Amines in food that cause migraine

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Amines are a group of chemicals that often cause reactions in food sensitive people with migraines. The interesting thing is that they can also aggravate chronic daily headaches, IBS [Irritable Bowel Syndrome], ADHD, and other symptoms.
The amines that most often cause reactions include tyramine, phenyl ethyl amine, tryptamine, 5-hydroxyamine, histamine, and those which you would be right if you suspect they are increased as food spoils: putrascine and cadaverine.
Is there one migraine diet? No. There have been MAOI diets which were used for people who need medications which contained monoamine oxidase inhibitors [MAOIs]. One side effect of MAOIs was reactions particularly to foods containing tyramine. Then these diets were used for migraine but researchers noted other reactions to other amines in foods as well.
Now more is known about the various amines that may be migraine food triggers. I will provide information on my findings over the last 30 years, and note some recommendations for diet investigation and then provide more detail of foods that contain amines with the research papers that have useful information. This information is useful for migraine treatments and headache treatments, and in food sensitivity where other symptoms occur.

Interesting clinical research findings using the Diet Detective Method
Since we still do not know all there is to be known about food sensitivity the diet detective method has always aimed to answer the question “Have we got the diet right yet?” [Note the chapter dedicated to this question in my thesis in 1995, available on this site.] Each patient was encouraged to test foods he or she wanted to using knowledge accumulated from reactions of others over the 30 years of work. This clinical research involved over 1000 patients followed up closely and over another 1000 seen and using the findings to guide their food trials.

Some important findings up to 2010 were as follows:-

Individuals vary in just what amine-containing foods they react to or tolerate.

Those who reacted to amines were usually sensitive to the other suspect substances: additive colours, flavours and most preservatives, salicylates and monosodium glutamate.

The smell of the food is important. Patients could often predict what foods they would tolerate from smell and taste. If they had a choice of food and thought they could tolerate a food after smelling it they were usually right. If, on the other hand, they were served food by a friend or relation and noted that the food smelt aged, or “strong” but felt they should eat it they often had a reaction.

There are two groups of amines to consider. The first are the amines intentionally developed in foods to provide more rich flavour. These include all aged cheese – tasty and matured, some wines, aged foods – aged meats, sauerkraut, foods aged in vinegar; all dark brown sauces, liquid seasoning and browned meats.
The second group of unintentional amines are often more important to food sensitive people as they vary more. They are the amines that develop in foods as they ripen or become stale or deteriorate. They include all protein foods that smell “stale” or “off” to the food sensitive person, such as cold roast meat stored a few days, aged ham and bacon, over-ripe bananas, and overripe broccoli. It is recommended that food sensitive people exclude all foods that smell “musky”, “stale”, “off” or “strong” at that time, to the person investigating diet or to immediate relatives.

Patients reported that tolerance varied depending on whether they felt “robust” when they tolerated food better, or “fragile” when their tolerance was decreased. This in turn depended on their “total body load” at the time. We have much yet to learn about amine sensitivity

Patients reported intolerance to a particular protein food that affected them. The research below comments particularly on pork and aged meats but any protein is suspect when it has become aged in a susceptible person. One woman realised that she tolerated milk as long as she only used it when the carton had been open for under 24 hours after opening; otherwise she got a migraine. Others note if the milk has been left out of the refrigerator for many minutes such as over the family breakfast. Many adults remember feeling sick after the noticeably warm milk they drank when milk delivered to schools was provided as a useful public health nutrition program.

Where chocolate is known to cause an adverse reaction, or caused one in the past, such as in early childhood, the likelihood of a beneficial outcome with diet investigation is very high. See Are You Food Sensitive? for the way to do diet investigation to find out just what you are sensitive to and what you can still safely eat and enjoy.

We encourage your contribution. Please feel free to reply and comment below. Joan Breakey Specialist Food Sensitivity Dietitian - This page may be copied with acknowledgement

Joan Ablahani May 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Hi I already know that I am Salicylate Intolerant and sensitive to artificial colors,preservatives and msg, but I am less familiar with amines. Yesterday I ate delicious homemade chicken salad made with week old leftover chicken. Boy did I suffer. I had chills all day, achiness in every joint and a headache. I went to bed for 17 hours and still dont feel great. I usually cook on Sunday and eat leftovers all week. I dont usually have a problem but I guess this was pushing it. Joan

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joan June 12, 2013 at 2:08 am

Note from one salicylate sensitive Joan to another. Around 80% of those who are sensitive to additives are also sensitive to salicylates and to amines. Your symptoms are bad enough for it to be worthwhile to minimise amines and then gradually test different ones, in different protein foods and the other sources, using all the detail I have now put together in Tolerating Troublesome Foods. You can learn how to be very clever understanding your own tolerance. This is more than just learning whether something has an amine present or absent. As you note it can vary depending on which protein it is and how many days the food has been in the fridge! Unlike salicylate reactions you cannot decrease the effect you just need to take painkillers and look after yourself as you are doing. Do learn about your self and your tolerance. Kind regards Joan

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