Some headaches are triggered or caused by consuming certain foods, this can indicate an underlying condition. Headache after eating is also known as postprandial headache and can be caused by several triggers, varying in pattern.
- When to consult a doctor?
Symptoms of food-induced headaches
- Headache after eating can be throbbing, aching, gripping, or pulsating in character
- It may be accompanied by nausea in case of severe headache
- Headache may range from dull to severe in intensity
- Associated auras in case of a migraine may accompany.
Causes of food-induced headaches
There are a number of different causes of headache after eating, some of these are:
1- Reactive hypoglycemia
Headache after eating is a common condition that occurs in response to reactive hypoglycemia or postprandial hypoglycemia. A drop in blood glucose levels that occurs within 4 hours of eating can trigger a headache. The basic mechanism is the secretion of excess insulin after taking a meal rich in sugar, the excessive insulin causes hypoglycemia which can trigger a headache.
2- Food allergies
A headache can also develop due to food allergies if you experience a headache every time after eating a specific food, it is very likely that you are allergic to that food. Most people allergic to gluten (celiac disease) or with lactose intolerance present with headaches.
3- Food additives
Some of the foods that contain chemical preservatives such as nitrates, sulfites, or MSG can also trigger a headache. The headache occurs due to increased blood flow towards the brain caused by these chemicals.
4- High salt content in food
Foods that contain excessive salts can also cause a headache. The headache, in this case, is mostly throbbing and occurs due to increased blood pressure caused by high sodium levels in the blood.
5- Secondary causes of headache after eating include
- Individuals who get chronic migraines can also experience headaches after eating a trigger food. Everyone with migraines has different food triggers that can cause a migraine attack, some of these are MSG-containing processed foods, aged cheese, red wine, soy sauce, and alcohol.
- In the case of temporomandibular joint disorder, chewing or eating something can cause pain in your jaw and a TMJ headache.
- Ice pick headache occurs due to eating or drinking something very cold in response to rapid constriction of blood vessels.
Most of the time, foods you can consume can trigger a headache, some of the common triggers of a migraine are:
- Aged cheese
- Red wine
- MSG containing foods
- Chemical preservatives like nitrates or sulfites
Management of food-induced headaches
Simple everyday changes can be done to avoid headaches.
- The main cause of headaches can only be diagnosed by keeping a track of headaches in response to the food you are eating. Your physician might suggest you keep a headache diary, this can help you keep track of the trigger foods you have been consuming and the headaches caused by them.
- Proper history taking can also help reach are diagnosis and aid in the formulation of a diet plan by a nutritionist in case of food allergies.
- In case of diabetes and postprandial hypoglycemia, your endocrinologist will suggest you get some blood tests done to administer your insulin levels and regulate them accordingly.
- An over-the-counter analgesic for pain relief, if the headache does not go away itself
- In case of food allergies, take an antiallergic.
- Staying hydrated: Drink enough water throughout the day this is an important regime for headache management. Dehydration headaches can also be avoided by drinking enough water.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet free of preservatives.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine which are major headache triggers.
- If you have been fasting, eat something low in sugar content to avoid reactive hypoglycemia and a fasting headache.
- Take a lactose-free and gluten-free diet for lactose intolerance and celiac disease, respectively.
When to consult a doctor?
If the frequency of headaches keeps on increasing and is making you take analgesics more than 15 times a month, consult a doctor.
What are the false triggers of food-induced headaches?
Sometimes a headache is caused by craving certain food and gets worse by the time you take that food. In this situation, a craving is misunderstood as a trigger.
What is the most common cause of food-induced headaches?
Reactive hypoglycemia or postprandial hypoglycemia is the most common cause. The secretion of excess insulin after taking a meal rich in sugar causes hypoglycemia within 4 hours of eating.
What are allergic conditions that cause headaches after eating?
Celiac disease and lactose intolerance are major allergic conditions.
What does a headache after eating feel like?
Headache after eating can be throbbing, aching, gripping, or pulsating in character depending upon the underlying cause.