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Headaches: a Review of the Role of Dietary Factors


Dietary triggers are commonly reported by patients with a variety of headaches, particularly those with migraines. The presence of any specific dietary trigger in migraine patients varies from 10 to 64 % depending on study population and methodology. Some foods trigger headache within an hour while others develop within 12 h post ingestion. Alcohol (especially red wine and beer), chocolate, caffeine, dairy products such as aged cheese, food preservatives with nitrates and nitrites, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame have all been studied as migraine triggers in the past. This review focuses the evidence linking these compounds to headache and examines the prevalence of these triggers from prior population-based studies. Recent literature surrounding headache related to fasting and weight loss as well as elimination diets based on serum food antibody testing will also be summarized to help physicians recommend low-risk, non-pharmacological adjunctive therapies for patients with debilitating headaches.

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Correspondence to Esma Dilli.

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Zoya Zaeem, Lily Zhou, and Esma Dilli declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Headache

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Zaeem, Z., Zhou, L. & Dilli, E. Headaches: a Review of the Role of Dietary Factors. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 16, 101 (2016).

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  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Dietary triggers
  • Caffeine
  • Elimination diets
  • Biogenic amines