Approximately 13% of U.S. adults suffer from migraine headaches. Symptoms include a severe throbbing headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and noise. Most people can’t function normally during a migraine attack and may miss work as a result. Research indicates that the dietary changes described below can help to prevent migraines or reduce the frequency of attacks.
Eat foods containing co-enzyme Q10
CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance found in all human cells. It plays a vital role in the process of energy production. A study of 1,550 migraine patients found that 33 % had low levels of CoQ10. Some scientists have theorized that migraines are caused by a disorder of the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell and that CoQ10 improves mitochondrial function.
In an open trial to assess CoQ10 as a preventative treatment for migraine, 32 migraine patients were treated with 150mg of CoQ10 per day over three months. The results indicate that CoQ10 can be highly beneficial for migraineurs. Compared to the baseline non-treatment phase, 94% of patients had at least a 25% reduction in the number of days without a migraine attack and 61% had a greater than 50% reduction. Only two patients showed no improvement. Another study involving 42 patients found that CoQ10 was three times more likely than a placebo to reduce the number of migraine attacks.
Beef and pork are both good sources of CoQ10, but organ meats such as liver and heart contain up to five times as much as steaks or chops. Oily fish, especially sardines and mackerel, are also rich in CoQ10. Peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, and almonds contain moderate amounts.
Eat foods rich in magnesium
About 15% of the American population is deficient in magnesium and the rate is even higher among migraine sufferers. Migraine attacks can be caused by constriction and dilation of blood vessels around the brain. Magnesium helps to prevent this sort of attack by stabilizing blood vessel walls. A twelve-week study of 81 patients tested whether magnesium supplements were more effective than placebo pills. Migraine attacks were reduced by 42% in the group taking 600mg of magnesium daily, compared to just 16% in the placebo group.
Another study gave 30 migraine patients a daily 600mg magnesium citrate supplement for three months. After treatment, the frequency and severity of their attacks decreased. Changes in their brains were mapped with computerized tomography. Blood flow to the inferolateral frontal, inferolateral temporal, and insular regions of the brain increased significantly after magnesium supplementation.
Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, swiss chard, and kale are rich in magnesium. Nuts and seeds including pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds, and cashews are other good sources. Fish also have high levels of magnesium, especially mackerel, pollock, turbot, and tuna.
Avoid foods that contain tyramine
Tyramine is a substance found in some prepared foods. It is produced when the amino acid tyrosine breaks down, which can happen when foods are fermented, preserved, or aged. Tyramine is thought to stimulate the release of the brain neurotransmitter norepinephrine and to cause constriction and dilation of cranial blood vessels. Many migraine sufferers find that eating tyramine-rich foods increases the frequency of headaches. A survey of over 2,000 migraineurs found that over three-quarters of them had eaten at least one amine-containing food in the 24 hours before an attack. (Phenylethylamine, found in chocolate and alcohol, is also associated with migraines.)
You can reduce your chances of a tyramine-induced migraine attack by eating fresh food and avoiding anything aged, dried, fermented, salted, smoked, or pickled. Some foods that contain high amounts of tyramine include hard cheeses, dried sausages (such as pepperoni and chorizo), bacon, hot dogs, sauerkraut, soy sauce, dried fruit and beer on tap. Tyramine content will increase if food is stored for several days. Eat fresh produce within 48 hours and steer clear of over-ripe fruit.
Eat less sugar and refined carbohydrates
The brain requires a continuous supply of glucose to function normally and hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can trigger or exacerbate migraines. In one study, twelve migraine patients fasted for 19 hours to reduce the levels of glucose in their blood. Half of them developed migraines 11 to 14 hours after the beginning of the fast.
Fasting isn’t the only way to lower blood sugar. Eating a meal or snack high in sugar and carbohydrates can cause ‘reactive hypoglycemia’. Too much sugar in the blood is dangerous, so the pancreas produces insulin to transport glucose into the cells for energy or storage. Foods with a high glycemic index are quickly broken down into glucose and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. When this happens, the pancreas reacts by over-producing insulin, causing blood glucose to fall too low.
Changes to your diet and eating habits can help to prevent migraines brought on by hypoglycemia. Include protein in every meal. It counteracts the effects of carbohydrates. A piece of toast eaten with an egg will raise blood sugar levels much less rapidly than the toast alone. If you can’t give up sugary treats like chocolate bars or cupcakes, eat them immediately after a balanced meal rather than on an empty stomach. Avoid breakfast foods such as sugary cereals, toaster tarts, or donuts. They may well lead to a blood-sugar crash before lunch-time.