If you’ve researched a migraine diet, you will see that tyramine is a common component in most of the foods that people rattle-off as common food triggers. Many doctors suggest reducing tyramine as the first step in trying to get migraine under control – but why?  

Tyramine is a naturally-occurring food component that increases as a food ripens and ages. During the natural aging process the proteins within a food begin to degrade. The products of the proteins that are breaking down are called biogenic amines. The ones we hear of most commonly in regard to migraine are tyramine and histamine, but there are others.

Foods that are higher in these amines are not yet spoiled, but are typically found in perishable foods that are on their way to being perfectly ripe, to over-ripe, to spoiled. Examples of foods that tend to be high in biogenic amines are bananas, avocado, nuts, aged cheeses, wine and yogurt. Additionally, leftovers sitting in your refrigerator for a couple of days are also potentially high in biogenic amines. Some people have a great fondness for the rich flavors that develop with aged foods and leftovers; perhaps biogenic amines are what appeal to them so much. Personally, I must love biogenic amines as I love leftovers. To me, I’ll put up with the less-than-perfect texture in reheated foods as I thoroughly enjoy the flavors that have developed. Sadly, I understand that the flavors developed are due to tyramine and other substances that may not be my friend.

How does tyramine trigger an attack?  
Well, like so many questions around migraine, it’s not really known. One of the stronger theories is that tyramine acts with other compounds in our blood to start a chain reaction that causes imbalances in important neurotransmitters. The altered biochemistry along with other compounds that may be present at the same time may make an “inflammatory soup.” Since people with migraine tend to have hyperexcitable nervous systems, this “soup” may exceed the individual’s migraine threshold and result in an attack.

Are foods high in tyramine triggering you?
It’s certainly possible that you occasionally, or frequently, have an inflammatory soup in which tyramine is a significant ingredient. If you have occasional attacks, it may be enough to merely avoid the bigger sources of tyramine and see if that helps. If you have frequent or chronic attacks, a full migraine-oriented elimination diet may be a better approach to help reduce or eliminate the inflammation for a length of time that allows your system to calm. After a period of calming, you can then add some of the high-tyramine foods back in to see if you can tolerate them.

There are so many things in life that are potential triggers to anyone with chronic migraine. Fortunately, food is one of the most controllable. As with many things, understanding the mechanism of migraine and how to minimize our risks for attacks will help us live the lives we want.

Danielle Aberman, RDN CLT CHWC
Danielle returned to the field of nutrition and became a health and wellness coach after being diagnosed with Chronic Migraine so she could help others with Migraine figure out how to find relief. She is passionate about educating people so they are empowered to help themselves get their lives back.