Migraines sufferers, more than most people, know that the brain is a complicated organ, that can be affected by chemicals, electrical impulses, environmental factors and lifestyle. It is the complexity of the brain that makes pinpointing and treating the exact causes of your migraines so difficult, and often makes finding the best treatment a matter of trial and error.
Most migraine sufferers, however, share common traits and triggers, and a sensitivity to tyramine is one of the more common triggers. Here is what you need to know about it.
What Is Tyramine
Tyramine is a monoamine compound, which is created when tyrosine (a naturally occurring amino acid or protein) breaks down or decays, releasing carbon dioxide. In other words, it is the product of fermentation of certain proteins.
Tyramine has also been found to act directly on the brain chemistry. That is why, when a certain type of anti depressant known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (drugs that prevent monoamines like tyramine from being broken down) became common, migraine incidence went up. The drugs were blocking the patients' ability to process monoamines, which led to more headaches.
How Does Tyramine Trigger Migraines?
When the effects of an increase of tyramine on migraines was studied, it was found that in people who were not processing monoamines properly, the substance found its way into the blood stream and increased the patient's blood pressure.
This increase in blood pressure leads to more pressure in the brain, and that can result in more frequent migraine headaches.
Where Is Tyramine Found?
Tyramine occurs naturally in a wide variety of plant and animal based foods, but it is more common in fermented or aged foods. Foods that are known to contain high levels of this chemical include:
Processed meat products containing nitrates or nitrites. This includes fermented sausages like salami, as well as foods like hot dogs.
Pickled fish (such as pickled herrings.)
Tofu and tempeh (okay in moderation.)
Aged cheeses, including cheddar, blue, brie, Swiss, stilton, parmesan etc. Fresh cheeses (including cream cheese, ricotta, American and mozzarella, are fine.)
Raw onions, fava or broad beans, sauerkraut, miso and soy sauces should be avoided or eaten in moderation.
Citrus fruits in moderation.
Caffeinated beverages, beer or wine. Some people can have limited amounts of these and not suffer any ill effects, while others may find that total avoidance is best.
Chocolate, as well as other high sugar foods, particularly when eaten in high quantities on an empty stomach.
Processed foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG, nitrates, nitrites, sulfites, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
Yeast based spreads or foods. (Most breads and fresh baked goods do not trigger migraines.)
Different foods will have different effects on migraine sufferers, and while some of these may trigger your headaches, you may find that some in moderation are okay.
Is Tyramine Triggering Your Migraines?
Not everyone is sensitive to tyramine, although as many as 18% of the participants in a 2010 migraine study reported that their diet had a direct and definite impact on the frequency and severity of their symptoms.
The best way to find out if tyramine is a culprit in your case is to keep a headache journal for a few weeks or months, and make note when you eat foods that are known migraine triggers, such as those on the aforementioned list.
If you start to notice that your migraines begin within the twenty-four hour period following eating one of these foods, and you’re not sleep deprived, suffering from hay fever or allergies, or otherwise triggering your migraines (that you are aware of) eliminate the foods in question for a while. If your migraine frequency decreases when you cut out certain foods, then there’s a good chance you’re one of the many people who are sensitive to tyramine.
When to Avoid Tyramine Altogether
If you are on a monoamine oxidase inhibitor drug for the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, Parkinson’s or a number of other diseases and disorders, then eating foods that contain tyramine could be potentially lethal, rather than simply triggering migraines. Eating these foods while on this type of drug can trigger a hypertensive crisis, which can be fatal.
For most people, tyramine sensitivity occurs in varying degrees. Some patients may react strongly to one food, while the next patient does not show any effect at all. You may still be able to eat the foods you love in moderation, or you might need to cut them out completely to limit your symptoms. It can take time to establish where you are on the spectrum, but if you proceed with caution and are aware of the potential effects, you should be able to control your dietary migraine triggers.