Magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, keto-friendly foods, and caffeine may all help prevent migraine attacks. Consider adding foods like dark leafy greens, avocado, and fish to your diet.

Nearly everyone has a headache from time to time. But for people with migraine, the pain can be much more serious and occur with other symptoms.

An estimated 1.1 billion people experience migraine attacks, making it the second leading cause of disability globally.

Recent studies and research suggest food and diet may play a part in managing migraine. Making changes to your diet may help prevent migraine attacks or reduce their frequency.

Keep reading for more on how this works and which foods to eat or avoid.

Eating and drinking certain things may help prevent migraine attacks. Certain foods contain high amounts of minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids that may help prevent migraine. Here’s a list of what you can add to your diet:

  • Magnesium-rich foods: Research on mostly white females shows that magnesium may offer migraine relief. Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, avocado, and tuna.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Research indicates that increasing omega-3 fatty acids may help people with migraine. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, such as mackerel and salmon, seeds, and legumes.
  • Ketogenic foods: It may not be for everyone, but research shows that a keto diet may help reduce migraine attacks compared with a standard diet. This means eating foods that are low in carbohydrates and high in fat, like seafood, nonstarchy vegetables, and eggs. Be careful, though: Some keto-friendly foods may trigger migraine attacks. Always speak with a doctor or a registered dietitian before starting a keto diet, as there are risks.
  • Water: Maintaining good hydration levels may help prevent migraine and reduce symptoms, as dehydration can be a migraine trigger. Certain teas may also have additional benefits, such as reducing nausea or headache symptoms.

Making certain changes to your eating habits may also help, such as limiting sodium and fat or trying a low glycemic diet. The National Headache Foundation also suggests trying a low-tyramine diet. Their website has a detailed list of what to eat and what to avoid.

Avoiding processed foods in favor of whole, unprocessed foods is generally good advice for everyone, though it’s hard to avoid processed foods entirely. If you find additives like artificial flavorings, sweeteners, or preservatives to be migraine triggers for you, try to avoid them in the bulk of your diet.

About elimination diets

Some people who get migraine attacks try to go on elimination diets (like keto) to fix the problem. Elimination diets that cut out entire classes of food can lead to malnutrition. In some cases, this may cause far more harm than good.

According to a 2020 study: “The downside of an elimination diet is the long-term negative effect of undernutrition — a form of malnutrition.”

It’s important not to start any kind of diet without talking with a doctor or a registered dietitian first. They can help you find the right dietary changes so you can improve your health safely.

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Migraine episodes are different from regular headaches. They tend to last longer, be more painful, and have more physical effects. These symptoms may include:

You may feel migraine pain on one side of the head or both sides.

Some people experience migraine with aura. This phase typically occurs before the headache phase but may occur alongside it. Aura may include:

  • flashes or sparks of light
  • tingling in the body
  • seeing “heat waves”
  • difficulty speaking clearly or finding the right words (transient aphasia)
  • muscle weakness

People of any age can get migraine — including children. Certain factors can make you more prone to them:

  • Age: Migraine happens most often to people between the ages of 18 and 44.
  • Sex: Approximately 3 out of 4 people with migraine are those assigned female at birth.
  • Genetics: People with a family history of migraine are more likely to develop the condition.

Doctors know that certain things can trigger migraine attacks, though not every person reacts the same way to triggers. Potential triggers can include:

  • stress and anxiety
  • hormone changes
  • certain medications or overuse of medications, including hormonal birth control, steroids, and prescription pain relievers
  • poor sleep quality or a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea
  • changes in weather

Food and the chemicals in it may trigger migraine attacks. Right now, there’s no definite list of foods or beverages that do or don’t cause a migraine attack. Migraine triggers and food sensitivities may differ for different people.

However, many people anecdotally claim that certain things they eat or drink trigger migraine. Some noted in research include:

  • nitrate-rich foods, such as cured meats and hot dogs
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive often found in processed foods
  • artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame and sucralose
  • tyramine, a chemical found in fermented foods, aged cheeses, and some kinds of fresh-baked bread
  • phenylethylamine, an amino acid found in chocolate, nuts, citrus fruits, soy foods, and vinegar
  • alcoholic beverages like wine and beer
  • dairy products and ice cream
  • caffeine-containing beverages like coffee
  • certain vegetables, including tomatoes and onions
  • histamine-containing foods, including alcohol, fermented foods, dried fruits, and others
  • gluten, a protein found in wheat

Some studies suggest that the foods themselves might not be the problem. Instead, food cravings and hunger may be the real root of the trigger. When people have food cravings due to low blood sugar, by the time they eat something, it’s often too late — a migraine attack may already be coming.

More research is needed to understand if the true cause is the hunger, the food, or a combination of these.

Another possible culprit could be food temperatures. Eating or drinking something that’s too hot or too cold may sometimes trigger a migraine attack. So be careful when enjoying hot and cold treats.

About caffeine

Caffeine is a tricky one when it comes to migraine. Some people believe it to be a trigger.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, however, it might actually help, at least in limited amounts. Caffeine is an active ingredient in several headache medications, including Excedrin, Midol, Darvon Compound, and Migranal.

Research studies also show that caffeine can provide relief in acute situations. But proceed with caution — daily caffeine intake can dull its helpful effects. Talk with your doctor about your caffeine intake for the best advice.

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Some over-the-counter (OTC) headache medications can help with the pain, such as:

  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Excedrin Migraine, which contains acetaminophen, asprin, and caffeine

If your migraine attacks are more severe or frequent, a doctor may prescribe medications or other treatments to relieve symptoms and prevent or reduce future episodes.

For relief without pills, a doctor may suggest trying Botox injections or using a neuromodulation device like the Cefaly Dual.

Resting in a dark, quiet room helps some people. For extra help, a cold compress on the head can have a numbing effect. There are also natural remedies you can try, including supplements like:

Always speak with a doctor before incorporating any new supplements to your diet as interactions can occur.

Research is ongoing when it comes to migraine treatments. Stay in touch with a doctor to learn about new therapies or clinical trials that may help you.

If you have migraine or think you have migraine symptoms, reach out to a doctor. They may suggest tests, such as a CT scan or a blood panel, to get a proper diagnosis, which is the key to treatment.

If you think what you eat and drink may contribute to your migraine, consider a food journal to keep track of foods that may be triggering as well as foods that seem to help. Share it with a doctor so you can work on a more personalized treatment plan.

If your migraine attacks are affecting your mental health, you may also want to talk with a professional counselor, therapist, or psychologist. Consider support groups as well. Talking with people who know what you’re going through can help with feelings of isolation.

You may also want to consider a joining a support group or community, such as Bezzy Migraine, where you can interact with other people with migraine.