Ten Common Migraine Triggers and One Special Tool

Those who suffer from chronic migraine headaches may think they happen at random, and often at the worst possible times. But there is usually something, called a trigger, that brings on the headache, and those triggers can be different for each individual

Those who suffer from chronic migraine headaches may think they happen at random, and often at the worst possible times. But there is usually something, called a trigger, that brings on the headache, and those triggers can be different for each individual. Sometimes it’s more than one trigger working in combination, so determining what sets off your headaches can be tricky. But there are some common triggers you may want to consider, and a special tool that can help you determine exactly what gives you a migraine.

The ten most common triggers:

  • Food additives such as aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, and sulfites
  • Food sensitivities or allergies, especially to foods with high levels of the amino acid tyramine, including chocolate, aged cheese,  alcoholic beverages (especially, red wine), yogurt, liver, vinegar, citrus fruits, and yeast extracts
  • Caffeine, found in coffee, chocolate, tea, soft drinks, and some pain medications
  • Cigarette smoke (firsthand or secondhand) 
  • Excessive hunger
  • Lack of sleep
  • Perfumes and artificial scents
  • Stress
  • Medications (birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapy, and some headache preparations that contain caffeine)
  • Female hormonal fluctuation, especially a drop in estrogen just before a menstrual period

Keep in mind that this time of year can lead to overexposure to some of these triggers. You’re more likely to consume poor-quality food, ingest caffeine from holiday drinks, encounter various perfumes at parties, and generally endure more stress.

And what is the special tool that helps to determine headache triggers? A headache diary. Keeping records of important factors surrounding the onset of a headache can be an important technique for migraine sufferers.

When a headache strikes, note what time of day the pain began, the location and intensity of the pain, the weather, what you ate (or if you skipped meals), if you missed sleep, if you took any medications or supplements, if you were dehydrated, if there were possible hormonal issues, if you had exercised, and if there were any neurological symptoms or vision disruptions, and even note the weather.

Recording these details for a month or more can help you discover what your triggers may be. You may want to share this information with a health care practitioner who is willing to work with you to identify the underlying causes. Taking note of these factors and understanding what triggers your migraine headaches may be your key to living a pain-free life. 

For more information, see “What’s Causing Your Headache? How To Identify and Eliminate Migraine Triggers” by David Perlmutter, MD, in the Spring 1999 Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. Become a member today to receive access to this journal along with many other health and nutrition resources. 

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