Migraine triggers: The Onion

Onion - a migraine trigger?

If onion is a trigger for you, how in the world do you stay away from it?

Recently I was flipping through an ethnic cookbook, and found that almost every recipe contained onion.  For many people, onion contributes to that next migraine attack.  If you want to cook but are being confronted by an onion on every page of your cookbook, here are some ways to fight back:

  • Reduce:  You may find that having only a small percentage of onion in your food isn’t a problem.  What I’ve done is cut the amount of onion in the recipe in half.  If there was a lot of onion, you can sometimes replace what you take out by adding a little more of the other vegetables in the recipe.
  • Replace (option 1):  There are actually a lot of "onion-like" vegetables that you can use in the place of the onion.  One popular and easy choice is garlic (though depending on the recipe you may want to use less garlic than you would have used onion).  But there are other things more like onions that you may be able to use.  Though many people find onion to be a trigger, far fewer seem to have problems with leeks, scallions (spring onions) and shallots.  Try using these in your recipes instead of onion.
  • Replace (option 2):  You could flavour your food with Asafoetida.  Asafoetida is sold as a powder, and when cooked in a recipe adds a flavour similar to onion.
    Asafoetida Powder
    Asafoetida Powder

     It has added benefits, because it is believed to help with digestion, and helps to lessen gas from things like beans and lentils.  If you live in the Middle East or India, you shouldn’t have trouble finding it.  If you don’t, you may be able to find asafetida in an Indian market, or with the ethnic foods in your grocery store.  Often people who are alergic to onion will use asafetida.

  • Avoid:  Of course, you can avoid onion altogether.  Some people find that raw onions are a problem, but cooked onions are all right.  Many recipes really just use onion as extra flavour – most of the time you can simply take it out and the recipe will still work fine.

Do you find onion to be a trigger?  What have you done to solve the problem?

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12 comments… add one
  • BritishK Mar 26, 2011

    My personal cure for avoiding headaches with onions: I have had headaches as long as I can remember. I realized that onions were the culprit when my mother told me that a vadalia onion tastes as sweet as an apple. Tthe moment I bit into it, I got an instant, horrible headache that kept me down for about 3 days. It was then that I became more aware that it was onions that was causing my headaches. What helped me, with a bit of experimentation, since I love onions and have realized that onions/ onion powder are hidden in many restaraunt dishes and items like peanuts and cheese crackers, etc, is that I take an ibuprofen or another pain medication shortly before I know I will be eathing something containing onions. This keeps me from getting headaches and now I can feel free to eat out or eat food that contains onions. I went from someone who had headaches on a constant basis to someone who gets them very seldom. Maybe this will help you as well.

    • ibrahim Nov 23, 2011

      whcich content in onion make the problem?

  • Judy Humphrys Mar 26, 2011

    I know that onions are one of my triggers. Dr David Buchholz, M.D., author of Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain, suggested cooking with shallots instead of onions. I have made this switch and have found that it seems to help. I avoid onions when I eat in restaurants as well. I prefer not to take over-the-counter NSAIDs since they are known to bring on rebound headaches.

  • Julia Mar 27, 2011

    Interesting. I have to admit, I clicked on this link because I thought it was going to take me to an “Onion” article (you know, the hilarious fake news site), but I stayed to read the article here because it resonated with me. I’ve been having more and more migraines lately, and I’m trying to figure out what might be going on. Because I’m more in tune with my symptoms right now, I noticed one day when I was chopping up onions that their strong smell seemed to be triggering a migraine. It wasn’t really dramatic, but it was certainly something. I was already feeling like one might be coming on, but it was still in the very early stages, and I think smelling the raw onion made me leap over to the full-blown-migraine stage pretty quickly. This article is the first I’ve heard of any connection between onions and migraines. For sure, I’m going to be keeping track of onions in my diet from now on. I suspect that the true trigger, if there is one, is the smell though. I have a lot of scent-triggers, now I guess I can just add onion to that list. Thanks for the great site, I’m looking forward to reading more through it now that you caught my attention with the onion article.

