another common trigger suspect of allergic reactions that may include headaches.

12. Chocolate and coffee

Histamine is present in chocolate, and caffeinated tea and other stimulant drinks might block the action of DAO, the enzyme that degrades it. Coffee may also be a trigger for migraines, perhaps due to its caffeine or tannin content. We need more research though.

Consult a doctor if your migraines worsen

Consult your doctor if you suffer from regular headaches. They should be able to evaluate and diagnose migraine and also prescribe an appropriate treatment.

In some cases, the changes in nutritional habits can help to improve the symptomatology of this condition, whereas it may be necessary to adjust other variables in other cases. A good doctor can indicate what to do in your individual case.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.