We still don’t understand what causes migraine. All we can do is be aware of our triggers and try to avoid them.
Science still can’t accurately explain what causes migraine. Researchers now believe that migraine is a neurological disorder involving nerve pathways and brain chemicals.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, before puberty boys are statistically more likely to experience migraine than girls, however between the age of 10 and 40 women are three times more likely to experience migraine than men, which is attributed to hormonal fluctuation.
If this is the case for you, you may need to be aware of what triggers your migraines. It helps to keep track of your migraines in a diary. Unlike headache, those that suffer migraines report an ‘aura’ – from seeing fuzzy spots to faint headache-like symptoms – that is apparent for anything between a day and a few hours before the migraine hits.
If you know you are in the ‘migraine zone’, avoid any of the following potential triggers:
TIP # 1 – Eating (Or Not Eating):
It may come as a surprise that eating certain foods and/or fasting for long periods of time without food are migraine triggers. A 2008 Brazillian study found that most patients experiencing regular migraines reported having at least one trigger that was food-related.
Common foods that were identified as migraine triggers contained tyramine or phenylethylamine, which are two amino acids found in chocolate, aged or fermented cheese (including all the delicious stinky blue cheeses), salami, soy foods, nuts and vinegar (both red and white).
Unsurprisingly, alcohol was cited to be a high trigger substance. Interestingly, red wine was a trigger among women but not men. Red wine triggered migraine in just eight percent of men, but among women the number jumped to 22 percent. White wine was associated with migraine in just 10.5 percent of patients.
Before you abstain from vino and stinky cheese for life, the study uncovered the number one source of diet-related migraine triggers to be fasting. Skipping meals is not recommended for a number of health reasons; however, if you are experiencing regular migraines and regularly skip meals in the name of ‘dieting’, it’s time to go back to at least 3 balanced meals a day with interval snacking on fresh foods. Your body – and your head – will thank you for it.
TIP # 2 – Stress
This one shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. A dramatic increase or decrease in physical or psychological stress is a major migraine trigger.
A recent study from Denmark discovered a majority of migraine patients reported that stress was linked to the onset of migraine attacks. Other researchers have reported that between 50 and 80 percent of migraine patients say stress triggers their migraine headaches.
Some patients experienced migraine in the aftermath of a stressful event, while others experienced a new attack in the midst of a stressful event.
If you are experiencing stress, gentle physical exercise like Hatha Yoga or pilates is a great way to let off some steam. Practicing mindfulness or mediation twice a day – 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes before bed – is another way of helping your mind and body to effectively ‘switch off’. If symptoms persist, see your GP.
TIP # 3 – Lack of Sleep or Jet Lag
Insufficient sleep is one of the most common factors linked to migraine attacks. Conversely, excessive sleep is a frequently reported trigger as well.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder associated with chronic migraine. Chronic migraine patients who suffer from insomnia are also at increased risk for anxiety or depression.
Jet lag and extreme changes in your work schedule can also be linked to the onset of migraine. Discover my jet lag travel hacks here.
The good news is, many patients report that sleep often relieves their migraine headaches. Make your boudoir a place you want to spend time. Invest in a comfortable memory-foam latex pillow. Dim the lights 2 hours before bedtime. For more sleep hacks, read this.
TIP # 4 – Highly Caffeinated Beverages
Uh oh. Your morning coffee (or 3) has a high chance of triggering migraine. Coffee isn’t the only culprit – watch out for excessive consumption of tea, soft drinks and energy drinks where caffeine levels are surprisingly high. Equally, some researchers have noted that caffeine withdrawal may also trigger a headache.
Keep in mind that many over-the-counter headache preparations contain significant amounts of caffeine. One recent study concluded that a drug combining acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine was better at relieving the symptoms of migraine headache than ibuprofen alone.
If you need a warm cup of goodness to start each day, try substituting coffee for warm water with lemon. The vitamin C in fresh lemon is a fantastic and effective natural energy boost that also doubles as a detoxifier. For a caffeine-free-kick with an abundance of benefits, try a numeric latte.
TIP # 5 – Dehydration
Dehydration has also been suggested as a possible migraine trigger. Failure to drink enough water has been linked to the onset of headache.
A small survey of migraine sufferers revealed that “insufficient fluid intake” was linked to headache onset in about 40 percent of responders.
There are loads more trips and tricks on how to stay hydrated here. For starters, try to drink 3 glasses of water in the morning (warm with lemon is the most quickly absorbed – and great for your digestion). Then, try to drink another glass before and after each meal throughout the day. Your head (and the rest of your body) will thank you for it.
Armstrong, L.E., Ganio, M.S., Casa, D.J., Lee, E.C., McDermott, B.P., Klau, J.F., et al. (2012, February). Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. The Journal of Nutrition, 142(2), 382-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.142000. Epub 2011, December 21. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from
Baad-Hansen, L., Cairns, B., Ernberg, M., Svensson P. (2010, January). Effect of systemic monosodium glutamate (MSG) on headache and pericranial muscle sensitivity. Cephalalgia, 30(1):68-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2009.01881.x. Retrieved April 29, 2014, from