If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know how debilitating it can be. They would do anything to prevent you or get rid of you if it strikes. Migraines aren’t just headaches. The Mayo Clinic categorizes migraines as a severe type of headache that lasts longer than the average headache, makes the head throb or pulsates, and can often be accompanied by nausea and extreme sensitivity to light and noise.
The American Migraine Foundation states that over 36 million Americans have migraines, many of whom have chronic migraines. If you are one of them, your migraines can be debilitating.
While there is no known cure for migraines, new research has shown that simple diet changes by adding some foods and avoiding others can help prevent or relieve the worst of migraine symptoms.
Causes of Migraines
It’s not fully understood why migraines start, but researchers believe that it is caused by a combination of genetics and the environment. The Mayo Clinic reports that there are many triggers that can cause migraines to arise out of nowhere. They are:
- Hormonal changes: When estrogen fluctuates due to pregnancy, birth control, menopause, or menstruation, it seems to trigger a headache.
- Certain drinks: These include alcohol and beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee.
- Emphasize: When dealing with extreme or chronic stress, you are likely to experience a lot of muscle tension, which is a possible cause of migraines.
- Sensory stimuli: Bright light, loud noises or strong smells can trigger a side reaction and lead to migraines in certain people.
- Changes in sleep: Insufficient sleep or even too much sleep can lead to migraines.
- Weather changes: Sudden drops in temperature or air pressure can cause migraines.
Regarding genetics, if your parents struggled with migraines at your age, your chances of dealing with it are high too. The American Migraine Foundation states that a parent has a 50 percent chance of having migraines. If both parents have migraines, that percentage rises up to 75 percent.
Foods that relieve migraines
The 2021 randomized controlled trial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that a diet high in fatty fish helped migraineurs reduce the intensity of pain they endured while reducing the number of monthly migraines.
The study included 182 adults who had frequent migraines, an average of more than 16 headache days per month and more than 5 hours of migraine pain per headache day. They were divided into groups and given 1 of 3 diet plans for 16 weeks:
- High oil content from oily fish (higher in omega-3 fatty acids) and lower in linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acids)
- High percentage of oily fish and a lot of linoleic acid
- High levels of linoleic acid and little fish
The participants in the high-fat fish group had 30 to 40 percent fewer headaches Hours per day, severe headache per day, and total headache per month compared to the low oily fish / high linoleic acid group. Participants’ blood samples also showed lower levels of pain-related lipids. Overall, changing your diet to a generally higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids and a lower amount of omega-6 fatty acids could be the answer to less pain and fewer migraines.
“This research has found fascinating evidence that dietary changes have the potential to improve a very debilitating chronic pain condition such as a migraine without the associated disadvantages of commonly prescribed medications,” commented Luigi Ferrucci, MD, Ph.D., in an interview.
In the same interview, Chris Ramsden, a clinical researcher on the National Institute on Aging’s research programs, stated that “diet changes could provide some relief for the millions of Americans who suffer from migraine pain. It’s further evidence that the foods we eat can affect pain pathways. “
Plant foods for migraines
While the study focused on adding omega-3s from fish sources, there are plenty of plant-based sources that are likely to reap the same reward. It’s important to note that there are 3 important omega-3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Currently, ALA is the only omega-3 with a set recommended amount. The National Institute of Health states that men should aim to ingest around 1.6 grams per day, while women should ingest 1.1 grams.
The best foods for migraine relief:
- Chia seeds: According to the USDA, chia seeds contain about 18 grams of omega-3s per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
- Algae oil: This oil is one of the ways that supplement companies are making omega-3 fatty acids available to those on a vegan diet. While omega-3 levels can vary, dietary supplements typically provide around 400 to 500 mg of DHA and EPA.
- Walnuts: If your favorite snack on the go is a handful of nuts, then go for walnuts. They are the only tree nut that ALA delivers at 2.5 grams per 1 ounce serving.
- linseed: According to a 2010 study, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed provides 2.3 grams of ALA.
Foods To Avoid To Prevent Migraines
Research on foods that can make migraines worse has found that preservatives and additives can trigger migraines in some people, so avoid processed foods or MSG that are added to food. Another research group found that foods that constrict blood vessels can cause headaches, and some cheeses are known to do so.
Radiologists who examined this concluded, “The cheeses associated with migraines are certain matured or fermented types that are high in tyramine. Tyramine is a protein by-product and contributes to migraines because it causes blood vessels to narrow. When the blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises, causing headaches and migraines. “
Cheeses known to cause migraines include Cheddar, Swiss, Munster, Blue Cheese, English Stilton, Gorgonzola, Feta, and Brie.
Bottom Line: Eat seaweed oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts for migraine relief
Suffering from migraines can be debilitating and affect your daily life. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but it can be prevented by adding omega-3 rich foods to your day. This can be done simply by adding a vegan omega-3 supplement or by accessing ALA-rich food sources like walnuts, chia, and flaxseed.
For more great research-based health content, check out The Beet’s health and nutrition articles.