Migraines occur in about 10 percent of all children before puberty—in teen years, it jumps to 28 percent. Migraines result from changes in brain chemistry that are usually inherited. These chemical changes can “excite” the brain and lead to headaches. Because of this, many factors that excite or activate the brain may cause headaches.
In addition to lifestyle and physiologic factors such as hydration, rest, exercise, and stress, specific foods can also trigger migraines. Hunger, changes in meal times, and certain foods (taste, smell, temperature, and systemic reactions) are known to trigger the pain. For example, some children are able to eat pizza with cheese while some feel better eating only the pizza crust with tomato sauce on it (you may also just have a picky eater on your hands). Because they are less processed and contain fewer additives, fruits and vegetables are less likely to trigger a migraine headache.
The National Headache Foundation has created a diet for chronic headache sufferers. It lists most of the common food triggers for headaches (such as cheese, nuts, chocolate, and bread). Though not rigorously evidence-based, dietary therapy may be helpful for your child when combined with other migraine treatments.
Your child will know by trial-and-error over time which food/s triggers his headaches.
- At the start of the diet, your child should avoid all foods that are possible triggers for migraine headaches.
- Help your child keep a time log or diary of the frequency, severity, and duration of his headaches as well as of foods consumed.
- After follow-up with your child’s doctor, some foods may be reintroduced, one at a time, at a specifically prescribed frequency (i.e. every 3 days).
- Your child should avoid any food linked to the recurrence of his headaches.
- Your child’s response to treatment and medicines may also permit the further liberalization of his diet.
Another fascinating aspect of migraines in children is their frequent association with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Thus, the process by which foods are implicated as the cause in chronic headaches is sometimes complicated by the secondary symptoms elicited by the intense migraine pain. To avoid unnecessary confusion if your child gets frequent headaches, take a detailed time log of symptoms and triggers (including foods) to your pediatrician to facilitate the identification of a potential food-migraine connection.