If you're a migraine sufferer, you already know how debilitating those headaches can be. But what you may not know is there's a possible connection between some types of dairy and migraines. Aged cheese, like gruyere, havarti, parmesan and even some cheddars, can trigger migraines within hours.
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Migraine sufferers should stick to fresh cheeses, like mild cheddar, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, American cheese, Colby and Monterey Jack. Aged cheeses, like Parmesan, Asiago, Mozzarella and sharp cheddar contain tyramine, an amino acid that can trigger headaches.
This is the effect of an amino acid called tyramine, which affects the diameter of the blood vessels in your brain and can bring on throbbing headache pain. If you suspect food is a trigger for your migraines, keeping a food journal can help you pinpoint any potential offenders.
Tyramine and Migraine
The Cleveland Clinic notes that about 20 percent of headache and migraine sufferers are sensitive to certain foods. Many of these foods contain tyramine, which is an amino acid that's classified as "vaso-active." Things that are vaso-active affect the diameter of your blood vessels and can either increase or decrease your blood pressure.
According to the National Headache Foundation, eating foods that contain tyramine can set off a chain reaction that causes vasoconstriction — or narrowing — of some of the blood vessels in the brain. This vasoconstriction is then followed by dilation — or widening — of the blood vessels. This back and forth narrowing and widening causes the characteristic throbbing of a migraine headache.
One of the items on the migraine foods to avoid list that contain tyramine is aged cheese, which is the process of allowing the cheese to sit for a certain period of time after it's made so it can develop a deeper flavor and a different texture. Different cheeses are aged to different degrees, but as a general rule, aged cheeses are typically harder than fresh cheeses. Some examples of aged cheeses that migraine sufferers may want to avoid are:
- Pecorino Romano
- Sharp cheddar
- Swiss made in Switzerland (Emmental)
- Monchego Viejo
On the other hand, fresh cheeses, which don't sit as long as aged cheeses, don't typically trigger migraines. Some examples of fresh cheeses that are typically safe for migraine sufferers are:
- American cheese
- Swiss made in America
- Baby Swiss
- Mild cheddar
- Queso quesadilla
- Pepper jack
- Pecorino fresco
- Monterey jack
- Monchego fresco
- Goat cheese
- Bleu cheese
Migraine Foods to Avoid List
But aged cheese isn't the only thing with tyramine. There are lots of others foods that contain the compound that have been linked to the onset of migraines as well. Some of these foods include:
- Processed meats (ham, salami, sausage and pepperoni)
- Raw onion
- Citrus-type fruits (orange, grapefruit, tangerine, pineapple, lemon and lime)
- Anything with nitrates, nitrites, MSG, aspartame and sulfites
- Yeast extract
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are also some foods that don't contain tyramine that have been shown to bring on migraines and headaches in those who are susceptible. If you suspect your diet is a trigger for you, it may also be helpful to avoid these foods and drinks, which include:
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Tomato-based foods, like pizza
- Potato chips
- Pickled foods
- Dried fruits
- Cultured dairy products (sour cream, yogurt and buttermilk)
- Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea and soda)
A report that was published in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports in November 2016 notes that some of these foods can trigger a headache within an hour, while others can bring on a migraine in as much as 12 hours. If you suspect that certain foods are connected to your migraines, it may be helpful to keep a food journal to keep track of any connections.