The best migraine diet is…
Well first, there are many well established migraine triggers. The beverages and foods that we consume play a role in headaches and migraines for many patients. In fact, about 10% of headache and migraine sufferers can attribute at least a small part of their headaches to food and diet triggers. Often the trigger is a specific type of food or beverage. For example, in some studies (seen here and here) migraineurs reported their most common food triggers as chocolate (19-22%), cheese (9-18%), citrus fruit (11%), and alcohol (29-35%).
Certain types of diets may help reduce the likelihood and severity of headaches and migraines. Let’s take a look at some of the diets out there that may help with headaches and migraines.
How Does the Keto Diet Impact Headaches and Migraines?
The keto diet is unique in the sense that your body consumes more fat and protein while lowering the intake of carbohydrates. The idea is that your body is forced to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Studies have shown that the keto diet was able to significantly reduce migraine frequency and abortive medication intake. It is thought that the keto diet can be particularly helpful for migraine sufferers on a twofold front:
- Ketone bodies produced by the liver can provide the brain with more energy than glucose.
- Additionally, ketones are thought to be anti-inflammatory. Since inflammation is a central piece of migraines, the keto diet can potentially help by reducing inflammation.
For those who are starting out fresh on the keto diet, there may be an occasional headache since the body is learning to burn fat instead of sugar. To avoid these headaches early on in the keto diet, the following suggestions will help:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat low-carb, water-rich vegetables.
- Eat foods that are rich in electrolytes.
- Avoid exercise on the opening days of your keto diet.
Can a Low-Histamine Diet Help With Headaches and Migraines?
Histamine can be a headache or a migraine trigger for certain individuals, even if they do not have allergies. The body makes a digestive enzyme called DAO (diamine oxidase) that processes histamine. About 25% of people have an issue with DAO production in their bodies. One study found that about 87% of people with migraines also had issues with DAO deficiencies. It was found that people who participated in a low-histamine diet had improved in their overall experiences with their migraines while a handful of people in the study had no migraines or headaches at all.
What can you eat on the low-histamine diet? You can eat fresh meat (especially chicken) and freshly caught fish. Some non-citrus fruits are low in histamine levels and include things like apples, raspberries, blueberries, melons, bananas, and kiwi. Eggs are also low in histamine. Gluten-free grains, such as rice and quinoa are also low in histamine. Fresh vegetables other than tomatoes, avocados, spinach, and eggplant are also low in histamine levels. Lastly, if you cook with oils, olive oil is low in histamine levels.
Elimination Diet, Headaches, and Migraines
From a dietary perspective, an elimination diet is any type of diet where you eliminate foods and beverages that you suspect your body does not tolerate well. On the elimination diet for headaches, there are some things that you might want to avoid:
- Caffeine and alcohol: These are known to dehydrate the body and cause headaches.
- Chocolate and cocoa: These are known to cause headaches. However, you may eat white chocolate.
- MSG: This is a flavor enhancing substance known to trigger headaches and migraines. If you want to avoid MSG, you can eat whole foods that have been flavored with natural herbs and spices. On food labels, it is often hidden as other names including glutamate, natural flavor, and partially hydrogenated vegetable protein.
- Processed meats: Anything like jerky, cold cuts, and lunch meats should be avoided. You can however eat fresh meats that you prepare yourself. Nitrates and nitrites are the migraine trigger culprits in these types of foods. These are vasodilating agents found in many foods, especially preserved and processed meats such as lunch meats, sausage, smoked foods, pork, bacon, salami, pastrami, hot dogs, corned beef, ham, and bratwurst. So if you have a child that is getting a lot of headaches and migraines, and eats lunch meat for lunch, you may want to look into nitrate and nitrite-free lunch meat options.
- Dairy: You should avoid certain dairy foods like aged cheese, buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt. However, you can eat things like cottage cheese, cream cheese, and American varieties of cheese.
- Nuts: Try substituting seeds for nuts.
- Fruits: Avoid citrus fruits altogether. You can eat things like apples, peaches, pears, etc.
- Some vegetables, like onions, pea pods, and sauerkraut should be avoided. You can eat most leafy green vegetables and water-rich vegetables.
- Condiments: You should avoid things like ketchup, mustard, vinegar-based condiments, etc.
- Baked goods: Be careful to make sure that anything you eat is gluten-free while you are on the elimination diet for headaches and migraines.
- Avoid any artificial sweeteners altogether, like NutraSweet.
- Avoid Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, soy products, and pickled foods because they contain tyramine which is a migraine trigger for many patients. Brewer’s yeast also contains a large amount of tyramine. A low tyramine diet can be very helpful for some patients with migraine.
Overall, your doctor may advise you to try the elimination diet for a trial period to see if the foods you are eating are contributing to your headaches and migraines. When attempting to figure out what foods to try eliminating, sometimes IgG food testing against food allergens can assist in determining specific foods which may be associated with high IgG levels in the blood (meaning your immune system is reacting against them).
