Eat Your Way To a Headache-Free Life
Eat Your Way To a Headache-Free Life
Headaches are a common affliction for many. From dull and throbbing to the sharp and debilitating, headaches can often strike out of the blue, sometimes with little explanation or easily identifiable cause.
Debilitating migraine headaches are a severe form of headache, which can last from four to 72 hours. Women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men.
While migraines may come on without warning, it is common to experience a group of symptoms just prior to the onset of pain, known as an aura. These symptoms include blurring or bright spots of vision, anxiety, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, disturbed thinking, unilateral peripheral numbness or tingling and even gastrointestinal upset.
Migraines appear to be influenced by serotonin levels, with those who suffer from them showing low levels of this brain chemical. Increasing the production of serotonin is thought to be beneficial in the management of migraines.
Oestrogen is also believed to play a role in the onset of MHs, with pregnancy a natural antidote for some women. Menstruation and menopause often change a woman’s pattern of migraine headaches.
You Are What You Eat
Food allergies and intolerances play a role in many cases. Foods such as chocolate, cheese, beer and wine contain histamine or other similar amines, which cause the blood vessel dilation seen in a migraine. Red wine is more problematic than white due to its significantly higher levels of histamine – 20 to 200 per cent more, in fact. For histamine-induced migraines, it’s recommended to avoid foods high in histamine and eat plenty of foods containing vitamin B6, such as whole grains. Tyramine can also be a migraine trigger for some people. This amine is high in aged cheese, smoked fish and cured meats.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is also linked to migraines. A regular intake of protein and good fats such as avocados or nuts and seeds throughout the day will help to reduce any sudden drop in blood sugar levels.
The integrity of the digestive system may also play a role. The metabolic waste produced by pathogenic organisms such as parasites and bacteria may provoke a MH. By keeping favourable bacteria at an optimal level, these headache-causing metabolites can be kept to a minimum.
Low levels of magnesium are found in many MH sufferers. Increasing levels of this electrolyte through the diet will help to maintain the tone and integrity of blood vessels, preventing the over-excitability that causes their dilation.
Increasing your intake of dietary omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish while reducing your intake of arachidonic acid found in animal fats may be useful, reducing the inflammatory pathway and therefore pain response.
Feverfew is a herb that can be consumed as a tea or by eating the leaves. It has been shown to reduce the onset and duration of MH and is thought to work in different ways, having implications on several triggering factors. Its influence on serotonin release, inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis and impact on histamine release all provide good reason to drink this herbal tea in the management of MH.
Magnesium and migraines
A number of nutrients have been linked to a reduction in headaches and migraines – among them magnesium.
Magnesium plays many essential roles in your body, one of which is involved in maintaining healthy nerve and muscle function. There are a large number of nerves and muscles surrounding your scalp and brain and a headache or migraine can occur if they’re not functioning properly.
Studies also show people suffering from migraine attacks commonly have depleted magnesium stores, with one trial finding a significant reduction in migraine occurrence after magnesium intake.
Although available as a supplement, it is better to obtain magnesium from a range of wholefoods including leafy green vegetables, fruits (specifically avocados and bananas) and legumes. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of magnesium.
Try sprinkling pumpkin seeds over muesli, or pan-fry and add to a salad.
Foods to help aid peace of mind:
One of the best food sources of vitamin B6, wheatgerm will help regulate histamine release and therefore decrease the likelihood of histamine-related migraines. Add to a smoothie or sprinkle overfruit and yoghurt.
Mackerel & Salmon
These oily fish are full of essential fatty acids, which can help modulate the inflammatory pathways and therefore pain response associated with migraines. Fatty acids also help to increase serotonin production.
Leafy greens’ high magnesium content helps keep blood vessel walls toned and less susceptible to the dilation seen in migraines. Leafy greens also promote oestrogen clearance, keeping hormone levels balanced.
Garlic & Onion
Adding garlic and onion to your diet will help keep the liver clean, allowing for efficient processing of toxins and reducing their systemic impact, such as the onset of migraines.
Low-energy production has been implicated in the onset of migraines. To boost energy levels, include spinach in your diet, it’s a good source of vitamin B2, which is involved in energy metabolism.
Oats display a restorative action to the nervous system. As most migraines are precipitated by emotional stresses, eating oats will help to keep nerves intact, reducing the onset of many migraines.
More on migraines from MiNDFOOD: