My Experiences with a Tannin-Free Diet
I am neither doctor nor scientist. This page is to explain my
personal experience and success in finally getting control over constant,
frequent migraines which I had for over twenty years. It's my belief that
millions of people may well be experiencing migraines as a direct or indirect
result of the high-tannin content of the modern American diet.
I would not be surprised if people who reduce their their tannin consumption
drastically also reduce their incidence and severity of migraine.
Further note: I am not selling anything. The purpose of these pages is to help other people who want to reduce their own migraines, and to encourage research into how tannins and other phenolics impact our health negatively.
experience is that I've reduced my own migraines by approximately 90% by
avoiding tannins. Most of the migraines I've had since I started
avoiding tannins have come after I've accidentally eaten or drunk
something that contains tannins, or if I was exposed to phenolic fumes (perfume,
paint fumes, cleaning fumes, smoke, petroleum fumes, etc.). I do sometimes
still get mild migraines a few days after my period starts, but compared to the
period-related migraines I used to get, the pain and length of these have been
It seems tannins may interfere with nutrition in humans similarly to the way it's been known for decades to interfere with nutrition in animals. (See Researcher figures out how tannins block nutrition).
My migraines started in 1973 when I was fifteen and continued until November, 1997, when I read an article in Reuters Health News, "Foods containing tannins may trigger migraines," about a Dr. Michael Mather from Toronto who found that two women who cut tannins from their diets found great relief from their migraines. Coincidentally, I had stopped drinking my usual daily cup of black tea a week before I'd read the article, and earlier that day had wondered why I was feeling so good! I had continued to take caffeine in pill form, knowing an abrupt caffeine withdrawal would surely trigger a migraine. When I saw the headline of the above article, I made the connection between stopping the tea and the fact that I hadn't had any stiff neck, ringing in the ears, or migraine pain for almost a week.
The Reuters article mentioned apple juice. At that time, I had no idea that apple juice contained tannins. In fact, I was only aware that tea and some nuts contained tannins. I began to research what other foods contained tannins. To my surprise, I learned that tannins are ubiquitous in the food supply, and that most herbal remedies (several of which I'd tried over the years in hopes of reducing my migraines) contained tannins. I searched the web for information on tannins and what foods, drinks, herbs, and spices contained these chemicals. I researched agricultural articles in the local university's library, and ordered agricultural books on interlibrary loan. The list I created of foods to avoid is here. It's been over a year and a half now that I've cut these foods out of my diet, and even though I did miss some of them at first (pizza!! - the oregano contains tannins; the crust may contain barley flour, which is high in tannins), I find I hardly miss them anymore at all. I know I definitely don't miss the migraines.
twelve years earlier, I had tried to reduce my migraines by adopting a natural,
vegetarian, healthy diet. At least the diet I adopted was thought by
nutritionists to be healthy. I was very disappointed when my migraines did
not cease; they didn't even decrease. I did NOT go back to the junk-food
diet I'd had before, since I did realize some healthy benefits from avoiding
meats, milk and the highly-processed, additive- and sugar-laden things I used to
Keeping the vegetarian/seafood diet (with NO processed or dyed foods) that I have had for the past several years, but cutting tannins out as much as I possibly can, I have finally found great relief from migraines and feel I have control over my life!
It is very difficult to recognize a connection between migraines and tannins until you stop eating tannin-containing foods. This is one of the most difficult things to explain to people. I have heard, time and again, "I drank apple juice the other day and didn't get a migraine, so tannins must not bother me." That's not always how it works. If tannins do lead to your migraines, it is often not an immediate reaction (though in many cases it is). Sometimes a migraine doesn't show up until the next day. On some days, perhaps when your neurotransmitter levels are high, you may not get a migraine from tannin-containing foods at all. Tannins appear to decrease overall health. Even if they don't immediately trigger a migraine, tannins may be making you much more susceptible to migraines from other triggers.
It appears there is a threshold where "triggers" (including stress, certain weather conditions, loud noises, perhaps hormonal levels, bright lights, perhaps vasoactive foods, etc.) in addition to tannins and other phenolics, lead to migraine. My experience has been that after cutting tannins from my diet, other triggers don't bother me as much anymore. I can't control the weather or my hormonal fluctuations and I have a hard time controlling stress. But I CAN control what foods I eat.
The fact that tannins are ubiquitous in the food supply and in many fumes, and the fact that tannins are the chemicals in common in most classic migraine triggers, lead me to believe tannins are some of the biggest migraine triggers around.
Good luck!! And please contact either Michael Mather or me if you find you are helped by this information. We want very much to understand the relationship between tannins and migraines, and your experience will help us and other migraine sufferers tremendously!
Sept. 1999: In addition to possible chemical sensitivity
problems, tannins (because they are natural antibacterials)
may interfere with the "friendly bacteria" in the gut, thus reducing
nutrient absorption. This may explain
why multiple health problems cleared up when I stopped eating tannin-containing
foods. Besides a reduction in migraines, I have also found much relief from
insomnia, anxiety, and gastro-intestinal disorders (no more gas!!)
since reducing tannins. My nails grow more quickly and are healthier, and my
hair grows thicker, fuller and faster. I feel healthier and happier.
I seem to be much less susceptible to colds (haven't had any, knock wood, since
I stopped eating tannins. I used to get them whenever a cold was shared
among my coworkers). It seems that before, even though I may have eaten
very well, the nutrients from my food were not being absorbed wholly and
efficiently into my bloodstream. Now that my body is finally getting the
nutrients it needs to run correctly, it is.
To increase friendly bacteria in the gut, I take probiotics three times a day between meals. (I use Solgar's Multi-Billion Dophilus capsules).
It is important to not eat too much sugar! Yeast likes sugar, and if you have an overgrowth of yeast in the gut, your "friendly" bacteria will be crowded out and nutrient absorption is lowered.
Birth-control pills also interfere with the good bacteria in the gut.
I do not know whether the bacterial problem is the only problem I had/have, or if I have also developed a chemical sensitivity to phenolics (most likely it's both).
Last updated Tuesday, January 08, 2002