Garlic & Headaches: Can Garlic Give You a Headache?

3 cloves of garlic on the floor. Can garlic cause headaches

The question asked in the title is ” Can garlic give you a headache?”. And, the short answer is, yes.

Garlic – especially raw garlic – may give you a headache, depending on many factors such as your medical condition.

Though, if you often experience headaches after consuming garlic, you wouldn’t be too surprised to hear this unexpected side effect.

On the other hand, the fact that garlic is a potential headache trigger can easily surprise a great number of people.

This is because garlic has been recognized for its health benefits for centuries around the world and modern medicine acknowledges many healing properties of garlic  (1, 2, 3)

If you are one of those who are surprised to hear this potential side effect of garlic, then how about the following facts;

  • Broccoli may increase the risk of developing blood clots (in people who are on blood thinners).
  • Bananas can trigger headaches (especially in people with migraines).
  • Dried fruits may cause insomnia ( if eaten in large quantities ).
  • Spinach may trigger kidney stones formation (in those who are prone to it).

The reason for giving these examples is to remind you that even foods that normally offer a variety of health benefits can cause some side effects. Though their health benefits can easily override their minor side effects.

The same thing should apply to garlic. Yes, garlic may cause headaches in some people. However, it doesn’t change the fact that garlic is indeed a very healthy herb and is consumed throughout the world, sometimes as alternative medicine.

Garlic and Headaches

It is suggested in the previous section that eating garlic may cause headaches in some people with certain medical conditions.

What is the basis of this claim? Are there scientific studies that have something to say about this issue?

Do medical doctors and board-certified nutritionists as well agree to the fact that garlic is a potential headache trigger?

Well, this is exactly what we are going to do in the rest of the article. We are going to look at the evidence that will tell us whether garlic is innocent or guilty when it comes to headaches.

 

Facts About Headaches

Before diving into the relationship between garlic and headaches, let’s look at a couple of headache facts that can help us understand the relationship between garlic and headache more profoundly.

  • According to WHO; half of the world’s adult population is estimated to suffer from headaches (4).
  • According to Harvard Health Publishing; scientists do not know the exact cause of most headaches (5).
  • The Cleveland Clinic reports that; there are more than 150 types of headaches and they fall into two main categories; primary and secondary headaches (6).
  • According to Mayo Clinic; a primary headache is not related to an underlying disease. Certain factors such as stress, poor posture, certain foods or lack of sleep can trigger a primary headache (7).

Summary of this section: Headaches are a very common health problem and in some cases, even scientists don’t know what causes them. Sometimes the cause can be as simple as stress, consumption of certain foods ( such as garlic ) or lack of sleep.

 

How Does Garlic Trigger Headache In some Individuals?

In this section, we will review some studies and case reports that may explain how and why garlic leads some people to headaches.

 

1-) A Case Report (2014)

In a 2014 case study, the association between and migraine symptoms and garlic/onion was investigated.

A 32-year-old woman subject reported experiencing many symptoms including nausea, fatigue, palpitations, sore throat and severe headache after being exposed to onions and garlic aroma, namely; alliaceous aromas (8).


At this point, it is important to note that onions and garlic belong to the Allium genus and both of them contain alliaceous compounds.

In fact, their alliaceous content is suggested to be the main reason why these vegetables – onions and garlic are botanically considered vegetables (9) – are headache triggers for some people.


Necessary tests – such as the Quick Smell Identification Test, Brief Smell Identification Test, Magnetic Resonance Imagining, Allergy Skin Test – were carried out.

The allergy skin test was positive for garlic and onion. Moreover, neurological tests showed that the patient has Hoffman reflexes.

At the end of the study; the researchers noted that, although it’s rare, garlic aroma ( alliaceous aroma ) may cause a migraine headache with aura (8).

 

2-)  A Study on Diet and Headaches (2018)

In 2018, researchers conducted a study with the aim of determining the foods that have the potential to trigger both migraine and tension-type headaches.

The participants selected from the Southeast and the Far East Asian countries including Malaysia, China and India (10).

Twenty-five different food and drink items were given to the participants to assess how likely these given foods and drinks trigger tension-type and migraines headaches in the participants.

The results showed that; heaty foods (one of which is garlic) were the fourth most common food type that triggered headaches.

Coffee, chocolate and Monosodium glutamate foods were respectively the three most common headache triggers for the participants.

It is important to underline that there was a total of 684 participants in the study. And, each of them was suffering from either tension-type of headache or migraine headaches.

Among them, 37 participants reported experiencing headaches after consuming heaty foods, such as garlic.

If we need to draw a conclusion from this study; it should be fair to say that garlic consumption may trigger headaches in some people who are susceptible to either migraine or tension-type headaches.

 

3- ) A Report From the Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic published an article with the title “Headaches and Food”.

While the article provides valuable information about the relationship between foods and headaches, it also contains a list of foods that are heavily associated with headaches.

Garlic and onions ( both of which are members of the Allium family ) are on the list (9, 11).

As for the preparation of this list; the Cleveland Clinic notes that most of the information, used to prepare the list, came from the patient self-reports, not from scientific studies (11).

In the list, there are many food and drink items!

That indicates not only garlic but also various types of food items can trigger headaches in different individuals.

 

How to Know Whether Garlic Gives You a Headache?

Garlic may or may not be a headache trigger for you. How do you know that?

Well, it is recommended to keep a food diary to determine whether or not garlic is the culprit.

If you always or almost always get a headache in 20 minutes to 2 hours after consuming garlic, consider removing garlic from your diet for a while to see if you get headaches less frequently.

Note that many people – who think that garlic gives them headaches – blame raw garlic rather than cooked garlic for causing headaches.

 

Conclusion

Thus far we have looked at different studies and case reports to find out the potential impact of garlic on headache disorders.

What we can infer from the above-given information is that garlic can be a headache trigger for some people, especially for those who are prone to migraines.

Though the evidence says garlic doesn’t cause a migraine headache directly. It rather activates the process responsible for it.

As we saw in the first case report, sometimes even just smelling the aroma of garlic can be enough to trigger headaches, especially in migraine sufferers.

Moreover, while analysing the studies and case reports; we realised that there are also other foods reported to cause headaches in different individuals. That is to say garlic is not the only food that is associated with headaches.

That means, for some reason, some types of food and drink ( even though many of them are healthy ) can commence the process that leads to headaches.

The final verdict: There can be various reasons why you get headaches. As such, to find out the exact cause of your headaches we encourage you to work with your doctor. In doing so, you can better cope with and get rid of headaches regardless of the cause.

 


 

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