Migraine and Tannin

How to avoid tannins and prevent migraines

If you should decide to try to change what you eat so as to avoid tannins, here is some help.

Be Careful

But first, we would remind you to read our cautions first.

Second, we would encourage you to read this page completely, and probably several times, before starting. There are some important points to notice.

Third, you will not be free of migraines immediately. It may be a few weeks until you know that the problem has been solved. But you should begin to feel better quite soon.

Fourth, we are also concerned that you may try out this idea and it fail for you. Even though the idea is a good one, the failure may prevent you trying it again and making it work. We try to warn of such pitfalls when we are aware of them. Please be careful.

Deciding what to avoid

What foods contain tannins? The most significant seem to be apple juice, tea, coffee, chocolate, many alcoholic drinks, and nuts. Note that apple juice is part of many fruit drinks. (Read the label. Many other foods contain tannins.) See foods that contain tannin.

Whether the small list above is enough will depend on how sensitive you are. And, of course, you may not know that yet. So, it is up to you what you try. (As we get more experience, we will make better lists. Don't forget to tell us how it works out for you.)

You should also stay off MSG (monosodium glutamate) which occurs frequently in Chinese food, but also many other foods. Read the label. Also avoid artificial sweetners, such as in diet drinks. (If you are diabetic, read our cautions again.)

Eliminating tannins is not like eliminating something you are allergic to. You do not need to eliminate all tannins. (You couldn't anyway.) You just need to eliminate the main ones.

Trying the diet

So, decide on a list of foods that you will avoid. Then avoid them until you would normally have had three or four migraines, and see what happens. (If your migraines are very irregular, you may want to adapt this idea as best you can.)

We must warn you of one possibility. If you were consuming a lot of tea, coffee or chocolate, they also contain caffeine. (There may also be caffeine in painkillers that you are taking. Read the label.) By stopping these you have stopped your caffeine intake suddenly. That may cause a caffeine withdrawal migraine. You have to cope with this caffeine withdrawal migraine before you can see what is happening with your regular migraines.

There are several possible ways to deal with caffeine withdrawal migraines. One is to just treat it like any other migraine you have had, and wait it out. Another is to substitute a source of caffeine which does not have tannin. Cola drinks (but not diet colas) may be suitable, though certainly not if you are diabetic. A third is to withdraw slowly from these foods.

If there is no improvement, you may not have this tannin sensitivity. In that case, we are very sorry for having raised your hopes and then disappointed you. We sympathise with you, and wish you luck with searching for another solution.

It is also possible that you could succeed by trying harder or longer. That is up to you to find out.

Adjusting your diet

You are likely to have less migraines, but still some. That is what is expected, and is good news. You will probably now find that, each time you do have a migraine, you can identify precisely which food caused it, and add it to your list of what to avoid.

If you are a woman, you may still get a migraine with your period. It is probably best to just not count it for the moment. If you can be migraine-free for the rest of the month, consider that success for now.

In the end, you may be completely free of migraines. That is wonderful. If you still get some migraines, you may have to look for a different cause. But remember that you would probably have had no chance of finding that other cause if you had not already made such a good improvement.


There seems to be an indication that our bodies do need to have some tannins. Some people have reported cravings for tannins if they eliminate them too well. Then they go on a binge and end up with a migraine.

One person that we know likes to have a week cup of tea daily. However, some times she begins to get pressure behind one eye as though a migraine is coming on. She stops the tea for a few days, and the migraine does not happen.

Finally, don't forget to pass on any lessons you have learned that could be useful to others.

© Michael Mather 1998.

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