What do you think of when you read these symptoms: throbbing pain around the head, sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells, and intense nausea? While some readers might think this list sounds like a nightmare, other readers will instantly recognize these as symptoms of a migraine. Having a migraine can be very painful: it's debilitating at best and torture at its worst. As someone who has suffered from migraines since childhood, I'm well aware of how terrible it feels to have one. 

Recently, I was hospitalized for the worst migraine I've experienced in my adulthood at the Tang Urgent Care Center on campus. After sitting on a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV drip for hours, hoping for the pain to subside, it was clear that I didn't have a handle on my migraines anymore. Normally, I make sure to never skip meals, stay as hydrated as possible, and keep my stress levels down to keep my migraines at bay. But moving to a new city, attending a competitive university after transferring from a small community college, and adjusting to a brand new workload, along with other stresses in life, is a lot to handle in three months. All this change was bound to leave me with a nasty four-day migraine.  

While looking around for a way to relieve my migraines without relying on painkillers, I found an NPR article about how certain foods like MSG can trigger migraines. While foods can have triggering qualities for migraines, they also have the potential to prevent or heal them as well. I never put too much thought into whether my diet had any effect on my migraines. I did some research between the American Migraine Institute, NPR, and even found some articles from Spoon University and chose five foods to include in my diet for a week. 

1. Bananas

Heather Held

I can remember being forced to eat bananas like candy when I was eight, after I was diagnosed by a neurologist with my migraines. My mother was told that the high potassium content could help with my migraines, so she had me eat one or two a day. I wasn't jazzed about eating them, but I didn't feel like they triggered any emerging headaches. Overall, I had an easier time eating them as a part of my breakfast as opposed to eating them as my only snack option.

2. Yogurt

Heather Held

I wasn't sold on the idea that yogurt could help with migraines at first. But I wanted to eat a food that didn't have a long history of helping migraine sufferers. As it turned out, yogurt (or any dairy products) didn't negatively affect my head, but I felt full after breakfast. Prolonged hunger is a huge trigger for my migraines so this was a huge win for me.

3. Coffee

Heather Held

Caffeine can be a double-edged sword for migraine sufferers; since it is a well-known trigger, most people that suffer from migraines avoid coffee like the plague. I was surprised when coffee did wonders for me. I sometimes wake up with a dull feeling headache, and a cup of coffee handled it within an hour the two times I had that pain this week.

4. Water

dropping ice, water splash, water cup, cup of water, splash, water, ice
Jocelyn Hsu

Dehydration can be one of the biggest triggers for migraines but that doesn't mean I'm the best at keeping up with my water intake. I don't like hydrating so much because of all the bathroom trips. However, drinking enough water throughout the day and before bed made a significant difference for me. I didn't wake up with the headaches I normally have in the morning.

5. Pumpkin Seeds

Heather Held

This choice was inspired by a Spoon University article citing that "pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium, a nutrient deficient in people who have frequent migraines." I also had to try it out since it's fall and all. In the past, I equated pumpkin seeds as a by-product of carving pumpkins for Halloween. My stepdad would always roast them with salt and pepper to make his favorite seasonal snack; I, on the other hand, was more interested in my favorite candies like Skittles and M&Ms around that time of year.  To be honest, I gravitated towards eating the pumpkin seeds when I was feeling stressed, especially when I was writing essays for my classes. It felt like the work needed to eat a pumpkin seed helped as a way to work through my stress. I can't say for sure if my magnesium levels are a source of my migraines. However, the relief of one of my main triggers is enough of a reason to keep pumpkin seeds as a snack in my pantry.

While food triggers vary for everyone, the one thing that helped me the most was keeping a food diary to see which foods affected me. I found out that while these foods did help me for the week, foods with MSG, like prepackaged ramen, made me feel sick. With that in mind, I can talk with my doctor and find out what the best course of action will be for me as finals come around. Maybe the foods that helped me will trigger a migraine for someone else, but having an awareness can help anyone avoid unnecessary pain.