Most of us have had the occasional headache. In fact, up to 75 percent of adults in the world reported having a headache over a year’s time. One in 10 of these adults reported having a migraine. 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.

What Is a Migraine?

Anyone who has 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. This causes inflammatory changes in the nerve cells that create pain.

Some people may see light flashes or experiencing tingling sensations in the limbs before a migraine begins. 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.

What Can Trigger a Migraine?

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 like aspartame, could also cause migraines.

Other triggers can include:

  • stress
  • alcohol consumption
  • changes in the weather
  • changes in sleeping habits
  • certain medications

Read more: Migraine triggers and how to avoid them »

What Does Food Have to do with Migraine Relief?

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. 

What Foods Can Prevent Migraines?

Whole, natural foods that don’t have preservatives or artificial flavorings are a good place to start when it comes to revamping your diet.

According to The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, you should incorporate foods that are “pain safe.” Pain-safe foods generally aren’t viewed as a trigger for any condition, including migraines.

Pain-safe foods and beverages can include:

  • 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

What Foods Can Trigger 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 triggering foods or additives include:

  • eggs
  • tomatoes
  • onions
  • dairy products
  • wheat, including pasta and bread products
  • citrus fruits
  • nitrites found in foods
  • alcohol, especially red wine
  • caffeine
  • food additives, such as MSG
  • aspartame
  • chocolate
  • aged cheeses
  • nuts

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 has 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.

How Else Are Migraines Treated?

If you’re seeking more immediate relief from migraine pain, you should take an over-the-counter 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.

Read more: True stories: Living with migraines »

The Takeaway

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.