Healing Headaches and Migraines With Diet and Supplements

Millions of people everyday experience headaches or migraines. The symptoms of migraines can make it especially difficult to manage daily life. These intense disabling headaches cause throbbing pain, nausea, irritability, and sensitivity to light, among other things.

Various prescription drugs intended to treat headaches and migraines often come with unwanted side effects. The good news is that there are natural alternatives you can try. With a good diet and certain supplements, you can reduce the frequency or severity of your migraines. But first, let’s briefly explain what is a migraine:

Definition

A migraine is a common neurological disorder characterized by recurrent, throbbing headaches that can last from four up to 72 hours. Some symptoms that distinguish migraines from usual headaches are hypersensitivity to light, smells and sounds, irritability and anger, and nausea. According to one study done in 2011, it is estimated that around 28 million Americans experience migraines regularly. [1] Research has also shown greater frequency in women than men. [2]

The real cause of migraines is still unknown; however, hormones [3], stress [4], eating behaviors and dietary factors may play an important role in determining migraine triggers. Here are some typical dietary migraine triggers:

1. Coffee

Coffee is high in caffeine, an addictive stimulant also found in black and green tea, some sodas, and energy drinks. High caffeine intake can trigger migraines in some people. Also, if you regularly consume coffee, skipping your daily intake can cause withdrawal symptoms, similar to those of a migraine.

2. Alcohol

Most people are familiar with hangover headaches, but in some people, drinking alcohol can trigger migraines within just three hours after alcohol consumption. Some studies show that Histamine may play a role in the severity and occurrence of migraines. [5]

3. Processed Meat

Researchers believe that nitrites, a group of preservatives found in processed meat, may be the reason why some people develop migraines up to a few hours after consuming processed meat products. [6] Products containing nitrites include ham, sausages, salami, bacon, and bologna.

In general, these foods are the common foods that trigger migraines, however, genetic factors, allergies and disease states may also trigger migraines in individuals.

Food diaries and specific serological testing come in handy in identifying  specific triggers in people. 

Elimination diets are also used for identifying triggers, however, they are difficult to perform at home and can have a negative effect of malnutrition for certain nutrients including protein, micronutrients and energy which may lead to other health issues and psychological disorders. [7]

A low glycemic index diet is very beneficial in headache and migraine control through reduction of inflammation in the body since most high glycemic foods are pro inflammatory.

You can replace processed foods with whole foods for maximum benefit. Replace white grains with whole grain versions, replace sugar and sweets with fruits, replace sugary drinks with water or with natural vegetable juices or fruit shakes with organic soy milk, and reduce watermelon, and melon consumption. [8] Also consume legumes regularly. 

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Supplements That Can Help Fight Migraine

1. Vitamin B-2: Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B-2 plays a positive role in reducing migraine attacks’ frequency and duration. Riboflavin is found in green vegetables including broccoli, asparagus, and spinach.

2. Magnesium: Daily doses of 500 mg of Magnesium has been shown to prevent migraines, especially those related to menstruation. Magnesium is found in high quantities in nuts, spinach, soy products, whole grains and avocado. 

3. Vitamin D: Though researchers are still investigating the role of vitamin D in fighting off migraines, one study shows that vitamin D supplementation can help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. [9]

4. Melatonin: According to one study, the Melatonin hormone (used to regulate sleep cycles) can help reduce migraine frequency. [10]

5. Probiotics: Can help in the modification of gut microbiota in migraine patients. Alteration of the gut microbiome with probiotic supplements has be shown to be beneficial, especially with strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. [11]

6. Folate: high-folate diets are beneficial since folate is involved in DNA methylation. This can prevent the expression of genes related to migraines.[12,13]. Also elevated levels of homocysteine in the body are associated with an increased risk of migraine. Low levels of folate, vitamins B6 and B12, are associated with higher blood homocysteine levels, a potential risk factor not only for migraines but also heart disease and stroke. Foods rich in folate include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, leafy green vegetables, legumes of all types.

Folate supplements are also an option and can be found in the form of folic acid, or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), both beneficial for migraines. [14] [15].

7. Omega 3 Fatty Acid: High omega-3/low omega-6 diets demonstrated beneficial effects.

Other natural options for reducing headaches are peppermint and lavender essential oils, feverfew, ginger root, butterbur, celery, and coriander seeds.

