The Vital Role of Diet and Nutrition in Headache Management

Headaches are a common ailment that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. While there are various causes of headaches, including dehydration and underlying health conditions, one often-overlooked aspect is the role of diet and nutrition. Research suggests that what we eat can significantly impact the frequency and severity of headaches, making dietary adjustments a valuable tool in headache management.

Understanding Triggers

Certain foods and beverages are known to trigger headaches in susceptible individuals. These triggers can vary widely from person to person, but some common culprits include:

  1. Caffeine: While a moderate amount of caffeine can alleviate headaches for some people, excessive consumption can lead to headaches before the next cup of caffeine, or headaches with sudden withdrawal.
  2. Alcohol: Alcohol contains compounds that can trigger headaches in some individuals.  For many patients, the headache comes the next day (as part of a hangover).  For migraine patients, certain alcohols that contain tannins (such as red wine) may be more likely to cause a headache, and the headache often occurs hours or a day later.  In patients with cluster headache, the headaches may start within a couple hours.
  3. Tyramine: Found in aged cheeses, processed meats, and fermented foods, tyramine is a known trigger for some patients with migraines.
  4. Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have also been linked to headaches in some patients with migraines.
  5. MSG: Monosodium glutamate, commonly found in processed foods and Chinese cuisine, can trigger headaches in some people.

Adopting a Headache-Friendly Diet

For individuals prone to headaches, making dietary changes can be an effective strategy to manage symptoms. Here are some dietary tips that may help alleviate headaches:

  1. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration is a common trigger for headaches. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration levels.
  2. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: If you notice that caffeine or alcohol triggers your headaches, consider reducing your intake or avoiding these substances altogether.
  3. Avoid Trigger Foods: Identify and avoid foods that consistently trigger headaches for you. Keeping a food diary can help pinpoint specific triggers.
  4. Eat Regular Meals: Skipping meals or fasting can lead to low blood sugar, which may trigger headaches. Eat balanced meals at regular intervals.
  5. Include Magnesium-Rich Foods: Magnesium deficiency has been linked to migraines. Incorporate magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet.
  6. Choose Fresh, Whole Foods: Processed foods often contain additives and preservatives that can trigger headaches. Opt for fresh, whole foods whenever possible.

The Role of Nutritional Supplements

In addition to dietary adjustments, certain nutritional supplements may benefit individuals with chronic headaches or migraines. Some supplements that have shown promise include:

  1. Magnesium: Supplementing with magnesium may help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, particularly in individuals with low magnesium levels.
  2. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Studies suggest that high doses of riboflavin can decrease the frequency of migraine attacks.
  3. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): CoQ10 is an antioxidant that may help prevent migraines by improving mitochondrial function.

Before starting any supplements, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure safety, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.


While diet and nutrition are just one aspect of headache management, they can play a significant role in reducing the frequency and severity of headaches, particularly migraines. By identifying trigger foods, adopting a headache-friendly diet, and considering targeted nutritional supplements, individuals can take proactive steps toward better headache management and overall well-being.

The Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation seeks to find a cure for debilitating headaches, including migraines. Our treatments, trials and ongoing research are designed to help sufferers by providing them with the latest information pertaining to debilitating headaches. To be part of the work we are doing here at The Foundation, please consider contributing today.