While most people associate headaches and migraines with stress, other factors – often referred to as triggers – are known to contribute to this condition. Some of the more common include changes in sleep cycle, hormone levels, ambient temperature and physical activity. Even exposure to certain foods can elicit this sort of response in some people. Keeping a food diary is a good way to track which food later resulted in a headache.
Garlic is considered one of the many dietary triggers of migraines, particularly when eaten in its raw form, reports the University of California at Berkeley. Like any other trigger, garlic doesn't actually cause a migraine headache. It activates the process responsible for the pain and discomfort, so only people prone to migraines suffer a headache when exposed to it. In fact, some people even develop a headache after taking a garlic supplement, though this is rare.
The reason garlic – or any other trigger, for that matter – causes migraine headaches in some people is still unclear, but it's thought to involve the trigeminal nerve, which is the major pain pathway in the body. Ingesting a dietary trigger, like garlic, may prompt this nerve to release neuropeptides, or small neuronal signaling molecules, to rush to the membrane covering your brain. This initiates the pain associated with migraines and headaches.
Treating a migraine headache from garlic is much like treating a headache from any other trigger. Many people respond favorably to standard pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. For the best results, take the medication as soon as you feel the headache coming on. If your headaches are more severe in nature, prescription medications may provide better relief. Talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment for you.
Preventing migraine headaches can be difficult, but it often begins by avoiding your triggers. Keep a food diary to ensure that the garlic and not another dietary trigger is causing you problems. You may find that another food selection, such as chocolate, legumes, onions, olives or cheeses, is contributing to your discomfort. It's also important to note that not all dietary triggers cause a migraine headache every time, making it increasingly important to detail your dietary habits to determine the source of your pain.