Take Away

The best approach to reducing the risk and preventing the reoccurrence of  migraines is maintaining a healthy lifestyle by taking part in low intensity endurance exercise to help reduce stress, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy low glycemic diet.

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References:

[1] R B Lipton, S Diamond, M Reed, M L Diamond, W F Stewart. Migraine diagnosis and treatment: results from the American Migraine Study II. Jul-Aug 2001;41(7):638-45. doi: 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.041007638.x.

[2] R B Lipton, S Diamond, M Reed, M L Diamond, W F Stewart. Prevalence and burden of migraine in the United States: data from the American Migraine Study II. Jul-Aug 2001;41(7):646-57. doi: 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.041007646.x.

[3] Stephen Silberstein, Sumit Patel. Menstrual migraine: an updated review on hormonal causes, prophylaxis and treatment. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2014 Oct;15(14):2063-70. doi: 10.1517/14656566.2014.947959. Epub 2014 Aug 6.

[4] Khara M Sauro, Werner J Becker. The stress and migraine interaction. Expert Opin Pharmacother. Headache. 2009 Oct;49(9):1378-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01486.x. Epub 2009 Jul 8. 

[5] L H Lassen, L L Thomsen, J Olesen. Histamine induces migraine via the H1-receptor. Support for the NO hypothesis of migraine. Neuroreport. 1995 Jul 31;6(11):1475-9. doi: 10.1097/00001756-199507310-00003.

[6] D D’Amico, A Ferraris, M Leone, A Catania, A Carlin, L Grazzi, G Bussone. Increased plasma nitrites in migraine and cluster headache patients in interictal period: basal hyperactivity of L-arginine-NO pathway? Cephalalgia. 2002 Feb;22(1):33-6. Doi: 10.1046/j.1468-2982.2002.00304.x.

[7] Stratton R.J., Hackston A., Longmore D., Dixon R., Price S., Stroud M., King C., Elia M. Malnutrition in hospital outpatients and inpatients: Prevalence, concurrent validity and ease of use of the ‘malnutrition universal screening tool’ (‘MUST’) for adults. Br. J. Nutr. 2004;92:799–808. doi: 10.1079/BJN20041258

[8] Evcili G, Utku U, Ö?ün MN, Özdemir G. Early and long period follow-up results of low glycemic index diet for migraine prophylaxis. Agr? 2018;30(1):8–11

[9] Tayebeh Mottaghi, Gholamreza Askari, Fariborz Khorvash, and Mohammad Reza Maracy. Effect of Vitamin D supplementation on symptoms and C-reactive protein in migraine patients. J Res Med Sci. 2015 May; 20(5): 477–482. doi: 10.4103/1735-1995.163971.

[10] Andre Leite Gonçalves, Adriana Martini Ferreira, Reinaldo Teixeira Ribeiro, Eliova Zukerman, José Cipolla-Neto, and Mario Fernando Prieto Peres. Randomised clinical trial comparing melatonin 3?mg, amitriptyline 25?mg and placebo for migraine prevention. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2016 Oct; 87(10): 1127–1132. Published online 2016 May 10. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2016-313458.

[11] Hiippala K., Jouhten H., Ronkainen A.K., Hartikainen A., Kainulainen V., Jalanka J., Satokari R. The Potential of Gut Commensals in Reinforcing Intestinal Barrier Function and Alleviating Inflammation. Nutrients. 2018;10:988. doi: 10.3390/nu10080988.

[12] Fila M., Chojnacki C., Chojnacki J., Blasiak J. Is an “Epigenetic Diet” for Migraines Justified? The Case of Folate and DNA Methylation. Nutrinets. 2019;11:2763. doi: 10.3390/nu11112763.

[13] Menon S., Nasir B., Avgan N., Ghassabian S., Oliver C., Lea R.A., Smith M., Griffiths L.R. The effect of 1 mg folic acid supplementation on clinical outcomes in female migraine with aura patients. J. Headache Pain. 2016;17:60. doi: 10.1186/s10194-016-0652-7. 

[14] Scaglione F., Panzavolta G. Folate, folic acid and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate are not the same thing. Xenobiotica. 2014;44:480–488. doi: 10.3109/00498254.2013.845705.

[15] Askari G., Nasiri M., Mozaffari-Khosravi H., Rezaie M., Bidakhavidi M.B., Sadeghi O. The effects of folic acid and pyridoxine supplementation on characteristics of migraine attacks in migraine patients with aura: A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Nutrients. 2017;38:74–79. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2017.01.007.

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