Department: Ask the Experts
Stephen Silberstein, M.D., is professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and president of the American Headache Society. He co-authored Migraine and Other Headaches, the first in a series of books for patients published by the American Academy of Neurology Press.
Q I seem to get headaches after eating carbohydrates. Is there a connection between diet and headache?
A In general, there is little evidence connecting certain foods with headaches. I think the relationship is overdone.
Figure. DR. STEPHEN ...Image Tools
Still, there are some proven food-related headache triggers: skipping meals, consumption of alcohol or monosodium glutamate (MSG), and caffeine withdrawal.
Researchers have conducted controlled trials to look at whether chocolate has an impact on migraines. Study volunteers were given real or fake chocolate. And there was no difference between the two when it came to headaches.
What many experts believe is that certain foods are harbingers, rather than the cause, of headaches. So, if you're on the verge of developing a migraine, you might start to crave chocolate.
Since I believe that our bodies are telling us something when we have a craving, I would suggest going with it. Get yourself a bar of chocolate if that's what you crave.
Now, when it comes to your experience with carbohydrates and headaches, it is entirely possible that there is a connection. But it's not because carbohydrates cause headaches.
If you eat a lot of carbohydrates, your blood sugar goes up and then it crashes and you become hypoglycemic, which is also what happens when you skip meals. And that can cause a headache.