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Cluster headache, food can trigger attacks

Report of a patient suffering from cluster headache whose attacks are triggered by food.

Cluster headache is an excruciating type of headache with relatively short attacks every day for some weeks or months. Pain is localized in one side of the head, often around the eye. Typical associated symptoms are: red and watering eye, blocked or runny nostril, swelling of the eyelid, all on the some side as the pain. Attacks often occur at the same time each day, notably after lunch and during night.

Alcohol is a well known trigger of cluster headache and it is mandatory to avoid alcohol drinking during the bouts of headache. No food trigger is known to date.

A 49-year-old patient, suffering from cluster headache for 13 years, with 1 or 2 attacks per day, reported that his attacks are triggered by certain foods: spinach, lentils, lettuce, and broccoli. After eating these foods he has always noticed the onset of a typical attack, so he decided to remove them from the diet. I was very surprised because it was the first time that a cluster headache patient reported being sure of this cause-effect relationship. He found no correlation with neither chocolate nor with meat.

This observation is very valuable as it is the first time that a patient reports a food trigger other than alcohol (particularly beer).

We should not expect that all patients are susceptible to the some foods but it indicates that everyone has to look for a correlation to what he eats. This is especially important if the attacks appear after meals.

Regarding foods indicated by this patient as a possible trigger factor  we can only speculate: these are all foods with high folate content, a water-soluble B vitamin (whereas folic acid is a form of folate contained in vitamine supplements), and high nitrate/nitrite content (specially lettuce and spinach).


w1 green spinach lentils, by jules, flickr cc

 We need to advise people suffering from cluster headache to pay attention to the foods eaten during the cluster period, keeping a journal and taking care of possible correlations: even seemingly innocuous green leafy vegetables or legumes can trigger an attack; similarly is useful to pay attention to supplements intake.



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Coffee with lemon juice: a natural remedy for migraine.

Many people find effective a natural home remedy against migraine: a cup of coffee, without sugar and with a bit of lemon juice.


Coffee, from Enhlin/stock-up/27049


Usefulness of such a simple remedy is frequently referred in Italy.

On what principle does it work?

It is well known that caffeine contained in coffee beverages has vasoconstrictive properties, thus counteracting the migraine  vasodilatation; this is the reason for the existence of caffeine-containing  analgesics.

Let us consider the effect of adding lemon to coffee according to traditional Chinese medicine dietetics.

In Chinese dietetics food  is classified according to five natures (hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold) and five tastes (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, salty).

Coffee beans have bitter taste and cool nature, acquiring warm nature after being roasted; lemon has sour taste and cool nature.

Coffee relieves Liver Qi (energy) stagnation, one of the most common causes of migraine. Releasing the energy stucked in liver a strong sense of mental and physical vitality is experienced.

Furthermore coffee purges the gallbladder easing bile flow: this is part of the qi-dispersing action and prevents formation of gallstones and alleviates constipation.

Bitter taste in Chinese dietetics is related to detoxifying effect of coffee, which promotes bile flow and has diuretic properties (cleansing toxins from body trough the liver and renal system).

Apart  from bitterness coffee has a sweet background, since a small amount of sugar easily makes it sweet, differently from other bitter foods. The sweet flavour has tonifying effect on digestion and assimilation of food ( tonification of Spleen in Chinese medicine).

These are the beneficial effects of moderate intake of coffee, between one and three cups a day, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Lemon with its cool nature lessens the warmth of coffee; moreover the sour taste of lemon acting on Liver and Gallbladder directs Qi downward and subdues Liver Yang rising towards the head and causing headache.

Mixing coffee and lemon may be beneficial, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, in cases of Liver disharmony, first of all when emotions like anger affect the Liver.

Is there any other connection between lemon and headache?

Some people like very much lemons and lemonade.

One of the leading homeopathic remedy prescribed for migraine is Belladonna;  in such cases there is congestion of head with throbbing and violent pain in the right side of head, heat of the head and red face. Belladonna is indicated if the patient also desires lemons and lemonade.

There is a noteworthy relation between the rise of Liver Yang described in Chinese medicine, alleviated by lemon, and the picture of Belladonna migraine with intense desire for lemon or lemonade.

Contraindications for coffee and lemon: hyperacidity and gastric disorders like peptic ulcer.