How to Identify Food Triggers for Children Experiencing Migraines

While there is no single cause for migraines, certain foods do have the potential to trigger severe headaches in children. According to the National Headache Foundation, up to 44% of adults and children with frequent migraines report that a specific food or drink can trigger an attack. However, only about one third of children who experience migraines report some type of dietary association to their migraines. Some of the most common migraine food triggers for children include:

  • Cheese
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Yogurt
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Processed meats
  • Aspartame
  • Fried foods
  • Ice cream
  • Fatty foods

Triggers Versus Cravings?

There are many different causes of migraines and food triggers can vary between individuals, making it difficult to identify if a specific food or drink is the root of a migraine attack. In a recent study, a neurologist explains that a migraine attack starts even before the pain (as we’ve discussed the different stages of migraine in a previous blog) In a clever study in adults, they triggered the beginning phase of a migraine with a drug called nitroglycerin, and some migraine patients started to get food cravings!  So it can be tricky to determine if a food truly is a trigger for a migraine or just an association, but there are a few ways to help you discover potential triggers, including keeping track of a headache diary or trying an elimination diet.

Headache Diaries and Elimination Diets

Food diaries and elimination diets can both be useful in determining what foods, if any, are triggering your child’s migraines. A headache diary can help you recognize any type of triggers, not only food. A headache diary can help you identify possible food triggers along with numerous other factors that may be causing your child’s migraine attacks. When your child’s migraine begins, it’s important to make note of the following – time of migraine, pain severity, duration time, and any other migraine symptoms they experience during the attack. In addition, you should make note of your child’s meal frequency, when and what they ate and drank, the amount of sleep they have gotten recently, recent exercise, and current stress levels. Creating a headache diary can not only help identify migraine triggers for children, but adults as well.

Since it’s tough to sort out whether a certain food is an associated craving or an actual migraine trigger, another option to identifying triggers is to try an elimination diet. Elimination diets involve removing specific foods that may be causing the headaches and then reintroducing each type of food individually over time. If you choose to try an elimination diet, it’s important to keep track of the foods you are eliminating and reintroducing so you can pinpoint which food or drinks may be your triggers.

Before you try an elimination diet with your child, consult with their physician about your diet plan. It’s important that kids maintain a healthy, balanced diet, so the guidance of a doctor can help you conduct a safe elimination diet, while still making your child is receiving the proper nutrients and vitamins they need. Additionally, you’ll also need to get your child on board. Talk to your child about the diet, how it works, and how it can help them managed their headaches. If it creates stress or they see the diet as punishment, it can cause more harm than good and an alternate route may to identifying triggers may be needed.

If you go on to do an elimination diet with your child under a physician’s supervision, make sure you closely track everything your child eats and their migraines. Going back to the headache diary can help you find any patterns which may be causing their migraines.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle is Critical

Beyond specific food triggers for children, failure to follow healthy eating habits and lifestyles can prove problematic for kids, too. Skipping meals may trigger a migraine in some children. If a child is missing out on important nutrients or vitamins, or not getting enough exercise, this could be the reason they have migraines or headaches. Beyond identifying any triggers, work with your child to make sure they’re eating regular, healthy meals to reduce migraine frequency and promote overall health.

Although there’s still no cure for migraines in children or adults, that isn’t stopping The Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation from continuing their research. Consider donating today to help find a cure for migraines and cluster headaches for all sufferers.