AS any sufferer will tell you, migraines are not just bad headaches. The intense pain and range of symptoms associated with migraine sets them apart from any other kind of headache.

Sometimes they have a clear and obvious trigger – like bright sunlight, pre-menstrual tension, or red wine – but more often than not the underlying cause remains elusive.

Stress is a major contributing factor for migraine, due to changes in blood pressure and muscle tension, and higher levels of inflammatory markers brought about by stress hormones. This makes regular relaxation an important part of migraine management, but what about foods?

Can some foods make migraine worse, and can others bring relief?

For many people, the five Cs are a big trigger: chocolate, coffee, citrus, cheese, and claret (and other red wines!). There’s a range of potentially negative natural compounds in these foods that can affect electrical signalling in the brain and initiate migraine; from caffeine in chocolate and coffee (and other drinks too) to histamine in the cheese and wine.

Histamine is also quite high in tinned fish, cured or aged meats, pickles, and fermented foods. We all metabolise histamine at different rates, and a build-up can lead to migraine and allergy symptoms like hives and diarrhoea.

Keeping a food diary for a few weeks can help identify links between foods and migraine. Note down what you eat and drink each day, how you feel, sleep quality, and stress levels. This can be quite revealing, and you may discover some hidden connections!

Good basic dietary strategies for managing migraine include;

- Drinking plenty of water; this might be anything from 1-3 litres a day of plain water, depending on your activity levels.

- Swapping caffeinated drinks for water and herbal teas. Even decaffeinated drinks can contain enough caffeine to trigger a migraine in some people.

- Eating regularly; skipping meals and having sugary snacks affects brain function and can easily trigger migraine.

- Enjoying foods rich in magnesium: almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, and dark green vegetables supply plenty of magnesium which helps relax muscles and sustain energy levels.

- Avoiding known trigger foods: alongside the five Cs mentioned above, other common triggers include gluten, wheat, all kinds of alcohol, and food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Sally Duffin is a Registered Nutritionist (MBANT).

Find her online at or join the Facebook group ‘Nutrition in York’.