Researchers Affirm – Diet Can Trigger or Reduce Migraines

Researchers Affirm – Diet Can Trigger or Reduce Migraines

Ridding your diet of certain foods can reduce headache triggers for people battling migraines.

Migraine researcher and expert, Dr. Vincent Martin of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says there are two different approaches to preventing headaches with diet. The first approach would be an elimination diet that avoids foods and beverages known to trigger headaches. The second approach would be follow a comprehensive diet whose very composition may prevent headaches.

So say goodbye to that morning cup of Joe, goodbye to that extra drink at the bar, and goodbye to some of your favorite foods that are high in nitrates or monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Dr. Martin and his colleagues came to the conclusion after conducting an exhaustive literature review of more than 180 research studies on migraine and diet.

“One of the most important triggers for headache is the withdrawal of caffeine,” Martin said. “Let’s say you regularly pound down three or four cups of coffee every morning and you decide to skip your morning routine one day, you will likely have full-fledged caffeine withdrawal headache that day.”

That said, too much coffee may also present a risk, no more than 400 milligrams daily–one cup is 125 milligrams–is probably the maximum, for migraine patients, says Martin. “Large amounts of caffeine can bring on anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as headaches,” he explains.

MSG is also a migraine trigger.  MSG is used in a variety of processed foods as a flavor enhancer.  It’s found in canned foods, soups, snack foods, salad dressing and Chinese cooking.

“You eliminate it by eating fewer processed foods,” explains Martin. “You eat more natural things such as fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and fresh meats. MSG is most provocative when consumed in liquids such as soups.”

Nitrates are used to preserve food and are found in processed meats like bacon, ham and sausage.  Dr. Martin stated that 5% of individuals with migraine are statistically more likely to have an attack on days when they eat nitrates.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly reported dietary trigger for migraine.  Martin says that studies show vodka and red wine to be the biggest troublemakers as they contain high levels of histamine.

There have been three comprehensive diets whose very composition may prevent headaches such as low fat and low carbohydrate diets as well as those that increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease the amount of omega-6 fatty acids, according to Martin.

Dr. Brinder Vij, associate professor in the UC Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine, and co-author of “Diet and Headache” with Dr. Martin, says low fat diets restrict the amount of fat in the diet to less than 20 percent of your daily energy requirements.  “The beauty of these diets is that they not only reduce headaches, but may produce weight loss and prevent heart disease”, says Vij.

Low carbohydrate diets such as ketogenic diets can reduce headache frequency, but it’s not something to consider without strict physician supervision.  The diet limits carbohydrates more than the well-known Atkins diet, Vij explains.

One of the most promising diets for those with more frequent attacks of migraine is one that boosts your omega-3 fats while lessoning your omega-6 levels and that means tossing out polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, canola and soy) in favor of flaxseed oil, says Martin. Foods to consume would include flaxseed, salmon, halibut, cod and scallops while those to avoid would be peanuts and cashews.

“Persons with headache and migraine have more dietary options than ever. Ultimately a healthy headache diet excludes processed foods, minimizes caffeine and includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats”, Martin says. He adds, “After all, you are what you eat.”

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Authored by: Staff

There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Jean Price at 7:33 am

    Hmm, I thought some of this information was already Known! Without testing to pinpoint “allergies”, I wonder if this will help more many people, since many already avoid these things! Some people who test positive for certain foods have found those were bigger triggers for their migraines…so I’d think the testing would be of prime importance for the individual. Plus thyroid issues and other medical conditions can certainly be triggers. Migraines are so debilitating…and so individual…what helps one will not work at all for others! So sorting this out for each person is where the research would help, I’d think. And it so needs to be done, for thousands of people whose lives are invaded by this type of pain…usually without warning or rhyme or reason presently! Hoping much more reasearch is forthcoming!

  2. Bob Schubring at 8:56 am

    Better research on pain, using tools like fMRI, will produce insights into headache pain. This literature survey shows a variety of events, anecdotally related to different patients’ experiencing what they each individually perceive as a headache. We don’t know the pathology of each patient, nor can we quantitate the pain they experienced. Accordingly, if diet modification required FDA approval, none of these suggested diet mods would ever win approval. Getting useful information about headache pathology, requires measuring exactly where on the head, the pain is happening, and then identifying what’s happening in those spots, that’s different from their presentation when the patient feels headache-free. It would be useful to know if those achy places are hotter than usual, colder than usual, swollen, dehydrated, or contain an altered concentration of some specific nutrient, toxin, or electrolyte. Knowing those facts, specifically, enables us to examine how a nutrient removal or addition, changes the pathological presentation that the patient experiences as their particular headache.

    That said, the other spot where the writing could be made clear, is the misuse of the term “polyunsaturated fat”. All the vegetable fats in both lists, are polyunsaturated, meaning that they contain more than one carbon-carbon double-bond. Linoleic acid, which occurs in soy oil and canola oil, has two double-bonds. Linolenic acid, which occurs in flaxseed (aka Linseed) oil, also in hempseed oil, has three double-bonds. Linoleic acid is also present in these natural fats. If one prepares the fatty acid by acidic hydrolysis of the natural fat, and chills it to 10 degrees Celsius in the fridge, one can watch the different fatty acids separating slowly over several days, because the less-saturated fatty acids begin to adhere together. Also an issue in handling these triply-unsaturated fatty acids, is their reaction with oxygen molecules in the singlet state, which forms organic peroxides. Industrial chemists are familiar with the explosive decomposition of flaxseed oil endoperoxide…it’s known to fire investigators as “spontaneous combustion”, and can happen when piles of rags soaked in flaxseed oil are allowed to dry while sitting in sunlight. What’s less-appreciated is that under water, the same reaction can occur slowly, generating shorter molecules that no longer are fatty acids. These various aldehydes and ketones are toxic and when inhaled, are perceived by the person smelling them, as having a displeasing or irritating stench. Therefore, one promising area to investigate, in relation to fats and headache, is whether stress can cause our body fats to decompose and form toxins that in turn, cause headache.

    All valuable information, that nobody will get, by generating a new line of diet books and new reasons for fat people to be insulted for their troubles.

  3. Lo Martinez at 6:25 am

    Ketogenic diets are much easier to follow than what is depicted.

    It’s easy to follow a low carb high fat diet while not being under doctor supervision, just eat healthy fats, stay very low in carbs, eat your veggies, and consume moderate amounts of protein.

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