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.”