Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

Can Sugar Cause Migraine Attacks? What You Need to Know

Managing Migraine

March 29, 2024

Content created for the Bezzy community and sponsored by our partners. Learn More

Photography by Westend61/Getty Images

Photography by Westend61/Getty Images

by Katie Mannion


Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO


by Katie Mannion


Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO


Too much or too little sugar can trigger migraine. Learning your triggers through tracking can help manage sugar-related symptoms. Learn how.

Sugar — or, more accurately, added sugar — has a reputation for contributing to a whole host of health-related issues. These can include weight gain, inflammation, and headaches.

For those with migraine, that last one probably gave you some pause. But, as all migraineurs know, there’s a big difference between migraine and headache.

So, can too much sugar also cause migraine attacks?

Read on to learn more about the connection between sugar and migraine.

Join the free Migraine community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

Can eating sugar cause migraine?

Can eating too much sugar contribute to migraine attacks? Yes, but it’s a little more complicated.

According to neurologist Dr. Steve Allder, sugar can be a contributing factor for migraine attacks in some people, but it’s not necessarily the sugar itself.

Food cravings and meal skipping

“Rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar levels, inflammation, and potential interactions with neurotransmitters are among the mechanisms linking sugar to migraine,” he says.

Consuming higher levels of sugar can also cause dehydration, another migraine trigger.

However, when it comes to sugar and migraine, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario.

Research from 2021 found that craving sugar is often a symptom in the prodrome stage of migraine. Stress, fluctuating hormones, and neurotransmitter imbalances can all cause sugar cravings in the premonitory phase, says Allder.

Along with premonitory food cravings, one 2021 study found that many migraineurs listed skipping meals as a symptom in the prodrome phase. Eating sugary foods would lead to higher blood sugar levels, while skipping meals would lead to lower blood sugar levels, both of which can trigger headaches.

Grains and sugar

Another 2021 study of 90 people with migraine and 62 without migraine found that those with migraine had a diet higher in refined grains and added sugar compared to those without migraine. However, that same study didn’t find any differences when it came to migraine frequency or severity.

Estrogen and serotonin

Allder also notes that estrogen can trigger migraine and lead to certain cravings, such as chocolate or other sugary foods. Serotonin is another key neurotransmitter that plays a role in migraine and can cause sugar cravings.

Again, it’s unclear if eating excess sugar or skipping meals is the catalyst for migraine or if these actions are more like a warning sign that a migraine is already underway.

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

Can eating sugar cause regular headaches?

Too much sugar can certainly lead to a headache, but so can too little sugar. The relationship between sugar and headaches comes down to glucose levels.

Glucose is a simple sugar that’s broken down by your body and converted into energy. We all have a certain amount of glucose in our bloodstream at all times, also known as blood sugar. That level can increase or decrease depending on what you eat.

Eating foods that contain a lot of added sugar causes a spike in blood sugar levels, whereas fasting for an extended period of time will cause a drop.

Rapid changes in blood sugar can lead to headaches.


According to the World Health Organization, normal fasting blood sugar levels are between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Doctors typically take this reading after fasting for 8 hours to get a stable baseline since your blood sugar naturally fluctuates throughout the day. Levels that deviate from that norm can indicate hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia.

Hyperglycemia occurs when blood sugar is too high, with fasting blood glucose levels above 125 mg/dL. Although this is most often seen in those with diabetes, it can happen to anyone.

Older 2017 research has shown that nondiabetic hyperglycemia is especially common during stress, illness, infection, trauma, or surgery.


Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar is too low, with fasting blood glucose levels below 70 mg/dL. Again, this is typically a symptom associated with diabetes.

In fact, nondiabetic hypoglycemia is rare. Still, it does happen, most notably in response to critical illness, excessive alcohol consumption, and malnutrition.

Other causes of low blood sugar without diabetes include overexercising, taking certain medications (steroids, blood pressure medications, and some antibiotics), and weight-loss surgery.

Research from 2022 suggests that low blood sugar can trigger migraine attacks in some people. Additionally, both hyper- and hypoglycemia can cause headaches, particularly in those with diabetes.

Diabetes and headache

For most people, insulin and glucagon work to regulate blood sugar levels. However, for those with diabetes, these hormones don’t work the way they should.

There are two main types of diabetes — type 1 and type 2. Both are characterized by chronically elevated levels of blood glucose. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or isn’t able to use it effectively, therefore you can’t properly regulate blood sugar.

As you can imagine, both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can occur easily in those with diabetes, and headaches often serve as a warning sign that blood sugar levels are off.

It’s unclear if eating excess sugar or skipping meals is the catalyst for migraine or if these actions are more like a warning sign that a migraine is already underway.

How does diet affect migraine and headaches?

