Dietary interventions have shown that foods, such as dairy, can trigger migraines in people who are susceptible. The how and the why behind this connection isn’t fully understood. But scientists have found possible links between migraines and milk allergies, food “sensitivities,” natural chemicals in aged cheeses, inflammation, and even lactose intolerance. And countless people have found migraine relief on a dairy-free diet.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or make any medical or dietary recommendations. Always consult your physician if dealing with migraines or other headaches, and before any change in diet.
Migraines, Headaches, and Dairy
Why is the topic of dairy and migraines still somewhat controversial? Because solid research on the topic really is limited. Most food and migraine studies are simply observational in terms of diet, and the dietary intervention studies that do exist are quite small. Nevertheless, elimination diets have shown promising results in a range of trials.
In one study, 60 migraine patients followed an elimination diet after a 5-day withdrawal from their normal diet. When an average of ten common trigger foods was avoided, 85 percent of patients actually became headache free. Migraine reactions to milk specifically were seen in 37 percent of the patients. In another clinical trial, 93 percent of children who suffered frequent and severe migraines recovered on a hypoallergenic elimination diet. There have also been many individual case studies reported by neurologists whose migraine patients recovered on a dairy-free diet.
Dairy-Free means Headache-Free for Many People
Doctors often agree, that nothing speaks louder than real world experience. It’s why basic elimination diets are still considered to be the “gold standard” for food allergy testing. And over the years, I’ve received and read hundreds of personal anecdotes from people who have seen migraines and other types of headaches retreat with a dairy-free diet. Here is just a sampling of their stories.
6 Years of Debilitating Migraines Cured in 2 Months of Dairy Free
I suffered with debilitating migraines for 6 years. Finally after CT scans, MRI, GI testing and migraine remedies, my gastroenterologist suggested eliminating dairy from my vegetarian diet. I admit to being a bit skeptical at first. How could something so simple cure this condition that dictated my work and social life for years? Well, I began reading food labels and learning all that was available to me about dairy allergies and intolerance. Simultaneously I started on a vegan diet substituting Soy products for dairy. Within 2 months of going dairy-free, my migraines ended. I have not had a migraine since 2003!! ~ Margaret
A Happy Little Migraine-Free Boy without Dairy
When my son started kindergarten he developed what looked like acne around his mouth and we discovered it was caused by the milk he was drinking at school. We started giving him a lactose pill everyday so he could have all the dairy he wanted at school … we didn’t want him to feel left out. He started having headaches that became more and more severe as he got older. They eventually turned into migraines that were so bad he could hardly function and was getting them about every 5 days. Thanks to the internet I discovered that dairy can cause migraines in people who are allergic to milk. We immediately put my son on a dairy free diet and the migraines disappeared! He is 9 now and is a very different little boy… no migraines, doesn’t miss school, and is happier. We are all eating less dairy now to support my son and we all feel better than ever. ~ Aimee
From Near Daily Migraines to Migraine and Dairy Free
I’ve suffered with debilitating migraines since I was about 8. By the time I was 40, I had around 25 per month. I had been to every type of doctor you could think of and had every type of test and procedure you could think of too. I tried every home remedy, essential oils, over the counters, homeopathic’s, etc. Nothing helped. My friend told me about a doctor she believed could help. She specialized in women’s health care. I gave her a try. She ordered a food allergy blood test. Dairy was at the top of my list. I pulled all dairy out of my diet and with 7 days, I was migraine free. I have been contaminated a few times, and it’s awful. Migraine city. I have been dairy free and almost migraine free for about 3 years now. ~ Jenny G.H.
Just One Day without Dairy, and My Child was Headache Free
About 1-1/2 years ago my 6 year old began having almost daily migraine headaches. We got glasses, an MRI, an EEG, bloodwork galore, a 504 plan at school (disability), I googled homeschooling and planned to quit my job as I was thinking the stress of school could be causing these. Finally he was admitted to a hospital with a migraine that caused his arm to go numb and weak. I thought he was having a stroke. While in the hospital I was informed of some 4 year-old bloodwork that had been missed that indicated he “might” have food allergies. Needless to say, we went home from the hospital and I looked up the most common allergens – dairy was tops. I took him off dairy that day; my husband thought I was nuts (he grew up on a dairy farm) 24 hours later my child was headache free and has been relatively so for 2 months. ~ Dana
An Outgrown Milk Allergy that Wasn’t
When I was a baby, I was allergic to milk. After about age 2, the doctor said I could drink it again. Fast forward to high school, when I started having extreme headaches and migraines multiple times a week and I was so lethargic all the time. I could spend all day in bed! And when I did get up, I felt so dizzy. One morning I even passed out in the shower. When I got to college, the headaches got worse, as well as the drowsiness and dizziness. I went online and read the story of someone who was having similar symptoms and found out they had a milk allergy. It made sense since my favorite snacks were yogurt, string cheese, and cereal. I connected all the dots and cut out all milk products the next day. After about a week, I felt 100% better! Now I have so much energy all the time and rarely have headaches. I regret not cutting dairy out sooner! ~ Caitlin
4 More Things to Know about Foods Triggers and Migraines
From Trigger to Migraine isn’t always Immediate. Some doctors state that a trigger should instigate a migraine within 24 hours of consumption. While other experts say the time leading up to a migraine can last from a few hours to a few days. This is why many physicians utilize elimination diets. Removing suspected foods for a certain length of time, and then reintroducing them at a later date can compensate for these reactionary delays.
Their can be Multiple Triggers. A patient might discover dairy is a migraine trigger for them, but continue to get some headaches on a dairy-free diet. This could mean other triggers are at play. In some cases, scientists have found that people react to a range of single triggers. In others, a combination of triggers might act in unison to create migraines.
It’s Possible to have Both Food and Lifestyle Triggers. Stress, skipping meals, and inadequate sleep are top migraine triggers, and can happen in people who have food triggers, too. Physicians often look at all aspects of diet and lifestyle in migraine patients, particularly when multiple triggers are suspected.
Some Foods aren’t Triggers, but might be Migraine-Related Cravings. In the time leading up to a migraine, some scientists believe an increase in cravings for certain foods might cause people to mistake those foods for triggers. Again, this is why doctors often recommend elimination diets. Complete removal of suspected foods for a certain length of time can better determine their role.
Food Journal for Elimination Diets
To help identify food triggers, we’ve created this Food Journal & Symptom Tracker. It’s fillable, printable, and available for you to use at any time without a catch!
Before any change in diet, always consult a physician. It’s important to plan elimination diets with your doctor or dietitian to ensure safety and effectiveness, and to avoid creating other potential migraine triggers. Skipping meals and nutrient deficiencies, such as magnesium and vitamin D, have also been associated with migraines.