  • Lyn Plude Jun 22, 2011

    I have found over the years that I am more affected by RAW onion than I am COOKED onion. That said I am sure that all onion including cooked can get me if I eat to much of it. I find many foods bother me so I try to just leave them alone. Unfortunately my favorite treat in the world is CHOCOLATE and I can’t touch it without expecting pain in my head well before the night is over!

  • Christopher Jul 23, 2011

    Onions are a trigger for my classic migraines as well. The scent of raw or cooking onions is enough to bring on a migraine. I usually become nauseous and lose spots in my field of vision at the onset of a migraine. I have found that if I notice the symptoms quickly enough, I can sometimes get fresh air outside and stave off a full blown migraine attack.

  • Lisa A. Sep 25, 2011

    Raw onion that has been exposed to the air for awhile causes migraines for me, so I have always assumed it is due to a chemical change that comes with oxidation. If I want to use raw onion, I make sure to cut it a very short time before eating it. It seems as though raw onion that is mix with vinegar as soon as it is cut is also not a problem, even if I eat it the next day (e.g., in a salad). Cooked onions are okay.

  • David P Nov 28, 2016

    I have found onions to be the cause of both my migraines and stomach troubles. I have had an inexplicably strong aversion to onions since childhood but always followed a policy of “I don’t care if I can’t taste it”. I have also had migraines and stomach trouble since childhood that has baffled doctors. I finally at age 28 figured out it was onion by elimination diet. I had no symptoms at all for weeks until eating a salad with packaged dressing that I didn’t realize had onion powder since I couldn’t taste it. Within two hours I was played out with a migraine and had stomach problems for two days. Since I cut out all onion my migraines and stomach issues have been nearly gone for two years. It is a bear to avoid at restaurants sometimes but worth it for my improved quality of life.

  • Loretta Jan 21, 2017

    I have headaches caused by eating onions cooked or raw,sometimes a little won’t hurt.I’m going to try shallots,thanks for this site,it’s good to know I’m not alone in my ordeal.

  • Jenny Jun 14, 2017

    I too found out that I had a trigger to onions whether raw or cooked. However, I haven’t had an issue with using onion powder. One Thanksgiving my husband prepared, overnight, a fireman turkey, for our dinner the next day. Lots and lots of garlic. It triggered a migraine for me. I don’t use much of it when I use it. I also found that I had a migraine triggered after devouring an avocado. It’s amazing how many people have migraines from the foods we eat. MSG is another item that triggers headaches, and also severe dizzy spells for me. Glad to know we have all found out about this trigger and are more migraine free!! Happy days ahead!!

  • Donald Jul 28, 2017

    I suffered with migraines for many years and thought it was a result of over work during the week that provoked headache when I take it easy.
    But when I ate a large amount of onion rings one Friday evening and had a headache in a matter of hours. I felt instantly that it was as a result of something in the onion rings so I read the label and Tyramine caught my attention but it was until yesterday,I came home after work and warmed some onions that I wanted with my dinner. And by midnight I woke up to these terrible headaches That lasted until the next morning I then figured it is from the onions so I looked it up and saw that onions contains Tyramine just as does the onion rings

  • Reneé Aug 28, 2017

    I’ve noticed for years that eating onions most often tends to give me horrible headaches including the ever popular migraine but I never thought much about it. Today while eating a veggie salad of cucumber, red, green, and purple peppers, cherry tomatoes, and raw red onion I asked my mother if onions gave her a headache. She gave me an odd look and said they didn’t so then my search was on. I landed at many pages that helped prove that its not all in my head (pun intended, lol)! Glad to know I’m not going off the rails! I’ll still eat them as they are one of my favorite veggies and I’ll still take my excedrin to get rid of the headaches…I’m just glad that I’m not the only one!

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