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How to manage migraine headache with diet

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Headache and diet

Researchers from University of Cincinnati have conducted an in depth review of diet triggers for migraine headache. Understanding what foods help a migraine and what foods harm could mean fewer headaches.


Foods to avoid for migraine headache

Vincent Martin, MD, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine looked at more than 180 studies related to food and migraines.

According to the finding, there are definitely things to avoid to keep headaches at bay that include:

  • Foods high in nitrites (packaged, processed lunch meats, bacon, for example)
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Excess alcohol
  • Too much coffee
  • Vegetables oils (canola, soy, sunflower and corn oils)

Two approaches

Martin and ,Dr. Brinder Vij, associate professor in the UC Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine.have written a two part review titled “Diet and Headache” that is available online.

For their review, they used headache in relation to search words including monosodium glutamate," "caffeine," "aspartame," "sucralose," "histamine intolerance syndrome," "tyramine," "alcohol," "chocolate," "nitrites," "IgG elimination diets," and "gluten."

Martin shares there are two approaches to finding out what triggers a migraine headache.
One is eliminating certain foods and the other is to only eat foods known to prevent headaches.

Martin warns about eliminating coffee altogether and shares one of the most promising diets for migraine headaches that includes more omega-3 fatty acids and less omega-6.

"One of the most important triggers for headache is the withdrawal of caffeine, 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."

He says caffeine should be limited to no more than 400 mg/day - the equivalent of about 3.5 cups of coffee.

Getting rid of MSG means being aware of where the food additive is hiding. Many soups, Chinese foods, salad dressings, frozen and canned foods as well as snacks contain monosodium glutamate.

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You can get rid of MSG by focusing on eating fresh fruits and vegetables and freshly prepared unpackaged foods.

Check food labels for nitrites that are commonly found in bacon and ham, sausage and lunch meat. Martin’ study review found a 5 percent higher chance of migraine occurrence on days nitrites are consumed.

If you drink alcohol, avoid red wine and vodka that Martin said contain histamines. Migraine sufferers may want to avoid alcohol altogether.

Three headache diets that are proven

One diet that is not proven is gluten-free, unless you have true celiac disease, based on testing. If you do have celiac disease, a gluten free diet will reduce and possibly prevent migraines.

Eating a low fat diet is a proven way to thwart headaches. Dr. Vij recommends limiting fat intake to 20 percent of your daily energy needs.

“The beauty of these diets is that they not only reduce headaches, but may produce weight loss and prevent heart disease", says Vij.

Ketogenic diets have become popular and are more restrictive, but can also be unsafe. The diet does restrict headaches but should only be considered under strict medical supervision.

One of the best diets for treating migraine includes plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and limited omega-6 fats contained in the aforementioned oils as well as in peanuts; cashews.

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro-inflammatory. Limiting the inflammatory fats and fat in general and adding flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, fish such as halibut, cod and salmon provides plenty of options for a migraine headache diet.


DOI: 10.1111/head.12953nce: