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Guide to Migraines & Nutrition    ( Home | Diet | Foods | Recipes )

7 Best Anti-Migraine Diet Tips

The role of diet in migraine prevention has received much attention, and numerous studies show that dietary modification may indeed be highly effective at preventing and healing migraine headaches. Here's our pick of the best anti-migraine diet tips that can help prevent and control migraine headaches in susceptible individuals.

Note: the information provided below does not constitute a substitute for professional medical advice.

#1:  Step Up Your Magnesium Intake

Swiss chard
Magnesium, abundant in Swiss chard, has been shown to reduce headaches.

Several studies have shown a connection between low blood levels of magnesium and migraine headaches, and magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce headaches. Magnesium's ability to ease migraine headaches is believed to be linked to the mineral's role in stabilizing blood vessel walls. The activity of serotonin receptors and other migraine-related receptors and neurotransmitters can also be affected by changes in magnesium levels. In addition, magnesium can improve the quality of sleep, which can further help reduce migraines. Mild deficiencies of magnesium are fairly common in women living in Western countries, where consumption of processed foods is common, as processing significantly decrease the magnesium content of foods. Also intensive farming, practiced in many Western countries, depletes the soil of magnesium, thereby reducing the magnesium content of the plants growing in the soil.

#2:  Cut Back on Salt

It is well known that an excessive intake of salt (sodium) can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. But did you know that salt, when consumed in large amounts, can also worsen or even cause migraine attacks in some people. This is because salt increases water retention, and water retention increases blood pressure which is known to trigger migraine headaches. If you think low-salt food needs more flavor, here's a tip: try using spices and herbs instead of excessive amounts of salt. Be also aware of the "hidden" salt that is present in many packaged and processed foods, such as commercial cereals, canned vegetables, and frozen meals.

#3:  Identify and Avoid Trigger Foods

It is estimated that 90% of all migraines are directly linked to allergies and sensitivities to certain foods or food additives. Keeping a diary of diet and headaches may help identify trigger foods. Although people's responses to foods differ, certain foods and food additives appear to be more likely to cause allergic reactions. For more on this topic, see Common Foods Known to Trigger Migraine Headaches.

Low-GI foods help keep blood glucose levels on an even keel.

#4: Choose Low-GI Foods

A migraine attach can sometimes be triggered by a sudden drop in blood sugar levels. This can be avoided by eating regular meals and avoiding foods that have a high Glycemic Index (GI) rating. The carbohydrates in high-GI foods are quickly broken down by the body and cause a rapid, large rise in blood sugar levels — which is shortly followed by a drastic drop in the levels. In contrast, low-GI carbs, which take much longer to digest, cause a slow, steady rise in the blood sugar levels. Most non-starchy vegetables, legumes and fruit have a low GI rating, while most sugary foods and refined carbohydrate-rich foods are rated high on the Glycemic Index.

#5: Follow a Low-Fat Diet but Don't Skip Omega-3s

A high dietary fat intake has been associated with an increased risk of migraine attacks. Fat, particularly saturated fat, increases the LDL cholesterol ("bad cholesterol") levels in blood, which in turn increases platelet aggregation. Platelets are disk-shaped structures in the blood which are essential for blood clotting. Evidence suggests that platelet aggregation may dilate blood vessels throughout the brain, thereby creating migraines headaches. One study with 54 migraine-prone participants found that when the average daily consumption of fat was reduced from 66 grams to 28 grams, the average number of headaches experienced in a month declined from 6 to 1. Also the intensity of headaches dropped on average from 2.9 to 0.5 on a scale where 6 indicated excruciating pain and 0 no pain.

Nevertheless, it is important not to completely eliminate all fats from diet. Essential fatty acids (EFAs), found in large quantities in such foods as nuts, seeds, fatty fish and unrefined whole grains, are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of the body. These fats cannot be synthesized by the body and must therefore be obtained through diet. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids (a type of EFAs) have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks in some people. The body uses omega-3s for building strong cell membranes and nerve cells and to maintain elasticity of blood vessels. They are also known to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which may also contribute to their ability to prevent migraine episodes. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, and cold water fish like salmon, cod, and halibut.

#6:  Eat Foods That Deliver Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10, present in broccoli and a number of other foods, has proven migraine fighting properties.

Another tip you may want to consider when designing your anti-migraine diet plan is to eat more foods that provide co-enzyme Q10 – coenzyme Q10 (also known as ubiquinone or CoQ10) has been shown ward off migraine attacks in some people. In one double blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers gave 42 migraine prone people (on average 4.4 migraine attacks per month) either 100 mg of CoQ10 three times a day or a placebo. The average number of migraine attacks per month dropped from 4.4. to 3.2. Also the length of the attacks decreased in the group who were given CoQ10. Those in the placebo group reported no significant improvements.

CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance found in all human cells, and it plays a vital role in the energy production process. Researchers hypothesize that the beneficial effects of CoQ10 on migraine headaches could result from its ability to serve as an energy booster in the brain. The human body is able to make some of its own CoQ10, but the production level declines dramatically as we age. CoQ10 is also found in a number of foods, the richest dietary sources being red meat — particularly organ meats such as liver and heart — and fresh sardines and mackerel. It is also found in whole grains, wheat germ, and certain vegetables such as broccoli. Processing and cooking (particularly frying) can decrease the CoQ10 content of foods significantly.

#7:  Up Your Vitamin B2 Intake

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) may help reduce the severity and frequency of migraines. Vitamin B2 has an important role in the body's energy production, and research suggests that it could improve energy production in brain cells which is often impaired in people with migraine headaches. Furthermore, vitamin B2 may help increase the effectiveness of beta-blockers, a type of drug used to prevent migraines.

Interested in more information about diet and migraine attacks?

Now that you have learned the basics of the anti-migraine diet, it is time to learn about some of the best anti-migraine foods and to experiment with delicious recipes designed to fight migraine attacks: