CONFER: Migraines and the Tyramine Connection |  opinion

I’ve struggled with migraines since my senior year of high school.

I can still remember the first one. I noticed it in biology class without warning. Since I had never experienced migraines before – let alone not knowing about them – it was unsettling not to be able to see the blackboard and then have to leave school all day fighting against nausea and headaches. Migraines are no longer new territory, they are no longer frightening, but to this day they are just as annoying as the first one.

Early on, I attributed the main causes of my headaches to chicken and olives. The sensitivity to chicken has been harsh, especially for someone who loves chicken wings and lives in west New York (it’s like I’m fucking). But I was good: I haven’t eaten chicken since 1996. Keeping away from olives was an equal test of will and consciousness; I am married to a woman of Lebanese descent – and they cook everything in olive oil!

I’ve had numerous migraines over the years for a variety of unknown reasons, and then, about seven years ago, as I was approaching my 40th birthday, the frequency and causes increased significantly.

Maybe it was a change in body chemistry. Maybe it was a later development of allergies. Maybe it was my brain’s midlife crisis.

Whatever it was, I started recording everything I ate every day and kept a food diary which I keep religiously to this day. I found that my new triggers were things that I had enjoyed all of my life – in some cases, really enjoyed them. Most of the cheeses started giving me a headache, which in turn led to pizza being put on the don’t eat list (which, with my aversion to wings mentioned earlier, makes me the life of any party). Onion rings became taboo. Citric acid in a sports drink wiped me out. A good aged steak is taboo. These are just a few of my many newly discovered triggers.

I researched as the incidence of headaches and the number of triggers grew, and I found a common denominator: tyramine. It comes from the natural breakdown of an amino acid known as tyrosine. When consumed, it can stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which can cause blood vessels to constrict. The combination of neurotransmitters and blood flow to the brain, both of which get mixed up, can cause migraines.

Tyramine is created when foods age. Because of this, certain cheeses like cheddar and parmesan are migraine catalysts. That’s why bananas are too (the stringy stuff in a banana peel is full of them). The list of foods contaminated with tyramine is actually quite large and very confusing for headache sufferers. Even things that by the standard definition you would never think have aged are and end up on the “Use with caution” list (onions, citrus fruits, red plums) or the “Avoid” list (soy products, peanuts) , Sesame). , smoked meat).

This magical list, which divides foods into three categories (the other is “allowed”), is readily available on the internet. For an example, see the National Headache Foundation website at

The value of the list to migraineurs was actually a secondary discovery in the health industry. Doctors and drug companies originally created the list to help people avoid developing dangerously high blood pressure while taking certain medications that are believed to help with Parkinson’s disease.

The list was a godsend as it helped me control and keep my migraines in check. Some people choose to take prescription medication instead to prevent or control the headache, but it is against my personal rules to take medication; I prefer to deal with my health naturally. Also, I’ve heard from other migraine sufferers far too often that the drugs aren’t foolproof. And the headache is my body trying to tell me something, so why fool this warning system?

If you experience headaches on a regular basis, do yourself a great favor: keep track of what you eat and follow the tyramine table accordingly. In this way, you can help end, or at least drastically reduce, a worsening illness that can really affect your work and personal life.

Gasport’s Bob Confer is the President of Confer Plastics Inc. Email him at [email protected]