Follow Sharron on Twitter

Sharron's book is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. The book can be purchased in print form or ebook format.

Conari Press, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC  is the publisher of Sharron's book, Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break your Dependence on Medication, Take Back Your Life -  An Integrative Self-Care Plan for Wellness," released June, 2013. Follow Sharron on Twitter @murraysharron, and her page Sharron Murray, MS, RN on Facebook, for tips to help you battle your migraines and achieve wellness.






In Eastern medicine, what we eat is thought to affect our health more than anything else. For example, along with natural healing properties and nourishment, foods are believed to influence the balance of energy in our bodies:

  • warming foods like meat, poultry and dairy are thought to have a stimulating effect, 
  • cooling foods such as fruits, vegetables, and liquids are thought to have a calming effect, and  
  • neutral foods like fish, whole grains, nuts, legumes, beans and seeds can be eaten anytime.

The selection of foods is based on the individual's needs to bring about an optimal state of wellness. For example, if you're tired, sluggish or depressed and tend to get chilled easily, the consumption of warm foods may increase your energy. On the other hand, if you tend to be hyperactive and get overheated, cooling foods may be more appropriate for you. 

Other guidelines to foster wellness include:

  • favor whole, organic and seasonal foods, with the larger portion to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains.  
  • minimize the intake of dairy, meat, foods high in saturated or trans fats, and those full of sugar, salt and cholesterol, along with caffeine and alcohol.
  • avoid processed foods and those with additives, chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, and artificial colors and sweeteners.


In Western medicine, what we eat tends to focus on the amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals in a given food. Even though the current food guidelines include fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, with the larger portions being vegetables and grains, our diet often revolves around our lifestyle and can include:

  • fast foods,
  • junk food,
  • sugar and sweets,
  • salty foods,
  • fatty, greasy and fried foods, and
  • processed and packaged foods that contain additives, chemicals, preservatives and artificial sweeteners.


The foods we consume are often associated with diseases and disorders like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart attack, gastric reflux, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, pancreatitis, cirrhosis, gallstones, celiac disease, hemorrhoids, allergies, inflammatory responses, cancers, and obesity. Some of these diseases and disorders may be comorbid for many of us with migraine.

In particular, we are believed to be at risk for development of disorders like hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and obesity. If we have fat around our belly (large waistline or "apple shape"), our risk for cardiovascular disease increases. As well, although migraine may not be directly linked to diabetes, we need to be aware that increased fat around our belly can lead to insulin resistance, an elevation in our blood glucose levels, and diabetes. In addition, if we have a family history of these diseases, our risk is intensified.

Food and beverage triggers

Along with the dietary issues that may be associated with our individual comorbidities, our diet and nutrition may be complicated by food and beverage triggers, which may precipitate our migraine attacks. Although numerous, subjective (often without scientific evidence), and unique to the individual, some of the more common ones are believed to include:

  • chemicals in the foods and beverages we ingest and/or the chemicals, additives, preservatives, pesticides, and artificial colors and sweeteners that are added to the product. Examples include: tyramine (cheeses, bananas, avocados, nuts, peanut butter, canned soups, soy sauce), alcohol, caffeine, phenylethylamine (chocolate), sulfites (fermented beverages and wines), nitrites (bacon, ham), and aspartame.  
  • gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and to a lesser degree oats. It may be added to a number of processed foods as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, starch or hydrolyzed protein. Examples include: salad dressings, sauces, seasoned rice mixes and snack foods, beer, self-basting poultry, vegetables in sauce, soups, and pasta.
  • MSG, a sodium salt derived from glutamic acid. It may be added to a number of foods like sauces, gravies, processed meats, packaged foods, and canned soups and vegetables to enhance flavor. 

Food cravings

Even if we do not have food and beverage triggers, food cravings, especially for simple carbohydrates that may contain fat and salt, as well as sugar, may add to the complexity of dietary management and increase our risk for hypertension, stroke, heart attack, obesity and diabetes. These may be related to:

  • low serotonin levels that occur with alterations of this neurotransmitter during our migraine attacks.
  • fluctuations in our hormone levels with our menstrual cycle and other hormonal changes (serotonin levels increase with estrogen levels and drop with estrogen levels).
  • fluctuations in blood glucose levels that may occur late in the day or early evening, or with fasting or skipped meals.
  • low magnesium levels that may be associated with triggers like alcohol and caffeine (deplete magnesium from the body); a drop in magnesium levels right before the onset of menstruation; and some studies have shown that, along with low brain magnesium during attacks, we may have low systemic magnesium levels.

Examples of foods and beverages that we may crave include: starches and sugars like pasta, potato chips, chocolate, candies, ice cream, cakes, cookies, and sodas. When we reach for these foods and beverages to satisfy our cravings, we can exacerbate the fluctuations in serotonin and magnesium levels, and the dips and peaks in our blood glucose levels.


Keeping in mind the dietary issues I have shared with you and how they impact those of us with migraine, here are some guidelines that have helped me achieve optimal health with migraine and that you might want to take into consideration:*  

1. Avoid your known personal triggers. I have found that by following the remaining guidelines, some of the unknowns were taken care of for me.

2. Avoid processed and packaged foods and those with additives, chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, and artificial colors and sweeteners.

