Managing Migraines with Diet

Migraines affect 15%-20% of men and 25%-30% of women due to excessive dilation of the blood vessels in the head, and when they do strike they can be quite debilitating.  In addition to this, this vasodilation causes the nerves that are wrapped around the blood vessels to stretch.  This stretching causes the nerves to release chemicals which manifest in pain, inflammation as well as additional enlargement of the blood vessels. Migraine attacks are often preceded by visual disturbances, nausea, suppressed appetite and drowsiness, and once you have had a migraine the chance of getting another one are increased.

Food and Nutrition

 

Food allergies or food intolerances play an important role in the management of migraines. Research shows that by eliminating the allergens or food intolerance, the prevalence of migraines is greatly reduced or eliminated. The most common triggers for migraines are:

  • Chocolate;
  • Cheese;
  • Wine.  Red wine is been shown to be more problematic than white wine as it contains more histamine.

These foods may initiate migraines as they contain a chemical called histamine.  Investigation into histamines has shown there to be a relationship between increased histamine levels and migraines in susceptible people.  An enzyme called diamine oxidase (histaminases) breaks down histamine prior to absorption.  The level of this enzyme has been found to be reduced or deficient, in a person who reacts to dietary histamines, such as a migraine sufferer. This can be assessed in a genetic test such as 23andme

Other food triggers may include:

 

  • Food additives such as nitrites and MSG (monosodium glutamate).  These are food preservatives that are used for food colouring;
  • The enzyme diamine oxidase is B6 dependent.  Therefore a deficiency in this nutrient may be an instigator for migraines.  Fish, seeds, garlic, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts are some of the B6 rich foods;
  • Compounds known to inhibit B6 and therefore diamine oxidase include food colouring agents such as hydrazine dyes, FD&C yellow#5), the pill, alcohol;
  • Gluten.  This may present as an intolerance or allergen for some people and can trigger a migraine, sometimes it can be dose dependant
  • Dairy.  This may present as an intolerance or allergen and in some people can trigger a migraine

How can Nutrition be of Benefit when Managing Migraines?

 

  • It is important to identify and avoid triggers.  This can be done through an elimination diet and/or a food diet;
  • Intestinal dysbiosis may be related to the onset of migraines.  Intestinal dysbiosis is the imbalance of flora in the gut and causes toxins.  Improving digestion and elimination with a detox program can eliminate or greatly reduce migraines
  • Vitamin B6.  Research has shown that this may be beneficial in some migraine sufferers.  The enzyme diamine oxidase is B6 dependent.  B6 improves histamine tolerance by increasing diamine oxidase activity.  It is interesting to note that women have a reduced amount of diamine oxidase.  This may explain why there is a higher incidence of histamine-induced migraines amongst women;
  • It is important to eat regular meals.  A drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) can elicit migraine attacks.  An imbalance of blood sugar levels throughout the day can also trigger migraines.  It is therefore important to eat regular meals and to include a fibre and protein in every meal as this can help regulate the way in which food is being digested and absorbed.
  • Magnesium (Mg).  Low brain and tissue mg levels have been found in migraine sufferers.  Research has shown that lower magnesium levels are linked to higher incidence of migraines. The major role of magnesium is to maintain the health of the blood vessels and prevent over activity of nerve cells.  Regular intake of magnesium supplements have been shown to improve the frequency and duration of migraine attacks.  Mg is also found in foods such as nuts, legumes, whole grains and vegetables especially green leafy vegetables. If you are getting regular migraines a magnesium supplement like Fibroplex Plus can be beneficial.

Hormones

 

An imbalance in your sex hormones, particularly excess estrogen compared to progesterone can trigger hormone related headaches and migraines. There are a number of reasons that this may occur like poor detoxification of hormones, excess stress leading to high cortisol levels which will deplete progesterone, thyroid issues and digestion issues like leaky gut.

The best way to get an accurate picture of what is happening is with an adrenal hormone test and a saliva sex hormone test which measure the bioavailable hormones, knowing exactly what is happening with your hormones allows for more specific treatment options.

These are some of the common triggers and solutions and a good place to start to help manage your migraines. If you would like more help with diet or the hormone testing contact me at michael@planetnaturopath.com

About the Author Michael

Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen

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