Have Migraines?

Dr. Aaron Hartman

November 30, 2021


Common Migraine Triggers to Avoid

One basic concept to think about with migraines is the concept of a headache threshold. We all have a headache threshold, which is a level at which we each experience having a headache.
With some people, it takes an actual injury of some sort, like a head concussion. With others, it’s sleep deprivation or the smells and tastes of foods. So, that’s the first underlying concept to think about – everybody can have a different headache threshold. Something that causes a headache or migraine for one person won’t necessarily cause one for someone else.
What are some non-food triggers for headaches and migraines?
The two biggest non-food triggers are sleep deprivation and stress. Sleep deprivation, if experienced long enough, can actually induce seizures. Just think about that for a second! That’s actually how seizure disorders are diagnosed. A patient doesn’t sleep overnight, measuring their brainwave activity.
So, not getting your eight hours of sleep at night can lower that headache threshold and set you up for other things to trigger a headache or migraine, like certain smells and chemicals.
The other non-food trigger is actually chemicals themselves. Did you know the average female puts about 200 chemicals on her body before she leaves her house every day? We use fabric softeners on our clothes to make them smell “nice and fresh”. We use toxic chemicals in our environments to sterilize it. We take in all of these chemicals through our olfactory nerve and our nose. The chemicals that affect our neurological system can trigger migraines for those who have significant health issues.
What are some common food triggers?
Two of the biggest food triggers are gluten and dairy. Now, when I say gluten and dairy, I’m also referring to the concentration of gluten and the chemicals like Roundup that accompany gluten, in addition to bread conditioners, preservatives, and the like.
How do they trigger headaches and migraines? Well, they basically impact your gut. Your GI tract is actually a big trigger for migraine headaches. Just think about that! You can have an “abdominal migraine”, which is gut pain. That’s your GI tract version of a headache! Because 90% of the communication between your gut and your brain to the vagus nerves is from your gut to your brain, gut issues can be a very, very common source for migraines.
This is one of the reasons why I use an elimination diet as one of the most basic things for prevention of migraines, or even for finding out what foods are triggering your migraines. This is its best utility! For those who want an example of an elimination diet, they can go to my website under the ‘Food Plans’ section and scroll to the one labeled “Elimination Diet”.
Again, the reason why the triggers are different for different people is based on this concept of a headache threshold. Some people do not get headaches! When I first learned about that, I was mad because I’ve had headaches ever since I was a kid! Some people can actually drink really cold drinks and eat cold ice cream in copious amounts, and not get a “brain freeze”!
Those people who don’t experience “brain freezes” are unusually resistant to headaches, while those who drink something really cold and get a neurological reflex headache tend to be more sensitive to headache triggers. That’s the reason why sleep, stress, chemicals, and food are some of the key things that we’ll use when addressing headaches and migraines.
Of course, there’s medication, as well. As far as preventing migraines and doing the above, I’ll use simple things like magnesium and riboflavin, because they have some really great data for migraine prevention. If there’s a history of concussion, which I actually have, things like Omega-3 fish oils can help stabilize your brain and lower your headache threshold.
In conclusion, the best tips are through avoidance and prevention – 1. Avoiding the chemicals and foods that cause or trigger headaches and 2. Preventing your threshold from being lowered by stress reduction and sleep.
Take care and be well
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.


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