Why You Get A Headache After Eating (& The Foods Most Likely To Trigger Migraines)

Say it ain't so!

What Are Nitrates & Why Are They Migraine Triggers? Why You Get A Headache After Eating getty

By Kelsey Garcia

Though chronic migraine headaches can be caused or brought on by any of a wide variety of migraine triggers. One recent study outlines why certain foods may be to blame — and it's all about nitrates.

What are nitrates?

Nitrates are naturally occurring chemicals found in soil, air and water which are used as food additives "to stop the growth of bacteria and to enhance the flavor and color of foods."


They are a common reason why you get a headache after eating.

RELATED: 6 Common Causes Of Migraines (That You May Not Realize) — And How To Treat The Headaches Without Medication

Nitrates can be found in certain vegetables, such as spinach, beets, celery, radishes, and lettuce, but, as stated in LiveStrong, "The most common dietary source of nitrites is processed meat that is smoked, cured or salted. Ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, hot dogs, and sausages fall into this category."


It's important to note that a migraine is more than just a headache.

According to Harvard Health, "The 'classic' migraine is preceded by 'aura', which typically consists of strange visual disturbances — zigzagging lines, flashing lights, and, occasionally, temporary vision loss. Numbness and tingling affecting one side of the lips, tongue, face, and the hand on the same side may also occur. But only about a third of migraine sufferers experience aura, and fewer still with every attack."

And research now shows that consuming nitrates may be one of the key causes of migraines for sufferers to watch out for.

As stated in a study published in mSystems, the journal published by the American Society of Microbiology, "Nitrate-containing compounds have been identified as common headache triggers. Food preservatives are frequently identified triggers for those who suffer from migraines. Also, cardiac medications containing nitrates may cause severe headaches, which occur in over 80% of patients taking them."


“There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines," says Antonio Gonzalez, one of the study's authors "chocolate, wine and especially foods containing nitrates. We thought that perhaps there are connections between what people are eating, their microbiomes and their experiences with migraines.”

RELATED: Careful! These 8 Foods Are Serious Migraine Triggers

People who frequently get migraines, it seems, may have a different type of gut bacteria.

Apparently, said gut bacteria is especially efficient at processing nitrates, like those found in the aforementioned foods.

While this sounds like it would be considered a good thing, that efficient system actually produces an excess of nitric oxide in the bloodstream, which then overworks vessels in the brain, thereby causing cripplingly painful migraines.


Dr. Brendan Davis, a consultant neurologist at the University Hospitals of North Midland, offered his opinion about the potential correlation between migraines and the consumption of foods like processed meats in a statement shared with The Guardian.

“There’s something called a hot dog headache, where nitrates are suspected to be involved,” he said. “This is interesting work, but would need to be confirmed.”

Gonzalez and his study co-authors arrived at these results by examining 172 oral samples and 1,966 fecal samples from people who in generally good physical, who also reported to the researchers whether or not they suffer from migraines.

"In both oral and [fecal] samples," the Guardian reports, "people with migraines had slightly higher levels of bacteria linked to breaking down nitrates."


While this is unfortunate news for migraine sufferers who love hot dogs, bacon and other smoked meats. these findings at the very least shed some light on the causes of painful chronic headache disorders.

Considering the vast number of people who experience migraines — 18% of women and 6% of men in the United States, according to WebMD— understanding these causes could make a big difference in a lot of people's lives.

RELATED: Why So Many Women Suffer From Chronic Migraines & How It Affects Their Daily Lives

Kelsey Garcia is a trending and viral features editorial assistant at PopSugar. For more, follow her on Instagram.