Donning shades and avoiding loud noises after a night of New Year’s Eve toasting is one thing — but paying the same price for putting away a plate of pigs in a blanket? Who knew it could happen?
Why It Matters
Besides alcohol, some of the edible culprits behind hangover headaches include cheese, processed meat, fish, and chocolate — exactly the kind of fare we expect to find at holiday festivities.
The worst part is scientists aren’t even sure why these foods (or alcohol, for that matter) can cause headaches for some people. One possibility is that specific foods trigger a response in the immune system or the vascular system that leads to a headache. A potential offender is tyramine, a chemical found in foods including cheese, yogurt, liver, fish, chocolate, and of course, alcohol. Unfortunately, most of the research that cites tyramine as a potential cause of headaches is pretty old, so we can’t necessarily rely on it Pressor sensitivity to tyramine in patients with headache: relationship to platelet monoamine oxidase and to dietary provocation. Peatfield, R., Littlewood, J.T., Glover, V., et al. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1983;46(9):827-31.. More current research suggests that people taking certain types of antidepressants may be especially sensitive to foods containing tyramine.
Other possible causes of the non-alcohol hangover headache are nitrites, found in processed meat (read: pigs in a blanket), and preservatives such as MSG, though it’s unclear if any of these substances can really cause headaches Increased plasma nitrites in migraine and cluster headache patients in interictal period: basal hyperactivity of L-arginine-NO pathway? D'Amico, D., Ferraris, A., Leone, M. Neurological Institute C. Besta, Milan, Italy. Cephalalgia 2002 Feb;22(1):33-6. Reconsidering the effects of monosodium glutamate: a literature review. Freeman, M. OhioHealth, Columbus, Ohio. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 2006;18(10):482-6..
Is It Legit?
While researchers may be coming up with new theories to explain the food hangover, scientists have known for years that certain types of chow can trigger headaches and migraines Food and headache attacks. A comparison of patients with migraine and tension-type headache. Savi, L., Rainero, I., Valfrè, W., et al. Neurology III, Headache Center, Department of Neuroscience, University of Turin, Turin, Italy. Panminerva Medica 2002;44(1):27-31. Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: a clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Alpay, K., Ertas, M., Orhan, E.K. Istanbul Faculty of Medicine, Department of Neurology, Istanbul, Turkey. Cephalalgia 2010 Jul;30(7):829-37.. Of the more than 10 percent of adults who suffer from chronic migraines, about half already focus on changing their diet to avoid foods that can trigger a problem. Many health experts recommend keeping a food diary so it’s easier to see which foods are causing the problems (or if food is the issue at all).
And while people may have different headache triggers, scientists have discovered a few ways to prevent food hangovers. Sodium cromoglycate, for example, can help reduce allergic reactions; it comes in a pill that can be taken before eating the problem food.
If you think you might experience food hangover headaches, consider seeing an allergist or another health professional. And this New Year’s Eve, lay off the shots of cheese and chocolate.
Do you think certain foods might trigger headaches for you? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.