As Americans we live in a culture where packaged foods is more common than not. The food industry is always looking for ways to increase shelf life and reduce cost. The additives that accomplish these goals affect some of us differently than others. Sodium nitrate and nitrite are added to meats to preserve the color and decrease bacterial growth. Sodium nitrite is used in the curing process to slow the development of botulism, add flavor, keep the meat pink, and increase shelf life. Sodium nitrate is converted to sodium nitrite in our bodies and fights botulism. Both nitrate and nitrite create nitrosamines when combined with protein rich foods which leads to cell damage in our bodies.
What does all this have to do with migraines? I realize cancer and migraines are too very different things but apparently the culprit in both cases are believed to have something to do with nitrates and nitrites--not necessarily hot dogs. When we consume these preservatives nitrite becomes nitric oxide. Nitric oxide binds hemoglobin (iron-containing oxygen-carrying protein in our blood). Once bound to our hemoglobin it decreases the amount of oxygen that hemoglobin can carry. Nitric oxide is also a vasodilator. It causes blood vessels to enlarge and dilate. When this dilation occurs in the blood vessels in our heads it can trigger a migraine. There is also a theory that the nitric oxide stimulates the release of calcitonin, a hormone that affects the nerves in brain vessels.