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Salmon is one fish high in fatty acids. Claudia Totir/Getty Images
  • Researchers say a diet that contains fatty acids found in certain fish can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
  • Salmon, tuna, and sardines contain higher levels of these fatty acids.
  • For people who don’t care much for fish, experts recommend adding a little fish to your regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections.

If you’re living with migraine, you might want to consider consuming more fatty fish as well as krill oils.

That’s according to a new study published in the BMJ measuring the effects of diet on migraine frequency and severity in 182 U.S. participants over 16 weeks.

Women made up the majority (88 percent) of participants. The average age of participants was 38. The subjects averaged 5 to 20 migraine attacks per month with 67 percent meeting the criteria for chronic migraine.

Participants were grouped into one of three diet groups.

The H3 diet (increased EPA+DHA fatty acids), the H3-L6 diet (increased EPA+DHA fatty acids and reduced linoleic acid), or the control diet (average U.S. intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids).

These fatty acids are already known as precursors to your body’s natural pain signals.

Researchers said the H3 and H3-L6 diets have the potential to decrease the number of migraine headache hours per day as well as moderate to severe headache hours per day compared with the control diet.

Improvements in headache frequency in the H3-L6 group were greater than those in the H3 group, suggesting additional benefits from lowering dietary omega-6 linoleic acid.

Fatty acids or oxylipins are the building blocks or chains of fat in our bodies.

They provide structure in cell membranes and energy. There are approximately 20 different types of fatty acids in foods alone.

Fatty acids fall into four categories:

  • saturated
  • trans fats
  • monounsaturated
  • polyunsaturated, including omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA+DHA

Generally, these are further grouped into fats that increase cardiovascular risk factors (trans fats and saturated fats) and those with heart-protective and anti-inflammatory properties (unsaturated fats).

“The overused cliché ‘You are what you eat’ stands to be true,” says Bianca Kamhi, the founder of Living With Bianca as well as a certified holistic health and accountability coach in New York City.

Kamhi says she wasn’t surprised to learn about the therapeutic potential of suggested amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

“This should open the floodgates to see how natural remedies and dietary changes can be utilized just as much as Eastern medications in order to help alleviate migraine,” she told Healthline.

When fish eat phytoplankton, they synthesize and store the consumed fatty acids in their tissues. When you eat fish, you eat these synthesized fatty acids.

This means the amount of omega-3s in the fish in your diet is dependent on what the fish eat.

Kamhi shares the following good sources of DHA and EPA:

  • fish, especially cold-water fatty fish, such as:
    • salmon
    • mackerel
    • tuna
    • herring
    • sardines
  • fish oils
  • krill oils

Kamhi suggests starting with your everyday meals and adding fatty fish to them.

“If you normally have eggs and toast for breakfast, add sardines as a spread onto your toast,” she said. “Salad at lunch can easily be elevated with a piece of grilled fish or tuna scooped on top of it. If you want to have a bowl of pasta at dinner, throw some grilled salmon into the pasta.”

Kamhi says the following fish have more than 1,000 milligrams (mg) of omega-3s per 4 ounces (oz.) cooked:

  • salmon
  • anchovies
  • sardines
  • trout

Fish with around 500 to 1,000 mg of omega-3s per 4 oz. include:

  • albacore tuna
  • mussels
  • squid
  • sea bass
  • walleye

Fish with fewer than 250 mg of omega-3s per 4 oz. include:

  • shrimp
  • mahi mahi
  • lobster
  • scallops
  • tilapia
  • cod

“Other fish and shellfish also provide some omega-3s, just smaller amounts per serving,” Kamhi said.