There's nothing quite like the misery of a migraine. If you’re among the nearly 20 percent of women who suffer from these headaches, you know how painful they can be. But there’s new reason for hope: Researchers are finally shedding light on what was once a mostly misunderstood medical phenomenon. “Even just 10 years ago, doctors thought migraines were a blood vessel problem,” explains Geoffrey Eubank, MD, the medical chief of general neurology at OhioHealth in Columbus. “Now we know they are neurological, meaning they’re caused by a burst of cellular activity in the brain. And that has contributed to innovations in treatment.”
This is especially good news for women, since we’re three times as likely as men to get a migraine. You could blame estrogen, though the link between the hormone and brain pain isn’t entirely clear. “Fluctuations in estrogen appear to trigger migraines,” says Dr. Eubank, which is why some women are more likely to get a migraine right before their period, during or after pregnancy, or during menopause.
But other common migraine triggers aren’t gender-specific. Think alcohol, artificial sweeteners, cured meats (like hot dogs and salami), foods that contain the compound tyramine (including aged cheese, some soy products, and red wine), dairy, chocolate, gluten, nuts, and the additive monosodium glutamate, a.k.a. MSG.