New study shows your eating habits might lead to migraines

Headaches are annoying, especially if they’re intense, prolonged or frequent. 

Despite this, migraines are more than just headaches – they can be incredibly painful, nauseating, and downright debilitating. A new study suggests eating habits may trigger migraines or worsen them, despite various factors making you more susceptible to migraines.

What are migraines?

“I don’t think it’s surprising that moderate to severe malnutrition is associated with migraines,” Sydney Greene, MS, RD says. Low blood sugar levels can trigger migraines, she adds.

A person’s blood sugar levels can fall if they skip meals, skip meals, or cut out major food groups, specifically carbohydrates.”

In addition, Greene says, prolonged malnutrition usually causes vitamin and mineral deficiencies while noting that deficiencies in specific vitamins (mainly the B vitamins) and magnesium might lead to “more intense” migraines.

A person suffering from migraines might not get adequate nutrition for various reasons, explains Greene.

There may be a vicious feedback loop at work, you get a migraine, your appetite goes down, so you consume less food, and then you get a migraine again.

Furthermore, certain vegan, vegetarian and ketogenic diets may lead to vitamin and mineral imbalances.

The best way to help cope with migraines is to find a healthcare provider who has experience with them.

A physician or registered dietitian can help you design a diet that can lower your migraine risks. To prevent migraines, supplements may be necessary, and a licensed professional can suggest the best protocol [1].

Migraines and scientific studies

In the study Nutritional Neuroscience published, researchers found that 1,838 out of 8,953 subjects in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2004 suffered from migraines [2].

As part of their analysis of available data, the researchers used the prognostic nutritional index to examine the relationship between diet and severe headaches and migraines [3].

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Researchers discovered that participants with mild, moderate or severe malnutrition experienced more intense headaches.

A study also found that severe headache and migraine sufferers’ diets had low levels of vitamins and nutrients, including dietary fibre, total folate, riboflavin, selenium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C and vitamin K.

In contrast, they were drinking more coffee and eating more theobromine, something found in chocolate. The researchers concluded that diet (specifically PNI) was associated with migraine risk.

Aside from getting professional help, migraine relief can be achieved by following these simple steps:

Establish a calm environment

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Take a break from whatever you are doing at the first sign of a migraine.

  • Lights and sounds can aggravate migraine pain. Get into a dark, quiet room. If possible, go to sleep.
  • You can treat headaches and neck pain by applying hot or cold compresses. Ice packs have an anaesthetic effect, which may dull the pain. Hot packs and heating pads will relax tense muscles. Warm showers may also help.
  • In small amounts, caffeine alone can ease migraine pain in the early stages of the condition. Caffeine may also enhance the pain-relieving effects of acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and aspirin. Note that caffeine should be consumed in moderation. Too much of it can lead to withdrawal headaches and sleep disturbances, making migraines worse.

Make sure you get enough sleep

We spend about a third of our lives asleep, so it’s clearly an essential aspect of our lives

In addition to keeping you awake at night, migraines can be triggered by poor sleep. Here are some suggestions to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Sleep regular hours every day. Get up and go to bed at a similar time every day – even on weekends. Naps during the day should not exceed 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Taking a warm bath or tuning in to soothing music can help you relax at the end of the day and promote better sleep.
  • Watch what you consume before bedtime. Also, intense exercise, heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can disrupt sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom for rest and intimacy. Don’t watch TV or take work materials to bed. Close the door. Use a fan to muffle distracting sounds.
  • It’s best not to try too hard to fall asleep. The more you try, the more awake you’ll feel. Reading or another quiet activity may help you fall asleep better.
  • Some migraine medicines may interfere with sleep if they contain caffeine or another stimulant.

Make smart food choices

You can influence your migraines by changing your eating habits. Here are some tips:

  • Consistency is key. Eat at the same time daily.
  • Avoid skipping meals. Fasting raises migraine risk.
  • It can be beneficial to keep a food journal. Recording the foods you eat and when you experience, migraines can help you find food culprits.
  • When you suspect a certain food is triggering migraines, remove it from your diet and see what happens. Examples of trigger foods include aged cheese, alcohol, chocolate and caffeine. 

Regular exercise is essential

You might be motivating yourself as you sweat doing your final reps by visualising that you'll soon have defined abs and toned biceps.

You release certain chemicals when you exercise that help block pain signals to your brain. These chemicals also reduce anxiety and depression, which can worsen migraines.

Keeping a healthy weight through diet and exercise can also help manage migraines. Obesity is also known to increase the risk of chronic headaches.

If your healthcare provider approves, take part in any exercise you enjoy. Walking, swimming and cycling are usually good choices.

Remember to ease into your physical routine gradually, as strenuous exercise may trigger migraines.

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Stress management

There is no way to avoid daily stress, but you can manage it to help manage your migraines:

  • Instead of trying to fit more activities or chores into your day, simplify your life.
  • Delegate as much as possible, and divide large projects into manageable chunks. Make sure you manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, take a few slow stretches or a quick walk to recharge.
  • Keep a positive attitude. If you think: “This can’t be done,” switch gears and think: “This will be tough. But I can make it work.”
  • Do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes a day. It could be playing a game, having coffee with a friend or taking up a hobby. Doing something you want is a natural stress reliever.
  • It may help you to relax your muscles, one group at a time, by inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply. When you’re done, sit quietly for a couple of minutes.

Keep a migraine journal

Until recently, the best advice was to avoid migraine triggers. However, new research suggests this may increase sensitivity to potential triggers. Write down when and what you were doing at the time, how long your migraines lasted and what relieved them.

It may be better to introduce yourself to triggers gradually, and then use behavioural management techniques to cope with them.

Research is necessary to determine if and how this approach is more efficient in managing migraines. It may include identifying and challenging negative thoughts, relaxation training, and stress reduction.

Balance is key

Making healthy lifestyle choices can help you live with migraines. You can ask your friends and loved ones for support.

Join a support group or seek counselling if you feel anxious or depressed. Believe in your ability to overcome it.

It is crucial to emphasise the significance of correcting dietary patterns to prevent headache attacks and reduce the complications arising from drug consumption in migraine patients. The social and economic efficiency of the patients will thus be enhanced [4].

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3696968/
[2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1028415X.2022.2143958
[3] https://www.eatthis.com/migraines-eating-habits-new-study/
[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/in-depth/migraines/art-20047242

Photograph: Shift Drive/Shutterstock
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