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Heal Your Headache
Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain

By David Buchholz, M.D.
(Workman Publishing, 2002)

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Is Soy a Trigger for Migraine?

By David Buchholz, M.D.
Neurologist and author of Heal Your Headache The truth is, I’m not exactly sure. You won’t find tofu, soy sauce or other soy products on my list of items to avoid, but they often appear on other, similar lists. It’s the single dietary issue I’ve struggled with the most, going back and forth in my mind as I wander up and down supermarket aisles and listen to patients’ observations in my office, trying to decide whether these items are trouble or not.

Soy sauce contains tyramine, and some soy sauces also list MSG; these are both ingredients to be avoided. Watch out for miso and the fermented soybean cake called tempeh, both of which are prepared by processes involving hydrolysis (breakdown) of soy protein, which liberates . Soy burgers are usually loaded with MSG (without which thMSGey wouldn’t taste like much). I also worry about dietary protein supplements—liquid mixtures, powders and low-carbohydrate energy bars—that contain soy protein concentrate (or isolate). Stay away from these highly processed (or “refined”) soy derivatives; you may be relatively safe with the more natural, straightforward items such as soy milk (but not cheese or yogurt), soy flour and tofu (as long as it’s not flavored with some other culprit). As far as I can figure, soy oil is safe. But even plain old soybeans contain tyramine.

Soy isoflavones are so-called phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) taken in tablet form for their alleged estrogen-like effects. I haven’t noticed any obvious problem among my migraine patients doing so, at least not yet. But if these substances really act like estrogen, then it wouldn’t surprise me. If you do consume soy in one form or another and can’t get rid of your headaches, or you try a soy product and your headaches worsen, don’t be surprised . . . and do avoid it.

Excerpted from Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain Copyright © 2002 by David Buchholz. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York. All Rights Reserved.

David Buchholz graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and for 14 years served as director of the Neurological Consultation Clinic at Johns Hopkins, where he remains an associate professor. He has published more than 150 scientific publications and has given over 450 invited lectures national and internationally.


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