Migraines are a debilitating health concern for many people, affecting as many as 17 percent of females and 6 percent of males in the US and costing more than $24 billion annually in treatment and disability-related costs. As a typical start to migraine treatment, many physicians recommend eliminating certain foods from the diet, including alcohol (especially red wine), cured or processed meats and cheeses, and chocolate. What does research show about the food and migraine connection? Let’s take a look:
Food allergies are not necessarily to blame.
Some have suggested the possibility that food allergies could be the cause of migraines; however, studies show that participants’ blood tests (IgE and IgG4) revealed none of the common antibodies that are generally present when a person is allergic to a particular food. However, people suffering from migraine attacks are encouraged to note what foods and drinks they consume 24 hours beforehand just in case there is a hidden connection.
This doesn’t mean that food isn’t a trigger for migraines, though.
One review suggests that there are other substances such as caffeine, sodium nitrate, ethanol, and monosodium glutamate in the foods that might actually be responsible for provoking a migraine. In addition, another study involved 3,069 women ages 20-50, where one-third of them had suffered severe headaches and/or migraines within the last three months. After looking at their dietary consumption, the study’s results showed that those participants who consumed a lower quality diet had more instances of headache or migraine than those whose diets were more nutritious.
High sodium consumption might be a potential trigger to consider.
One interesting result from the study of 3,069 women was that those with migraines consumed more than double the recommended daily intake of sodium. Since sodium can affect blood pressure and how well you are hydrated, this observation could be significant. More research is needed to determine if sodium intake is a significant factor in migraines.
An imbalance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids could be connected to migraines.
Women with migraines also had an imbalance in their omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid levels, consuming omega-6 fatty acids over 11 times more frequently than omega-3 fatty acids. Since the overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids can promote inflammation, this might be important. Another randomized and controlled trial discovered that upping the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like fish oil, flaxseed meal, and some nuts, and decreasing omega-6 consumption actually reduced the length and severity of headaches in participants.
A migraine might be provoked by skipping meals or being hungry combined with stress.
For some, it might be as simple as not skipping a meal or fasting. One study found that eating a late dinner reduced the incidence of a headache the next day by 21 percent, and having a nighttime snack reduced the likelihood by 40 percent. Results showed that having hypoglycemia from fasting or skipping meals mixed with everyday stress could trigger a migraine. Timing of the food consumption appeared to be key as a late night snack was most helpful.
The food and migraine connection is murky at best, so what can you do? Since triggers are highly individualized, the best bet is to keep track of what you consume and what situations come up before a migraine strikes. This information will help you and your doctor figure out the best treatment options for you. Doctorpedia is pleased to support your efforts and those of your physician on your journey toward wellness!
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.