CONDITIONS A-Z

A Nutritional Approach to Managing Migraines

Migraine_headacheA migraine is an unusually severe headache that is often accompanied by additional symptoms, such as nausea or visual disturbances.

Migraines can be severely debilitating and as many as one in five women suffer from periodic migraines. They are most common between the ages of 25 and 55 but the good news is that they become less frequent after the menopause.

While drug treatments are very effective and the mainstay of migraine treatment, there are a number of nutritional approaches that can help to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

Food Elimination Diet

Food sensitivity is a major cause of migraine according to a number of research studies. Certain foods known to trigger migraines are sometimes referred to as the 5 C’s: chocolate, cheese, claret (and other red wines) caffeine and citrus fruits. However recent research also suggests that another common food trigger is wheat..

People with food sensitivities can be treated with a food elimination diet. In one study of 60 people on a 5-day food elimination diet, restricted to pears spring water and lamb, reported a very significant improvement in their symptoms. It is important to consult a doctor or nutritionist before undergoing a food elimination diet. To make a start keep a food diary to try and recognise any specific foods that bring on a migraines.

Blood Sugar Stabilising Diet

Migraines can sometimes be triggered if the level of sugar in the blood becomes too low – a condition known as hypoglycaemia. This may explain why some people develop a migraine after missing a meal. To ensure stable blood sugar avoid long periods without food: eat regular meals with small healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts in between meals. As much a as possible base your diet on unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish. Choose wholegrain starches such as wholemeal bread and brown rice which are broken down more slowly than their white counterparts. This type of diet gives the body a steady stream of glucose and helps prevent blood sugar fluctuating.

Magnesium Supplements

Migraines have also been related to low magnesium levels and magnesium deficiency, which increases the risk of spasm in the arteries. This supplement may be particularly helpful for women who suffer from premenstrual migraines. Research has found that 360mg of magnesium per day decreases menstrual migraine. If you have migraines regularly try taking 200mg of magnesium twice per day.

Essential Fatty Acids

Certain healthy fats known as the essential fatty acids (particularly omega 3’s) have been found to be helpful in migraines, probably because they reduce the amount of inflammatory substances that have been implicated in headaches. One study found that gamma-linolenic acid (found in evening primrose oil) and alpha-linolenic acid (found in flax seed oil) supplements) reduce the frequency, duration and severity of migraine attacks by 86%. During the sixth months of the study 22% of the patients became free from migraine and more than 90% experienced less nausea and vomiting.

Fish Oils

Studies have shown that fish oils (756mg or day of EPA and 498mg of DHA per day) may be beneficial in the treatment of recurrent migraines. If you suffer from migraines you may benefit from eating a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout, as well as flax seeds and walnuts. You could also try taking 15ml of flaxseed oil, or 2-3g of fish oil supplement per day.

Avoiding Food Additives

Certain chemicals and food additives can cause migraines. Some of the most common are nitrates (added to preserved meats) and monosodium glutamate, which is naturally present in mushrooms, kelp and scallops, but is also added to Chinese restaurant food and snack foods.

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in many products from soft drinks, to chewing gum, can cause migraines.  If you are prone to migraines it is worth checking the labels on packaged goods and trying to avoid aspartame.

When To See Your Doctor

See your doctor if a headache comes on after vigorous exercise, is accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, drowsiness or a rash; if the headache follows injury, or if self help remedies do not bring relief within three days.

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