When It Comes to Headaches, Round Up All the Usual Suspects
And be sure to take a closer look at the cheese
When Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes, he mistakenly forgot to mention headaches. Of the many ailments known to humankind, the headache is something that everyone has experienced and likely will experience again.
Beyond the annoying people in our lives who cause us figurative headaches, the literal headaches we have tend to originate from a wide range of causes including sinus conditions, stress, blood flow abnormalities, hunger, insufficient sleep, any number of diseases and conditions – and that's just the short list.
And of course another headache agent worth mentioning is food. Beyond actual food allergies there are certain chemicals in food and beverages that have been associated with headaches, including the nitrates and nitrites found in processed meats; MSG, the flavor enhancer that was once common in Chinese food but is now less frequently used; and the kinds of food additives that continue to be used in a variety of prepared meals and snacks. Then there's the often used and highly popular… cheese.
Cheese contains an amino acid called tyramine, a naturally occurring compound generally found in foods high in protein. Basically, tyramine facilitates a chemical chain reaction with protein that results in the alternate constriction and dilation of cranial blood vessels, creating the "throbbing" sensation we experience in some headaches, particularly migraines.
Other tyramine-rich foods are red grapes, smoked fish, pickles, certain nuts, avocados, chicken livers, fermented soy products like tofu and some types of beer. Also, foods high in protein may contain more tyramine if they've been stored for a long time or haven't been kept cold enough. Cheese, however, has relatively high concentrations of tyramine, particularly cheeses that have been aged for a long time or Stilton, Gorgonzola and other blue cheeses, .
So if you get headaches and eat cheese, does this mean it's time to just say no to the classic grilled cheese sandwich, pizza, fondue and quesadillas you enjoy? For most people the answer is a resounding "no."
Noticeable reactions to tyramine are the exception rather than the rule and as we know, headaches can originate from many different sources. But if you do start to notice a connection between cheese input (or the other foods high in tyramine) you may want to simply cut back and pay attention to the results. The fact that cheese can be high in saturated fats and sodium may be another good reason to watch our total intake, even If headaches aren't part of the equation.
As part of a healthy meal or snack, cheese is ready to play its role in an overall healthy diet. But the key, as in the majority of what we eat and drink, is moderation, particularly since cheese is routinely added to a wide range of prepared foods and you may well be consuming more than you realize.
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