Pizza and Pain – The Tasty Migraine Trigger

One of the biggest migraine triggers known to the medical community is processed food. Migraines affect more than 38 million Americans, rated as the 6th most debilitating condition in the country.

Research has shown us that diet plays a huge role in migraine symptoms.  For the most part, a “migraine-free” diet consists of less processed foods and more fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats.  There are dozens of chemicals in processed foods that can trigger a migraine, which is why they are so detrimental to our health (even if you don’t have migraines!).

Ditch the Deep Dish

Unfortunately, a favorite dish among Americans may be causing a great deal of pain for migraineurs.  Pizza.

It takes a few days for migraines to hit if the trigger was a food or chemical.  You may feel like your taste buds just had a party in your mouth with that extra slice of extra cheesy delight, but that will ultimately give you pain in a few days’ time.

The good news is that eliminating pizza and other processed foods from your diet will go a long way to preventing migraines.

migraines and processed foodsWhy does Pizza Hurt?

What combination of ingredients in pizza leads to migraines?  Unfortunately, most websites and research don’t really give us that information, so let’s break it down.  Pizza ingredients include:

  • Bleached flour
  • Herbs
  • Aged cheese
  • Aged meats
  • Canned tomato sauce
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Additives

Let’s go one more step further and break down the top triggers in those ingredients:

  • Tyramine
  • Histamine
  • Glutamate

All three of these increase inflammatory markers in the brain and body, leading to pain and, naturally, headaches.

The Chemicals in Pizza and Other Processed Foods

There is a large amount of glutamate in all of the ingredients above, including biogenic amines like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and histamine.  When you give your body a massive boost like this, there will always be a crash afterwards.

It’s a simple law of physics:  What goes up must come down!

Pizza is one of the most dangerous foods you can eat not only because of its huge quantities of biogenic amines and glutamate, but because the levels of those ingredients are extremely toxic.  While healthy foods have histamine and tyramine in them, they also have natural fiber, which helps slow the digestion of tyramine and histamine, resulting in less of those two chemicals in your bloodstream. There is little to no fiber in pizza, so the tyramine and histamine in pizza will race through your bloodstream at breakneck speeds.

Finally, MSG is not only a huge migraine trigger, but it is detrimental to your health and may lead to seizures, obesity, and cancers.

The Elimination Diet

I talk a great deal about foods that trigger migraines.  Essentially, I want to make note that the best way to figure out which foods are triggering your migraines is by doing the elimination diet.  There has been huge success in past clinical studies with the elimination diet as a migraine treatment.

In 1979 and 2001, all participants in a study who were put on the elimination diet had complete resolution of their migraines.  Additional studies done in 1983 and 1952 found an 80% to 90% success rate with the diet.  This is a huge difference when compared to migraine drugs, which have about a 50% success rate but often come with massive side effects and additional problems.


Most Americans love aged cheeses, meats, yeast, and processed foods.  They add a richness and delicacy to the palate that is not often found in a bland diet; however, these favorite foods wreak havoc in the body by increasing glutamate, histamine, and tyramine levels in the bloodstream, thereby increasing inflammation and pain.

If you are suffering from migraines and eat processed foods like pizza, cheeses, chips, etc., the elimination diet may be the best option for you; however, as with all new treatment options, you should check with your primary care physician first.



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