One of the most challenging questions I get in my coaching practice is the issue of how to incorporate acidic foods into the diet.  Those who are avoiding fermented foods on a low histamine diet while healing their underlying mineral imbalances will need to avoid all fermented foods including vinegar – making it difficult to eat salads without a good tart salad dressing. 

The natural, unfermented alternative to vinegar is lemon juice.  We know lemon juice offers good astringency for supporting the liver, and that fruits – especially citrus – are amazing lymphatic cleansers.  Yet most migraineurs are also sensitive to citrus fruits, so it leaves the issue of how to dress your salads a difficult one to solve.

So why is it that so many people with migraine are sensitive to acidic foods – from tomato sauce to vinegar to orange juice? It’s easy – and tempting – to look at the individual compounds in these foods and point the finger.  In the case of tomato sauce, we know that tomatoes (especially when cooked down) are full of naturally-occuring glutamates (ie, MSG).  And certainly that’s playing a role in why they are a trigger.  In the case of vinegar, this will be a trigger because it is aged – and full of salycilates.  Salycilates can be especially hard to tolerate for those who have a history of taking NSAIDs containing salycilic acid, the overuse of which can lead to salycilate intolerance.  Octopamine is another compound found in citrus that is sometimes seen as the culprit in citrus sensitivity.

But I’m suggesting more is going on here.  Perhaps its the acidity of these foods in general that’s problematic.

I have a theory about why acidic foods – and citric acid and acetic acids in citrus, tomatoes, and vinegar – trigger migraine.  It’s just a theory, but I think it’s highly plausible.  And it explains why some migraineurs are sometimes more triggered by acidic foods at certain times of the month than at others.  And – you guessed it – it has to do with copper.

Copper, Ceruloplasmin, and Acidity

Copper is one of my most beloved minerals for healing migraine – especially in fast oxidizers truly deficient in copper. But it can be very problematic for those who have migraine because of elevated tissue copper, low bioavailable copper, and zinc deficiency (especially in slow oxidizers). 

Copper is vitally needed to prevent migraine because it’s used by the body to form connective tissue in the epithelium of the blood vessels, to regulate estrogen, and to modulate bile flow in the liver.  In order to do these important things, it has to be bioavailable – ie, attached to the enzyme ceruloplasmin, rather than free-floating in the bloodstream. The problem is that acids, including citric acid, acetic acid, and even ascorbic acid as vitamin C, reduce ceruloplasmin.

Now think of a copper penny.  What’s the easiest way to clean it? Dip it in acid.  This removes the oxidized portion of copper.  I believe the same thing happens in your body when you eat acidic foods – the acidity, in this case in the form of citric and other acids in citrus, causes a break in the bond between copper and the enzyme that makes it bioavailable (ceruloplasmin). The breaking of this bond causes the copper to oxidize and go into solution – ie, into your bloodstream.

This would not be such a problem for someone with a healthy liver and adrenals, who is able to produce plenty of ceruloplasmin.  But for those who are compromised in this area and already have low ceruloplasmin and high free (unbound) copper in their blood, this added acidity could be further degrading to the small amount of copper that is bound to ceruloplasmin – resulting in more damaging free copper, less bioavailable copper getting to the cells to make ATP (cellular energy), and weaker enzyme function for the enzymes that break down histamine.

The cascade effect of acidic foods . . .

As I mentioned already, free copper (ie, unbound copper) is a problem, as too much of it stresses the adrenals and exhausts the liver, which is really cause for concern because it is these two organs that initiate and produce ceruloplasmin in the first place. This increase in unbound copper will not only damage these organs but also cause excessive inflammation in the body from oxidative stress, harming mitochondrial function. 

The same thing can happen with ascorbic acid – ie, synthetic vitamin C. While ascorbic acid is a mast-cell stabilizer (preventing the excessive release of histamine from mast cells), it is also known to reduce copper on a cellular level. That’s why I ONLY recommend taking whole food vitamin C (I use Radiant Life brand).  This form of C is not as acidic, and it also contains naturally-occuring copper.

In summary . . .

I believe that the conditions under which someone (yes, usually a woman) may be more triggered by citrus are those in which ceruloplasmin is low, and free copper is high. For women, this is in the second half of the menstrual cycle, and especially during menstruation (for more info read my blog post on copper zinc balance). So, women need to be more cautious about eating acidic foods in the second half of their moon cycle. 

For those who are “copper toxic” (ie, have a larger body burden of biounavailable copper stored in tissues), citrus and acidic foods will more consistently cause a reaction at any time of the month until the underlying mineral imbalances are dealt with. 

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Migraine Relief Coaching with Marya

For the past 3 years, Marya has been helping those with chronic migraine to clear their head, heal their digestion, regain their energy, and transform their lives using simple plant and mineral solutions.


The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.