Is there a connection between diet and migraine?
Most of us have had the occasional headache. In fact,
Migraines often last longer and have more physical effects than a common headache.
Recent studies and research suggest that tweaks to your diet could help to decrease the likelihood of even experiencing a migraine. Certain diet changes may also reduce the frequency of your migraines. Keep reading for more on how this works and what you should or shouldn’t eat.
Anyone who’s had a migraine knows that it’s quite different from getting a common headache. This is because the pain intensity is greater, and it’s accompanied by several other debilitating symptoms.
Migraine is a severe headache, usually on one side of the head and often accompanied by nausea or light sensitivity. This is due to temporary changes in the nerve conduction within the brain. Migraine causes inflammatory changes in the nerve cells that create pain.
Before a migraine begins, some people may see flashes of light or experience tingling sensations in the limbs. These flashes are referred to as aura. Other people report certain food cravings, irritability, or feelings of depression before a migraine strikes.
Once your migraine starts, you may be especially sensitive to noises or light. You may also feel nauseous and vomit. This pain and its accompanying symptoms can last anywhere from several hours to several days.
Paying attention to your diet is one of the best possible defenses against migraines. You should work to incorporate preventive foods into your diet and limit foods that are migraine triggers.
Whole, natural foods that don’t have preservatives or artificial flavorings are a good place to start when it comes to revamping your diet.
A small study of 42 adults found that eating a vegan diet or eliminating possible dietary triggers may benefit people with migraines.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which promotes plant-based diets as a way to improve your health, you should incorporate foods that are “pain safe.” Pain-safe foods generally aren’t viewed as a trigger for any condition, including migraines.
The PCRM considers the following foods and beverages “pain-safe”:
- orange, yellow, and green vegetables, such as summer squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach
- carbonated, spring, or tap water
- rice, especially brown rice
- dried or cooked fruits, particularly non-citrus kinds such as cherries and cranberries
- natural sweeteners or flavors, such as maple syrup and vanilla extract
The American Migraine Foundation and the Association of Migraine Disorders classify some fresh meats, poultry, and fish as migraine-safe foods. The key is to avoid versions that are processed, smoked, or made with tenderizers and broths.
The American Migraine Foundation also states that vitamin B-2, or riboflavin, may help decrease the frequency of your migraines. Vitamin B-2 can be found in animal products such as salmon and red meat. It’s also present in grains and mushrooms.
Women who see drops in estrogen around their periods or during pregnancy may have migraines because of the hormonal fluctuations.
Foods that contain a lot of sodium, as well as foods with additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, could also cause migraines.
Other migraine triggers can include:
- alcohol consumption
- changes in the weather
- changes in sleeping habits
- certain medications
Who gets migraines?
If one or both of your parents are affected by migraines, there’s a 75 percent chance you’ll experience them, too. Women are also about three times more likely than men to have migraines.
Limiting the amount of triggering foods in your diet or even adhering to a strict avoidance policy can decrease the frequency of your migraines. Food additives and processed foods are widely considered to be common migraine triggers.
Other foods or additives that may be triggering include:
- dairy products
- wheat, including pasta and bread products
- citrus fruits
- nitrites found in foods
- alcohol, especially red wine
- food additives, such as MSG
- aged cheeses
You should consider keeping a food diary to track what you eat and drink, as well as how you feel afterward. This can help you or your doctor isolate specific foods or ingredients that may be triggering your migraines.
You can also embark on a two-week test run of a pain-safe diet. During this time, you should only choose food or drinks from the “safe” list and avoid foods thought to be common triggers. During this time, you should take note of your migraine frequency and severity.
After two weeks have passed, slowly introduce other foods back into your diet. This can give you a heads-up as to what your food triggers may be.
The ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and protein-filled diet, has been credited for relieving pain associated with some neurological disorders. Some studies have found this might be one dietary route to try for migraine relief.
If you’re seeking more immediate relief from migraine pain, you should take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication or relax in a room with little to no light if possible.
You can also try to eliminate symptoms of nausea or dizziness by sipping water or an electrolyte-filled drink, such as a sports drink. Eating dry crackers or other foods with less odor may also be helpful.
If pain persists, you doctor may be able to prescribe medications that can help reduce the intensity or frequency of your migraines.
If you’re experiencing migraine symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can diagnose your symptoms and rule out any other underlying conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.
They may order a CT scan, blood test, or a spinal tap to make a diagnosis. They may order other tests to check for causes such as a tumor, infection, or bleeding in your brain.
To help relieve migraine pain, you should keep a food journal and take note of any symptoms you may experience. This can help you and your doctor isolate your individual migraine triggers and work out a personalized plan for migraine management.
It might also be helpful to reach out to others for support. Our free app, Migraine Healthline, connects you with real people who experience migraines. Ask diet-related questions and seek advice from others who get it. Download the app for iPhone or Android.