A 2020 review of 43 studies assessing a variety of diets noted that most of the diet interventions, like low fat and elimination diets, resulted in a decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks.

The review authors found that alcohol and caffeine were most closely associated with increased frequency of migraine attacks. They also noted that there is limited high quality evidence on diet patterns or diet‐related triggers and migraine.

A 2023 review noted that elimination diets must be personalized to achieve balance and effectiveness, and that “average-quality evidence” from one study shows that the ketogenic diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) are effective in reducing the frequency, duration, and severity of migraine headaches.

The review also noted that the gut microbiome is altered in people with migraine, though there isn’t currently research to prove the benefits of pre and probiotic use.

The link between migraine and diabetes

Research on the possible link between migraine and diabetes is mixed.

For example, a 2022 study found several overlapping factors between migraine and diabetes, including sensitivity to insulin, insulin resistance, and obesity. In addition, research has found that migraine and blood sugar disorders have similar genes at play.

Still, other studies have suggested those with diabetes — particularly type 1 diabetes — are less likely to experience migraine headaches.

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

What do sugar-related headaches feel like?

It’s not uncommon for people to experience sugar-related headaches, particularly those who have migraine or diabetes. Again, headaches can occur due to blood sugar levels being either too high or too low, and both share similarities in how they feel.

Hyperglycemia headaches, or headaches that come as a result of high blood sugar, don’t show up immediately. Rather, blood sugar levels are typically high for several days before a headache develops. Headaches due to hyperglycemia tend to get worse over time if your blood sugar remains high.

High blood sugar over an extended period of time can also cause a specific type of headache condition known as occipital neuralgia. With these headaches, people can experience continuous throbbing or sharp, shooting pain in the upper neck, head, and scalp.

Hypoglycemia headaches, or low blood sugar headaches, come on more quickly and are described as dull, throbbing headaches with pain at the temple. With low blood sugar headaches, head pain often occurs alongside other symptoms, including nausea, fatigue, and lightheadedness.

How can you find relief from sugar-related headaches?

Anyone can be affected by sugar-related headaches.

“Foods like chocolate, donuts, and other sweets can be migraine triggers for some,” says neurologist Dr. Julia Jones.

However, she cautions against eliminating dessert point-blank, as sugar isn’t the only food known to trigger migraine. Other common triggers include:

  • heavily processed meat
  • red wine
  • caffeine
  • aged cheeses
  • dried fruit

For those with migraine, it’s helpful to keep track of your symptoms in order to determine your specific migraine triggers.

Triggers can include:

  • food
  • weather changes
  • stress levels
  • hormone fluctuations (if you’re menstruating or on birth control, for example)

Try a tracking app

You can track your migraine triggers using a regular notebook. However, neurologist Julia Jones recommends Migraine Buddy, an app designed by neurologists.

If you find that sugar is a migraine trigger for you, you can employ different strategies to manage and prevent attacks.

Changing your diet can be helpful for some people, says Allder, who suggests focusing on minimizing added sugars and instead choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods to help keep blood sugar levels stable and reduce inflammation.

Other key tips include:

  • staying hydrated
  • eating five small meals throughout the day
  • taking a magnesium supplement if your doctor gives the OK
  • adding protein and fiber to meals and snacks
  • exercising regularly

Sugar-related headaches are relatively common for those with diabetes. They stem from sudden spikes or dips in blood glucose levels. People with diabetes need to take additional steps to manage their blood sugar, such as through diet, exercise, oral medications, or insulin injections.

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

When to see a doctor

If you start to experience sugar-related headaches frequently, it’s a good idea to see a doctor so they can determine if there’s an underlying condition, like diabetes or prediabetes.

For those who have diabetes, it’s important to develop a treatment plan to manage your blood sugar. That plan should be created and monitored with the help of a healthcare professional.

Regardless of whether or not you have diabetes, it’s a good idea to seek guidance from a doctor when thinking about making significant dietary changes.


Eating too much — or not enough — sugar can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This can, in turn, cause headaches.

Sweet, sugary food can also be a migraine trigger for some people. While eliminating sugar might sound like the obvious solution, that could actually end up making things worse, especially if you have an underlying blood glucose disorder.

Eating balanced meals rich in protein and nutrients is always a good idea. If you experience sugar-related headaches often, it’s beneficial to see a doctor.

In the meantime, keep track of your migraine attacks and what triggers them, and bring those notes to your appointment.

Medically reviewed on March 29, 2024

13 Sources

Join the free Migraine community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

Like the story? React, bookmark, or share below:

Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at

About the author

Katie Mannion

Katie Mannion is a freelance writer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. She works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. Through both her professional work and her writing, she’s passionate about helping people improve their health, happiness, and activities of daily living. You can follow her on Twitter.

Related stories

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you