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The Migraine Diet: Natural Relief May be on Your Plate

Updated on September 2, 2015
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The Migraine Epidemic

Americans spend approximately $17 billion on migraine medication every year for outpatient services, doctor visits, and diagnostic tests. Treatment usually includes a class of drugs called triptans that come with a long list of side effects, are expensive and often don’t stop the pain.

Here are some painfully staggering statistics:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households includes someone with migraines.
  • Over 10% of the population suffers from migraines.
  • Migraines rank in the top 20 of the world's most disabling medical illnesses.
  • American employers lose more than $13 billion each year as a result of lost work days due to migraine.
  • Migraines tend to run in families. If one parent suffers from migraines, there is a 40% chance a child will suffer. If both parents suffer, the chance rises to 90%.

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An impressive study, The Journal of Headache and Pain, found that a plant-based diet reduces migraine pain. “By avoiding dairy products, eggs and cheese, some of the worst headache triggers are off the plate,” according to Anne Bunner, Ph.D., the associate director of clinical research.

— Anne Bunner, Ph.D.

Avoiding Triggers

The key to finding real relief for migraine suffers is to learn how to avoid what triggers an individual’s headaches. Research has shown astonishing links between migraines and food. Certain foods can trigger migraines, while others can prevent or even cure them.

Coffee can sometimes alleviate a migraine (while for other individuals it may actually be a trigger) and foods rich in magnesium, calcium, complex carbohydrates, and fiber have been used to prevent migraines.

Identifying Triggers

The migraine diet concept is to limit the foods you eat and to choose those not commonly associated with headaches. The suggested time frame of this elimination diet is between 2 and 4 weeks. Then introduce foods back in one at a time allowing 2 days in between each new food.

  • Eating a certain food should trigger a headache within 12 to at most 24 hours.
  • Limit the food of concern and monitor your headache frequency, severity and timing. Keep a food/headache diary.

If there is no change in your headaches that food may not be the trigger. However, it could be a trigger when combined with another food so may not be altogether on the “do eat” list.

Common Triggers

Foods that have been pickled, fermented, or marinated often contain monosodium glutamate, also known as the flavor enhancer MSG. MSG has been shown to trigger migraines. The FDA maintains that MSG is safe, but it remains controversial.

Aged cheeses like blue cheese, Parmesan and cheddar, dried and cured sausages and smoked fish as well as onions all contain Tyramine which occurs naturally in these foods and is known to be a migraine trigger.

Many diet sodas, snack foods, and low-calorie treats contain aspartame (also known as NutraSweet or Equal). This sugar substitute has been linked to headaches and migraines, especially in people who consume it regularly over a long period of time.

Common triggers often cause headaches in people that are susceptible to them. Here are the common food triggers in order of high probability:

  • dairy products: cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cheese, yogurt
  • chocolate
  • eggs
  • citrus fruits
  • meats: beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.
  • wheat (bread, pasta, etc.)
  • nuts and peanuts
  • tomatoes
  • onions
  • corn
  • apples
  • bananas

Worst Triggers

Worst known triggers include alcoholic beverages (especially red wine), caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, and sodas), monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (NutraSweet) and nitrites.

Pain-Safe Foods

Some foods have been deemed “Pain-safe foods” since these foods rarely contribute to headaches or other painful conditions. These include:

  • Rice, especially brown rice
  • Cooked green and/or yellow vegetables
  • Cooked orange vegetables, carrots or sweet potatoes are good choices
  • Cooked or dried non-citrus fruits: cherries, cranberries, pears, prunes (but AVOID citrus fruits, apples, bananas, peaches)
  • Water: Plain water or carbonated. Other beverages including herbal teas can be triggers.
  • Condiments: Small amounts of salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract are usually safe foods.

12 Best Foods to Relive Migraine Headaches

Supplements Can Help

Try these supplements in addition to the diet changes:

  • Feverfew: 250 mg per day or two to three fresh leaves.
  • Ginger: 1/2 to 1 tsp of fresh ginger per day.
  • Magnesium: 200 mg per day.
  • Calcium: Reduce calcium losses by avoiding animal protein, caffeine, tobacco, and excessive amounts of sodium and sugar. Add 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day of elemental calcium, with 200 IU of vitamin D.

Feverfew

See your doctor if headaches develop suddenly or are severe or constant or if you have had any trauma to the head preceding the headaches.

Great Green Smoothie for Migraines

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces filtered water or coconut water
  • 1/2 cup pineapple
  • 1/2 cup kale
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1/4 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 of a cucumber
  • 1/2 inch ginger root
  • 3/4 cups Ice

Blend together in a Vitamix until smooth and enjoy. The health benefits of this smoothie are amazing. Eating fresh pineapple has been shown to help ease headaches because it contains bromelain. Bromelain is a natural enzyme that has been shown to be a natural pain killer. It also provides anti-inflammatory properties.

Cucumber is 95% water which makes it great for hydrating as many headaches can be a symptom of dehydration. Ginger reduces inflammation and studies have shown it working faster than aspirin or other prescription medications. Leafy greens like kale are also excellent in combating migraines.

Summary

You don't have to feel you have to continue to endure migraines or keep trying different prescription medications with nasty side effects. Try implementing some of the suggestions here and you may just find the relief you've been looking for.

I would love to hear from you.

Please share in the comments section with us if you have had migraines and what you do to get relief. Let's work together and be well!

I'm a full-time health and wellness coach and would love to help you along your journey to thriving rather than surviving. Visit my website at http://www.10TopHealthSecrets.com.

Resources

Related Article: 8-unique-and-natural-headache-remedies

http://www.pcrm.org/shop/byNealBarnard/foods-fight-pain

Egger J, Carter CM, Wilson J, Turner MW. Is migraine a food allergy? A double-blind controlled trial of oligoantigenic diet treatment. Lancet. 1983;2:865-289.

http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org/fact-sheet.html

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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 20 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I'm slightly horrified at the amount of food that can trigger migraines - I get them about once a month and they last for 1-2 days. I'll try your smoothie recipe - sounds good.

    • Blessed Success profile image
      Author

      Sandy J Duncan 20 months ago from Kansas City, Kansas

      You are right that it can be overwhelming when you see this list. The great thing about the elimination diet is you get to find what YOUR triggers are may only end up having to avoid a handful of the list. Hope it helps! Healthy Blessings, Sandy

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