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Headaches and MigraineMigraine Treatments

Stress, Hunger, and Headache

This study evaluated two recognized headache triggers—hunger and stress. The study participants were 56 students who had suffered from both migraines and tension-type headaches for at least six months.

The researchers created four different test scenarios for the patients: stress, with no food; stress, with food; no stress, food; and no stress, no food. The 56 subjects were randomly assigned to one of the test groups.

When testing the triggers separately, 58% of the food-deprived subjects reported headaches. Previous studies had associated hunger with migraines, yet this study found that hunger can also trigger tension-type headaches. In fact, the researchers measured forehead EMG levels, and found that the “no food” patients had significantly elevated EMG readings.

The researchers found that stress was indeed a potent trigger for headache—93% of subjects reported the start or a worsening of headache symptoms during the “stress, with food” experiment.

Martin P, Seneviratne H. Effects of food deprivation and a stressor on head pain. Health Psychology 1997; 16(4): 310-318.

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Updated 06/02/2020