Migraine Headaches: Is the trigger in your neck or in your diet?

If you are prone to migraines, then you can probably feel one coming on, long before it actually arrives. These headaches can be debilitating and almost impossible to get over. You become nauseous and any type of light hurts not only your eyes, but splits your head wide open. A cool, dark room becomes your best friend. There seems to be no hope, and the medication just barely takes the edge off.

Migraine headaches & their cousins can be some of the most debilitating conditions in our society today.  While the cause is still somewhat unclear, every health expert will agree that it is a neurological phenomenon.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Migraines may be caused by changes in the brain stem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway.  Imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, also may be involved.”  Once we recognize that an imbalance in the nervous system is what creates the symptoms of these headaches, the question becomes: what causes the neurological imbalance in the first place?

In most cases there are 3 potential categories of causes:

Hormonal – since 70% of migraine sufferers are female, hormones are thought to play a significant role. The following two categories are both known to affect hormonal balance, and may contain the true answers to your migraine problem.

Nutritional –  According to the American Nutrition Association, there are many foods, food additives, and beverages that can precipitate headaches in migraine-susceptible persons.

●      Aged or strong cheese

●      Cured meats (hot dogs, bacon, ham, and salami)

●      Citrus fruits

●      Fatty or fried foods

●      Chocolate, nuts

●      Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

●      Food dyes, additives

●      Pickled herring, chicken liver

●      Ice cream, yogurt, sour cream

●      Meat and vegetable extracts

●      Pork and seafood

●      Canned figs, broad beans, tomatoes

●      Caffeine-containing drinks (coffee, tea, all "cola" soft drinks)

●      Caffeine withdrawal

●      Alcoholic drinks (red wine, beer)

●      Aspartame, nitrites, sulfites.

Patients with chronic migraines may be abnormally sensitive to one or more of these dietary items- a disorder sometimes described as a chemical idiosyncrasy or food intolerance.

If you are a headache sufferer and eat several of the foods listed, Jill West, RDN can help you determine which foods may be causing your migraines and help create the best food plan for you. She also offers nutrigenomics testing to help you eat according to your genes! Jill West, RDN, has been an excellent resource for my patients who struggle with dietary causes to their headaches and other conditions.

Structural – In addition to diet, there are structural issues that can contribute to headaches. Many physical symptoms that our body experiences are due to our physical structure! Migraine headaches most commonly come from a fluid imbalance in the brain. It is known that a spinal misalignment in the neck can interfere with how blood flows in and out of the brain thus causing the headache symptom.


A common question my patients ask is, “How did my spine misalign to begin with?”. The answer is sometimes easy to identify, such as a physical injury to the neck (history of whiplash, sports injury, slip and fall), but more commonly, it relates back to our postures (working, sleeping, sitting).

 A misalignment in the upper neck (C1,C2 vertebrae) can interfere with the function of the brain stem and central nervous system, leading to migraines and other types of headaches.  The upper cervical spine contains many muscle attachment sites that connect to various parts of the skull, jaw, neck, shoulders, and upper back.  Misalignments can also cause tension and cervicogenic headaches that mimic migraine presentations.

Specifically correcting this alignment can remove neurological interference, balance the muscles & ligaments, & alleviate the cause of migraine headaches.  This can only be done by an Upper Cervical Chiropractor.

Here is the takeaway: There is hope and often there is a natural solution for treating and eliminating migraine headaches. Are you ready to eliminate your migraine headaches? I can help!


Millichap, J Gordon. “The Role of Diet in Migraine Headaches.” American Nutrition Association, vol. 38, no. 2, 2016, americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/role-diet-migraine-headaches.

“Migraine.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Apr. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/dxc-20202434.

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Dr. Daniel McClelland, D.C.

Advance Upper Cervical Chiropractic

1756 Lacassie Ave, Ste 102 Walnut Creek, CA

(925) 357-3080


Get Well. Be You.