Stress, Hunger, and Headache

This study evaluated two recognized headache triggers—hunger and stress. The study participants were 56 students who had suffered from both migraines and tension-type headaches for at least six months.

The researchers created four different test scenarios for the patients: stress, with no food; stress, with food; no stress, food; and no stress, no food. The 56 subjects were randomly assigned to one of the test groups.

When testing the triggers separately, 58% of the food-deprived subjects reported headaches. Previous studies had associated hunger with migraines, yet this study found that hunger can also trigger tension-type headaches. In fact, the researchers measured forehead EMG levels, and found that the "no food" patients had significantly elevated EMG readings.

The researchers found that stress was indeed a potent trigger for headache—93% of subjects reported the start or a worsening of headache symptoms during the "stress, with food" experiment.

Martin P, Seneviratne H. Effects of food deprivation and a stressor on head pain. Health Psychology 1997; 16(4): 310-318.