  • In Eastern medicine, it is thought that what isn't excreted from the body as waste can accumulate as toxins and lead to disease. 
  • In Western medicine, many of these packaged and processed foods contain possible triggers like sulfites, nitrites, MSG, gluten, and aspartame. As well, although debatable in the literature, some of these ingredients are thought to be neurotoxins and carcinogens. In addition, although more studies are necessary, with frequent consumption artificial sweeteners are thought to be associated with weight gain, metabolic syndrome (3 or more of: blood pressure >135/80 mmHg; fasting blood glucose >100 mg/dl; large waist circumference -men>102cm, women >89cm; low high density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol -men <40mg/dl, women <50 mg/dl; triglycerides >150mg/dl), type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

3. Avoid fast food; junk food; refined foods and sweets with white four and sugar; rich and creamy sauces; greasy and fatty foods; high fructose corn syrup; hydrogenated oils; fermented foods and beverages; sodas; and, hot and spicy foods. Minimize intake of dairy products and red meat.

  • In Eastern medicine, many of these are thought to lead to a sluggish digestive system and the accumulation of damp phlegm (mucus); and/or, cause an excess of liver fire to accumulate and rise to our heads. 
  • In Western medicine, apart from being migraine triggers for many of us, a number of these foods contain fat, salt, and sugar that can contribute to fluctuations in our serotonin levels, weight gain, hypertension, and increased total cholesterol, triglyceride and blood glucose levels. 

4. Avoid or minimize consumption of caffeine and products that contain caffeine such as coffee, tea, sodas, diet sodas, and chocolate.

  • In Eastern medicine, stimulants are thought to create imbalance and disharmony in our body, mind, and spirit. 
  • In Western medicine, apart from being triggers and stimulants for many of us and interfering with our sleep, some of these products can contain fat and sugar. This can contribute to fluctuations in our serotonin levels; weight gain; and, increased total cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels. In addition, it is thought that caffeine can deplete magnesium from our bodes.
  • Caffeine (including caffeine in medications) withdrawal can contribute to morning migraines. If you are sensitive it is best to avoid after 2 pm.  

5. Avoid or minimize alcohol intake.

  • In Eastern medicine, alcohol consumption is thought to contribute to imbalance and disharmony in our body, mind, and spirit.
  • In Western medicine, although alcohol is a CNS depressant, some studies show that it has both stimulating and depressant effects in humans. Increased heart rate and aggression are associated with stimulation and, for some people, stimulating effects appear to be more rewarding than sedative effects. As well, alcohol is thought to contribute to fluctuations in serotonin levels, can deplete magnesium from our bodies, and may interfere with sleep.

6. Eat wholesome organic foods with no antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, additives, preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors.

  • If organic fruits and vegetables are too expensive or difficult for you to obtain, whenever possible substitute natural foods and beverages that are minimally processed and have no artificial ingredients, added colors, chemicals, or preservatives. 
  • Thoroughly wash non-organic fruits and vegetables in salt water or a fruit and vegetable wash to remove chemicals and pesticides.

7. Eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains (breads and cereals), beans, legumes, fish, and poultry to help prevent fluctuations in your serotonin levels and curb food cravings (caution as beans and some fruits and vegetables like strawberries, tomatoes, and spinach may be a trigger for you).

8. Eat whole, unprocessed foods such as green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, dried fruit, nuts, fish (halibut), low-fat dairy (yogurt), wheat germ, peanut butter, rice, sunflower seeds and unrefined grains to maintain magnesium intake (caution as avocados, bananas, yogurt, dried fruits, nuts, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds may be triggers for you).

  • Chocolate (which may explain why we crave it) is also high in magnesium but it is also high in fat. If chocolate isn't a trigger for you (we may experience chocolate craving as a premonitory factor and may not be a trigger), try to have a small piece of high quality, anti-oxidant rich dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate, which may have more calories and fat.

9. Favor fiber-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, parsley, onions, brown rice, bran, carrots, celery, asparagus, papaya, pineapple, cherries, grapes, prunes, and fresh herbs and spices such as ginger, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, dill, sage, mint, and turmeric to help with digestion and elimination (caution as onions, papaya, pineapple, and prunes may be triggers for you).

10. If necessary, eat small, regular meals (5-6 times a day) to prevent food cravings, and dips and peaks in blood glucose levels, from getting out of control (hypoglycemia can trigger a migraine attack).

  • Include protein at every meal or snack to help slow digestion and moderate fluctuations.

11. Eat your breakfast before 9 a.m., lunch before 1 p.m., and dinner before 7 p.m.

12. Avoid fasting and skipped meals to avoid fluctuations in blood glucose levels and hypoglycemia.

13. Stay hydrated with water as dehydration can trigger a migraine attack (8-10, 8 ounce glasses a day is suggested but you may need more with heat and exercise).

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most difficult, but important, things we can do to help decrease the frequency of our migraine attacks and reduce our risk for development of diseases and disorders like hypertension, stoke, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. If you find the task of selecting foods suitable for your needs overwhelming, have a number of comorbid diseases, or have poor renal or liver function, you might want to ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist or dietitian to help you plan your diet and recommend appropriate supplements avoid nutritional deficiencies and further organ damage. 

 *from "Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dependence On Medication, Take Back Your Life -An Integrative Self-Care Plan For Wellness"

Sharron :).

Updated, December 3, 2015


Reubin, A. et al. (2013). "Stimulant and Sedative Effects of Alcohol." Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, Volume 13, pp 489-509.

Swithers, S., E., (2013). "Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements." Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism xx, from

Sharron is a health and wellness author. A person with migraines herself, her most recent book, "Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dependence on Medication, Take Back Your Life -An Integrative Self-Care Plan For Wellness" (2013), is a Conari Press publication.

Follow Sharron on twitter @murraysharron, her Facebook page: Sharron Murray, MS, RN and her website

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have specific concerns about your health or nutrition, please consult a qualified health care professional.

Copyright 2013, Sharron E. Murray








PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (9)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>