Links between migraine and cane sugar

Jan 20


Joy Healey

Joy Healey

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Migraine has often been linked to food intolerances. This article considers one of the substances often considered a culprit. But is the link an intolerance, or is there another problem?


One of the common food triggers identified by the 1979 Lancet study on food intolerance and migraine,Links between migraine and cane sugar Articles was cane sugar(1).

The correlation between migraines and cane sugar or refined sugar consumption has been exhaustively covered in many migraine forums, and sugar remains on the top ten most wanted list for migraine triggers. One German biochemist claims to have cured himself, and others, of migraine just by avoiding cane sugar(2).

Sugar sensitivity is not always strictly an allergy - however, often the connection between migraine and sugar is actually that the sufferer's blood sugar is either too high or too low. Diabetics report severe migraines in cases of a "dump" of sugar into the system, supporting the fact that migraines can be triggered by sugar, even if it is not due to a 'sensitivity' as the term is commonly used. Hypoglycemic patients report even more instances(3).

One Italian study compared insulin sensitivity in 30 patients with migraine with 15 healthy comparison subjects. When given a high-sugar drink, participants were monitored for changes in previously stable blood sugar levels. Migraine patients' levels remained much higher than those of comparison subjects for up to 3 hours after the test, and other indicators showed that insulin sensitivity was impaired in the migraine group(4).

An interesting point to be made relates cane sugar sensitivity to reports of migraines caused by MSG. The flavor enhancer and meat tenderizer, widely found in many foods, but most commonly associated with "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome", has long been thought to be a culprit in the migraine trigger family. Many people do not know that MSG is commonly made using cane sugar, so it's quite feasible for it to be a migraine trigger(5).

If sugar can be deleted from the diet for a period of two to four weeks, then reintroduced in a controlled test, then it may be possible to pinpoint if it is causing a problem. Recording levels of blood sugar and plotting them against migraine attacks could be an interesting exercise. Like any food sensitivity, cravings for the trigger often occur, and rebound migraine is also a possibility.

Research by Grace Alexander


(1) Food, Allergies and Migraine. Grant ECG, Lancet, May 5, 1979;966-969. 37344

(2) Low R. Migraine. New York: Henry Holt. 1987

(3) Byer, JA and Dexter, JD, Hypoglycemic migraine, Mo. Med., 72, 194, 1974

(4) SOURCE: Cephalalgia, August 2005.

(5) Is MSG Causing Your Headaches? C. Young, LifeScript, Pub. June 23, 2008