It appears that eating garlic — especially raw garlic — may cause headaches in some people with migraines.
According to a case report though, not only eating garlic but also smelling its aroma (scent) may induce headaches in some migraine patients.
In this article, we’ll discuss the potential connection between garlic and headaches.
Facts About Headaches
Before diving into the relationship between garlic and headaches, let’s touch on some facts about headaches.
- Research shows that around 16% of the world’s population may experience headaches every day.
- The Cleveland Clinic reports that there are more than 150 types of headaches and they fall into two main categories; primary and secondary headaches.
- According to the 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 may trigger a primary headache.
- Harvard Health Publishing reveals that doctors do not fully understand the causes of most headaches.
Summary: Headaches are a very common health problem and in some cases, even doctors don’t know what causes them. Sometimes the cause can be as simple as stress, lack of sleep or consumption of certain foods such as watermelon, garlic, avocados, bananas, chocolate or coffee.
Garlic and Headaches
The health benefits of garlic need no introduction. Modern science confirms that garlic consumption may contribute to one’s health in several ways.
That said, garlic — as other foods do — may also cause some side effects in some individuals.
While garlic has some side effects that an average person is likely to be aware of, such as bad breath and heartburn, hearing that garlic may trigger headaches may come as a surprise to many people.
Headache is not a common adverse effect of garlic and appears to affect a very small number of people!
It is important to note that the connection between garlic and headache stems from mostly patient-self reports not from randomized scientific studies.
MedicalNewsToday points out that garlic intolerance may bring about some symptoms, and headaches are one of them.
How Might Garlic Cause a Headache?
“There are multiple foods that are thought to possibly trigger a migraine attack. Nearly all foods have been generated by patient self-reports and almost none have any scientifically valid backing from high-quality studies,” says the American Migraine Foundation.
This certainly applies to garlic as well!
Patient self-reports tell us that garlic is a potential headache trigger for some individuals.
However, there are no high-quality studies that can clearly explain in what way garlic leads to headaches. There are some theories though:
- According to one theory, the alliaceous aromas (such as garlic and onion) may increase cerebral blood flow and thus may trigger migraines.
- Another theory suggests that garlic odour may stimulate some receptors of the trigeminal nerve, leading to headaches.
So the exact mechanism by which garlic consumption or aroma triggers headaches in some susceptible individuals is unclear.
In the rest of the article, we’ll look at the reliable reports in which garlic indicated as a potential headache trigger.
A Report From the Cleveland Clinic
The Cleveland Clinic published an article titled “Headaches and Food”.
While the article provides valuable information on the relationship between foods and headaches, it also contains a list showing the foods associated with headaches the most.
Garlic and onions ( both of them are members of the Allium family ) are on the 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.
In addition to garlic, the list contains a variety of foods. That means, not only garlic but also many other foods/beverages may trigger headaches in some susceptible individuals.
The article indicates that about 20% of headache patients are thought to be food sensitive.
A Study on Diet & Headaches
In 2018, researchers conducted a study with the aim of determining the foods that have the potential to trigger either migraine or tension headaches.
684 Malaysian participants from 3 different ethnic backgrounds ( Chinese, Indians and Malays ) took part in the study.
All the participants were suffering from either migraine headaches or tension types of headaches.
A list containing 25 types of foods and drink items was given to the participants, and they were requested to identify the headache triggers.
As per the results; heaty foods (such as garlic) were the fourth most common dietary triggers. To be more precise; 37 participants out of 684 believe that heaty foods are headache triggers for them.
Coffee, chocolate and Monosodium glutamate added foods were respectively the three most common headache triggers for the participants.
Garlic May Cause Headaches, Says UC Berkeley
In 2014, the University of California, Berkeley published a report about headaches.
The report touches upon almost every detail about migraines and contains a list showing potential dietary triggers for migraine patients.
Raw garlic, along with onion, appears on the list as a potential dietary trigger!
The report notes that “Food triggers do not necessarily contribute to migraines in all individuals, and particular foods may trigger attacks in certain people only on occasion“.
How to Know Whether Garlic Gives You a Headache
The American Migraine Foundation suggests that migraine patients should try to identify potential food triggers for them, and then limit their consumption.
If you suspect that garlic gives you a headache, you may want to try an elimination diet.
Here is how it works;
Remove garlic from your diet for a while and assess your migraine symptoms. Then slowly reintroduce garlic to your diet. If the symptoms return or worsen, garlic might be a headache trigger for you.
Alternatively, you can keep a food diary. If you consistently experience a headache 20 to 120 minutes after eating garlic, it may signify that garlic is a trigger for you.
Note that, in general, raw garlic is associated with headaches.
There are no studies that show a black-and-white correlation between garlic and headaches.
However, patient reports tell us that garlic — one of the allium vegetables — may lead to headaches, especially in some migraine patients.
You may find out whether garlic gives you a headache by keeping a food diary or eliminating this healthy herb from your diet for a while.
Having said that, as always, working with a medical professional is the best way to solve or manage a medical condition.
So, we highly recommend you work with your doctor if you suffer from migraines, or experience headaches on a regular basis.
Remember, unmanaged migraines can severely impact your quality of life and may lead to certain health problems.
There is a claim that says garlic is good for headaches as well as ear pain and ear infections. We found no scientific study that proves that garlic may relieve headaches.
On the contrary, raw garlic is associated with headaches as we discussed deeply in this article.