Inflammatory Foods, Headaches, Migraine, and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Another way to fight off headaches and migraines is to avoid foods that are known to cause inflammation. For example, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are found in most processed foods and sweets. In some studies, these sweet substances were known to counteract the effects of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation. Artificial trans fat, vegetable oils, and seed oils can also cause inflammation, leading to headaches and migraines. Refined carbohydrates, prepared meats, and other processed foods can also cause inflammation. In addition to causing headaches and migraines, foods that cause inflammation can cause a wide variety of other issues including high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
There are other variations of the anti-inflammatory diet which focus on omega fatty acids including the high omega 3/low omega 6 (H3/L6) and low omega 6 (L6) diets. The thinking is based on the fact that omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, whereas omega 6 is more inflammatory and can increase pain. Fast food is often loaded with omega 6 fatty acids, along with many other chemical additives which are often migraine triggers. So the goal is to eat foods with a higher ratio of omega 3 as compared with omega 6. In fact, a recent study showed that eating fish with healthy omega ratios can help prevent migraines.
Fish with a healthy omega ratio include tuna (canned in water), wild salmon, swordfish, mackerel, herring, sea bass, anchovies, sardines, cod, and bluefish. Fish with a less healthy omega ratio include farm raised fish and fish canned in oil. Vegetables with a healthy omega ratio include green leafy vegetables, and those with a less healthy omega ratio include beats, carrotos, chard, and parsley. Nuts and seeds with a healthier omega ratio include walnuts, flax and chia seeds. Those with a less healthy omega ratio include almonds, pecans, cashews, and pistachios. Oils with a healthier omega ratio ratio include olive oil and canola oil, while those with a less healthy omega ratio include highly processed oils such as corn, soy, safflower, and peanut oil.
Gluten Free Diet (Celiac Sprue)
Celiac sprue is caused by inflammation in the digestive tract, caused by exposure to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including barley, wheat, and rye. Thus it is a common ingredient in foods such as pizza, pasta, bread, and cereal. Patients often complain of abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, and headache when they eat these foods. Some patients can less commonly have additional neurological symptoms besides headaches, including unsteadiness/imbalance (ataxia), and peripheral neuropathy. Unexplained iron deficiency is common, and liver function tests are sometimes abnormal. 70% of patients with true gluten sensitivity and celiac sprue have been shown to have improved symptoms within 2 weeks of doing a gluten free diet. Many patients get loosely diagnosed or self diagnosed as “celiac disease” or “gluten sensitive”. However, the gold standard diagnosis is made by small bowel biopsy, along with supporting bloodwork. So if there are suspicious symptoms as discussed here, a gluten free diet for 2-4 weeks may be a good consideration to try.
Low Fat Diet
Low fat diets have been reported to decrease headache and migraines in some patients. One study looked at patients eating no more than 20 grams of fat per day. It reported significant differences in migraine frequency which went from 6 days to 1 day per month on average, along with significant decreases in migraine severity, duration, and medication intake.
Finding What Works Right For You
The various diets discussed above all have one principle in mind, eliminating certain foods from your diet that can cause headaches and migraines. Many of the foods that are mentioned in the diets above that are to be avoided contain Tyramine. This is the substance produced when the amino acid tyrosine breaks down and can cause headaches.
Not only will the right diet help you mitigate the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines, but a proper diet can also help avoid certain types of chronic health conditions. Good diet is only part of the formula that will help you reduce headaches and migraines in your daily life. Your physician will also counsel you on good diet and exercise practices to help you with your headache and migraines.
In summary, the answer to which diet is the best migraine diet is… there isn’t one. Finding dietary influences on migraine and headache will vary widely between patients and what their migraine may be susceptible to or what it responds to. However, if there are clues to when you get migraines in relation to any of the dietary factors discussed above when you eat meals, it may be worth trying that particular diet or dietary modification for at least 4 weeks. Any dietary changes should always be discussed and approved of with your regular medical doctor first though, to make sure it is safe to try depending on your particular medical history.
Regardless of dietary factors, keep in mind that having migraine means that you are wired in a way that migraines can be triggered easier as compared to someone without migraines. You may be able to identify triggers, but many times there may not be a trigger and migraines can just happen because that is the nature of the disorder, unfortunately. So you still want to ensure that you have a good migraine abortive option for when they do happen. Abortive treatments are taken at the onset of the migraine with a goal of lessening the duration and severity of the migraine attack and associated symptoms. Some of these options include NSAIDs, ergots, triptans, neuromodulatory devices, the ditans (Reyvow (Lasmiditan)) and the gepants (Ubrelvy (Ubrogepant) and Nurtec ODT (orally dissolvable tablet) (Rimegepant)).
If the migraines are happening frequently enough, then a migraine preventive treatment should be considered. Preventive migraine treatments are used to lessen the frequency and/or severity of migraine attacks. Preventive treatments include a variety of daily pill medications, CGRP monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) (Aimovig (Erenumab), Emgality (Galcanezumab), Ajovy (Fremenazumab), Vyepti (Eptinezumab)), neuromodulation devices, Botox, Nurtec ODT every other day (1st and only dually approved migraine abortive and preventive), herbal and natural supplements and vitamins, yoga and meditation, and acupuncture and acupressure.
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