Finding and eliminating food sensitivities may help some, but not all, patients with migraine headaches. A study that was presented at the International Pediatric Symposium (March, 1991;6/9) looked at 32 migraine patients between the ages of 10 and 20. The patients were allowed to eat an unrestricted diet for three weeks. Afterwards they were placed on a strict elimination diet for an additional three weeks. During the course of the study the 27 subjects who completed the study kept a headache diary. A subject who had reduction of 50% (or better) in the number of days with a headache while on the elimination diet was considered to be a “responder”. Seven of the subjects (or just over 25%) were classified as responders. All of the subjects were given in vivo and in vitro allergy tests, and the tests were negative for all subjects (including the responders). This shows that there is a relationship between food and headaches in at least some patients, but the mechanism probably does not involve the immune system.
Other research appearing in Headache (1989;29(5):315-6) looked at 102 migraine patients. The study had the same parameters, which was three weeks with an unrestricted diet, followed by three weeks of an elimination diet. Of the 74 subjects that completed the study, 38 experienced improvement of symptoms while on the elimination diet. The researchers were able to trigger 44 migraine attacks in the group by reintroducing specific foods.
A similar result was obtained in another study that was published in Cephalgia (June 1991;Suppl. 11(11):117), with 50% of the subjects experiencing at least a 50% reduction in headache frequency while on an elimination diet. In this study those who responded to the elimination diet were given antihistamines over a period of eight weeks, but the drugs were not effective in preventing migraines. This suggests that the food sensitivity is not related to an immune response.
In an older study, appearing in the Lancet (May 5, 1979;966-969), 60 migraine patients were placed on a very strict elimination diet that consisted of only lamb, pears and bottled water for five days. They were then challenged with certain foods to see if the food triggered a migraine attack. Attacks were triggered in 33% of the patients by corn, yeast and cane sugar. Of the foods tested, wheat triggered headaches in the most patients, causing migraine attacks in 78% of the patients. Coffee and tea each triggered attacks in 40% of the patients. Oranges triggered attacks in 65% and eggs triggered attacks in 45% of the patients.