Five steps to identify and eliminate headache triggers

By Dr. McKinnon

Last month on the blog, we discussed the impact that your diet has on your headaches. We covered different additives and chemicals in food that are common culprits amongst my migraine patients. Now that you have an idea of the types of ingredients to look out for, you can begin tracking your diet and identifying your individual triggers. Here are five steps to identify and eliminate your headache triggers. 

Step 1: seven day tracking

For seven consecutive days, track:
  • Headaches
    • Time of day
    • Where you are
    • Severity on a scale of 0-10 (“0” being no headache and “10” being the worst)
  • All food
    • Be specific! Instead of “burger and fries”, write “beef burger with tomato, lettuce, Mesquite’s BBQ sauce, brioche bun, yam fries and garlic aioli.”
  • All beverages 
    •  This includes water! Aim to drink at least ½ your body weight in ounces daily. For example, a 150 lb individual would need to drink 75 ounces per day. 

Step 2: read all food labels 

While the easiest way to do this would be to avoid all processed and packaged food, I understand that’s not always possible. When you find yourself reaching for those package staples, focus on the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if an ingredient appears first on the list, there’s a lot of that in it. If it’s last, there’s not much in it. This fact is important for step three. 

Step 3:  eliminate all foods high in amines, MSG, aspartame and nitrites for four to six weeks

While this may seem daunting, less intense and frequent headaches is worth the effort. Once you spend some time familiarizing yourself with ingredient lists, you’ll be able to quickly identify which foods to avoid. 

Step 4: reintroduce one food at a time

  • Start with fruits and vegetables
    • Items like avocados and dried cranberries on your salad will be an easier transition than soda or cheese.
  • Wait three to four days between reintroducing more foods.
    • If one of the foods causes a headache, having several days in-between introductions will make it easier to identify the culprit.
    If you are symptom-free for three to four days, it’s safe to say you tolerate that food well. If you experience symptoms within that time, it’s best to avoid those foods in the future.

    Step 5: consider common food allergens and intolerances

    • No headache relief?
      • If you don’t experience less frequent headaches over the four- to six-week testing, consider four to six weeks of eliminating common food intolerances and allergies, such as peanuts, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and corn. You can also visit a naturopath or dietitian for specific guidance on this elimination diet. 
    I hope that these five steps have helped guide you to less frequent headaches and an improved quality of life!  

    Before becoming a chiropractor, Dr. McKinnon achieved a Bachelor of Phys.Ed, specializing in Fitness & Sport Performance leading to a career in personal training athletes. With this background, Dr. McKinnon focuses on educating her patients to be proactive in the care of their bodies and to alter habits that lead to aches and pains. By utilizing both exercise and healthy eating habits along with her chiropractic services, Dr. McKinnon strives to teach patients how to maintain an active, injury free, and energetic life. When she’s not working, you can likely find Dr.McKinnon at the lake boating or hiking with her husband, her dog and her new baby boy.