The Diet-Migraine Connection

Article posted in: Lifestyle
Woman With Headache

Migraines are more than just a “bad headache.” In fact, those that suffer from migraines say that the pain can be debilitating. These headaches are not only characterized by intense throbbing head pain, but also nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. While there are various migraine medications on the market, research has revealed that there may be a dietary link to migraine pain. With some relatively simple changes in diet, there is medication-free hope for migraine sufferers.

A lot of migraine sufferers already have a sense of what foods are potential triggers. It’s quite possible that trigger foods can vary based on the individual. In fact, a 2009 study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain concluded that an effective way to manage the potential triggers of migraine pain was for individuals to maintain a food diary, getting a sense of what foods they may want to avoid.

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While triggers can differ, research does support that certain foods are more likely to be linked to migraine pain. According to research published in a 2013 edition of Pain Medicine, alcoholic drinks did serve as a headache trigger in some of the migraine-suffering participants—though not all of them. A review of past research on alcohol as a migraine trigger, published in a 2016 edition of Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, concluded that approximately one-third of migraine sufferers studied in past research reported alcohol as a trigger.

In addition to alcohol, research also reveals that tyramine, a chemical found naturally in food, may be a common migraine trigger. Levels of tyramine are especially high in aged cheeses, smoked fish and cured meats.

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Some migraine patients have found that trial-and-error with an elimination diet—getting rid of certain foods and assessing the result—was effective in determining triggers. In a 2012 study published in Headache, the journal of the American Headache Society, researchers found that study participants who had both migraines and irritable bowel syndrome saw improvement in both conditions when eliminating common trigger foods like cheese, alcohol, and chocolate.

Transitioning entirely to a plant-based diet may reduce migraine pain as well. That’s likely because a plant-based diet eliminates common triggers like meat and dairy. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that the severity of participants’ worse headache pain improved significantly when they consumed a plant-based diet.

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Over the years, multiple studies have also linked magnesium deficiency to migraine headaches. In a 1996 study published in Cephalalgia: An International Journal of Headache, participants who took magnesium reduced the frequency of their migraine attacks by 41.6 percent compared to 15.8 percent of those who took the placebo. While the research examines supplemental forms of magnesium—which could be added to your regimen following the advice of a physician—you could also try to add more magnesium naturally with foods like dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and fish.

Whatever route you take to improve your battle with migraine pain, it’s always helpful to advise a physician if you’re making significant changes to your diet or supplementation routine. With a little bit of trial and error, you just may find the solution that works best for you.