Migraines and headaches can be debilitating and affect your everyday life. Knowing and understanding the triggers of migraines can make a huge difference to those who suffer.
4.9 million Australians suffer from migraines and 1 in every 6 people suffer from headaches.
When people think of histamine intolerance they tend to think more of the common histamine reactions. Including those related to the sinus or skin reactions like hives.
Migraines and headaches and histamine isn’t spoken about as much as the other more common migraine triggers however some really interesting studies have shown a link. In this blog, I’ll look at some of the most common triggers of migraines as well as the connection between histamine & migraines.
The 4 most common headaches:
There are over 200 different types of headaches that the International Headache Society recognises.
The 4 most common are:
- Sinus headache. May feel like a sinus infection or pressure around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead.
- Tension headache. One of the most common forms of headache. Can last for 30 minutes to 7 days and occurs on both sides of the head.
- Migraine headache. Often a moderate to severe headache with nausea. There is often a sensitivity to light and sound as well.
- Cluster headache. A rarer type of headache with extreme pain. Attacks occur in groups or clusters, hence the name.
Common Triggers of Migraines:
During times of physical or psychological stress, may trigger a migraine. 50-80% of people with migraines say that stress is a trigger for them.
Managing stress plays an important role in reducing these triggers. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) is controlled by our brain and can be in the sympathetic (fight/flight) or parasympathetic (rest/digest) mode. When your nervous system spends a lot of time in fight/flight it can impact the function of all the systems in your body. The capillaries and blood vessels also get managed by the ANS and may cause headaches via dilation and contraction, causing pain!
One useful tool I use with clients is the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP). SSP is a five-hour audio program designed to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity while enhancing social engagement and resilience. To find out more about this program. The Safe and Sound Protocol (SPP).
Lack of Sleep or Jet Lag
Sleep disturbance including lack of sleep or even jetlag is also a known migraine trigger.
Dehydration is also a migraine or headache trigger for many. Ensuring that A small study revealed that dehydration was linked to headaches in about 40% of participants of the study.
The artificial sweetener aspartame and the additives monosodium glutamate (MSG) are both also common triggers for migraine sufferers.
The consumption of alcohol is another common trigger. Reported in one study to trigger migraine in about one-third of people. Red wine, in particular, is a common trigger and in part, that’s due to its high histamine content. We will discuss histamine more in the section on foods below.
Some have reported that excessive caffeine consumption may trigger a migraine. Caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks is included.
Strong Smells, loud sounds, and bright lights
For some people with migraines, odd or strong smells can trigger a migraine. For example perfume. Some people also report loud sounds as a trigger. Likewise, flickering, pulsating, and bright lights.
Changes in weather
In one study, changes in weather patterns including pressure systems and temperature can be a trigger. Thunderstorms with lightning for some can trigger the onset of a migraine.
Research from the Migraine Research Foundation showed that women are 3 times more likely to experience migraine which may be due to female sex hormones. In particular, oestrogen stimulates mast cells to release histamine. As mentioned below in foods and in more depth later in the article, histamine intolerance can be a contributing factor to migraines.
For some people, exercise can trigger a migraine often known as exercise-induced migraine. Histamine may also have a role in this. Intense exercise triggers a histamine response. For those without a histamine intolerance or DAO deficiency (see below), their body clears the excess histamine easily. However, for those with histamine intolerance, they don’t have the capacity to clear it in the same way and symptoms can occur. In this case, a migraine.
For many food is a big trigger.
- Processed meats
- Fermented, pickled, or cured meats.
These foods all contain histamine!
Whilst the factors mentioned above, also play a role in migraines and headaches, so too can histamine intolerance.
Histamine is a biogenic amine widely distributed in the body. It plays a role in various processes in the body including:
- Fighting off pathogens as part of the immune system
- Stomach acid release to aid digestion
- As a chemical messenger
Histamine & migraines, how are they linked?
There is no particular test to diagnose migraines. However, it is common for people in the same family to suffer, which can point to a genetic component. One component can be a mutation in the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme.
Diamine oxidase (DAO) is an enzyme that your body makes to break down histamine from foods. If your body doesn’t produce enough DAO, you may have diamine oxidase deficiency.
Some studies have shown that up to 90% of migraine sufferers have a deficiency in Diamine Oxidase (DAO).
According to some studies, 12-60% of migraineurs can connect the onset of pain with the consumption of certain foods. Essentially, they have a ‘trigger’, where they eat a particular type of food and then soon after get a migraine. However, for many others, there isn’t a particular trigger which makes it very difficult to manage.
How does the histamine bucket come into play?
The histamine bucket is a personal tolerance to histamine-containing foods. Once the bucket is full and overflows, symptoms start to appear. Everybody’s histamine bucket is individual. Two people both with histamine intolerance can eat the same things and have different symptoms at different times. This in part explains why some people can eat foods that are high in histamine and not get a headache or migraine straight away. Yet over time, the histamine bucket gets full, overflows and then the headache or migraine occurs.
What about Mast cells and migraines?
Mast cells are a type of white blood cell that is found in connective tissues all through the body. Including under the skin, near blood vessels and lymph vessels, in nerves, and in the lungs and intestines. Mast cells play a role in many inflammatory settings. Including defence against pathogens and in an allergic reaction.
There are 4 types of histamine receptors – H1, H2, H3, and H4.
- H1 drives cellular migration, nociception, vasodilatation, and bronchoconstriction.
- H2-receptor modifies gastric acid secretion, airway mucus production, and vascular permeability.
- H3-receptor plays an important role in neuro-inflammatory diseases.
- H4-receptor has also been shown to be involved in allergy and inflammation.
Research on the specific histamine receptors is relatively new and we are continuing to learn more and more about them.
What can you do if you have migraines?
1. Keep a symptom, stress, and food diary. That way you can see if there are any particular patterns between food, stress, and migraines. Address stress by changing things you can control and using meditation, nature, and other tools to shift into rest and digest more often.
2. Look at your nutrition and move towards eating a low histamine diet to see if it makes a difference to the frequency and intensity of your migraines.
3. Address gut health. SIBO and dysbiosis can cause considerable amounts of inflammation in the gut which may affect the production DAO enzymes. Dao enzymes are synthesised and stored within the epithelium of the small intestine and colon.
What about headaches?
There are many types of headaches. I have mentioned a lot of information in relation to histamine intolerance and migraines. Histamine intolerance can still have an impact on headaches too. It is connected to inflammation, muscle tension, and gut flora imbalance, which may contribute to headaches. Often those with headaches also benefit from eating a low histamine diet.
There are many common triggers for Migraines. From continued studies on both migraines and histamine tolerance what we are understanding more and more is the role that histamine & diamine oxidase (DAO) deficiency also play in migraines and headaches. With managing histamine & migraines, there isn’t a one size fits all or quick fix. However, working towards a low histamine diet and addressing gut health and stress are three important ways to manage histamine intolerance which may also reduce the frequency of your migraines and headaches.
Struggling to get answers about your histamine intolerance symptoms?
Watch my free Masterclass – The 5 Steps to Healing from Histamine Intolerance.
You will learn my 5-Step plan, the exact same method I used to recover from histamine intolerance. These 5 steps everyone with histamine intolerance must know to resolve all those confusing symptoms and get back to eating foods you love without fear!