How Durians (and Other Foods) Affect Migraines

If you've been taking serious advantage of durian season, you may want to read this.

Experienced by many, migraines remain a mystery to the best of us. We get a neurologist to help shed light on the migraine myths put forward by you.


1. Certain foods (like cheese and durian) can trigger migraines

TRUE. But this is highly individualised. “For example, I am a migraineur myself and I eat cheese and tons of chocolates without getting an attack BUT I can’t take more than two pieces of durian!” says Professor Dato Dr Raymond Azman Ali, senior consultant neurologist, dean and Medical Faculty director at the UKM Medical Centre. “Durians contain amines, and these cause vasodilatation. Any food or drugs that cause vasodilatation may precipitate an attack. These include wine, peanuts and drugs like nitrates for angina and calcium channel blockers for hypertension.”


2. Certain foods (like ginger and drinking mineralised soda) can help relieve migraines

FALSE. “I always say that ‘customers are always right until proven otherwise’. Although this statement is not proven, I will advise my patients to go ahead with whatever they feel they should take or avoid,” Raymond adds.


3. Women are more likely than men to suffer from migraines

TRUE. It is estimated that about five per cent of men and 12-16 per cent of women in the world suffer from migraine.


4. Getting  caught in the rain will bring on a migraine later

FALSE. It only applies to some people in some countries. Patients have reported getting attacks from being out in a light drizzle but not from being in heavy rain. It depends on the individual and the environment.


5. An impaired vision or astigmatism can cause migraines

TRUE. Astigmatism is much more likely than myopia to precipitate attacks. But watching TV and computer screens too long for anyone with migraine (even with normal eyesight) is most likely to start an attack.


6. Migraines can go on for days despite taking painkillers

TRUE. The International Headache Society has included a duration of four hours to three days as one of the criteria for the diagnosis of migraine. Attacks in many patients are not even relieved by simple analgesics like paracetamol or aspirin.


7. Migraines are the same as incredibly painful headaches 

PARTLY TRUE. Migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches are all  ‘primary’ headaches with no known cause for these headaches. In terms of pain severity, tension headaches are considered mild and migraines are considered severe. But cluster headaches are the most severe and almost exclusively seen in middle-aged men.


8. At least 10 hours of sleep is required to prevent migraines

FALSE.  Although sleep deprivation can often precipitate migraine attacks, so can too much sleep. A healthy range is six to eight hours of sleep each day.


9. Sunglasses will help reduce the occurrence of migraines

TRUE. Sunglasses and a hat or umbrella are recommended when out in the sun. When you’re sensitive to light, it can trigger or aggravate a migraine.


10. The pain from migraines can spread to the back of the eyes and cause vomiting

TRUE. Vomiting is one of the criteria mentioned by The International Headache Society. The attacks often start from the back of one eye.