The influence of diet on migraines (and 5 tips to reduce migraines)

The influence of diet on migraines (and 5 tips to reduce migraines)

If you have ever suffered from it, you know how annoying it is: migraine. One has to deal with it every week, the other ‘only’ once a year. What exactly is a migraine, and more importantly: can you ease the pain or even get rid of it completely? And what role does nutrition play in this? Nutritionist and advisor Eva Snijders tells you that in this article.

There is a clear link between our female hormones and the onset of migraines.

What is it?

Let’s start by saying that migraines are more than just a headache. When it comes as a throbbing, violent attack, sometimes with seeing colors and flashes of light, you speak of a migraine. It is also typical that the pain is often on one side of the head and is accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting. Migraines often last from a few hours to 3 days. Lying in a dark room is often the best way to deal with the pain.

What is happening?

The influence of diet on migraines (and 5 tips to reduce migraines)

In migraine, the nerves in the head are stimulated. This opens up the surrounding blood vessels and makes the nerves more active. This puts pressure on the head and the associated pain symptoms result.

Migraines occur in both men and women. In this article, we focus on women. Because the triggers for a migraine attack are slightly different for both. This has a lot to do with our female hormones. A number of indications indicate this (1):

  • 60% of women get migraines just before or during menstruation.
  • The contraceptive pill ensures that the symptoms can worsen or decrease.
  • Seizures may decrease during pregnancy.
  • The transition can also bring about change. It can get worse or rather less.

There is a clear link between our female hormones and the onset of migraines.

The role of E numbers in migraine

Could diet play a role, many women sometimes wonder. This is indeed the case. Many women who switch from processed foods to natural foods notice a significant difference. This is partly because a number of added substances in our diet have been proven (1) to trigger a migraine attack. What are the main triggers?

  • Sulfite
    Sulfite is a preservative (E220 to E228) that is added to foods to reduce bacterial growth and oxidation sensitivity. It is mainly found in wine but also on meat and sliced ​​and dried fruit.
  • E621/MSG and other flavor enhancers
    Be very careful with E621, either MSG or monosodium glutamate. This substance has many harmless-sounding pseudonyms such as yeast extract, but it is a toxic substance, especially for our brains. Flavor enhancers are found in almost all-ready meals and processed industrial foods.
  • Aspartame
    Aspartame (E951) is a commonly used sweetener. This is widely used in light products, diet products, and soft drinks. sports drinks and all kinds of sweets including chewing gum. Do you use a lot of light or diet products and do you often suffer from migraines? Then that could be the cause.
  • Nitrate
    Nitrate is naturally present in green leafy vegetables and beetroot, but is also added to foods as E-number E251. This is to improve the shelf life or for color formation. This is mainly used for meat products.

Nitrate can be converted into nitrite in the body, which can trigger a migraine attack. A little nitrate is not a problem. But do you notice that you often eat the same leafy vegetables, meats on bread, and perhaps other nitrate-containing products that you may not have known about? Then it certainly makes sense to find out whether this can (partly) cause an attack.

Interesting American research also showed that people who quickly develop migraines have more bacteria in the mouth and gut that can convert nitrates into nitrites. (2) A healthy intestinal flora is therefore also very importantMore on that later.

The role of the food itself

The influence of diet on migraines (and 5 tips to reduce migraines)

Although not proven, there are still many people who experience the aggravation of complaints when eating chocolate, wine, and cheese. In cheese, the substance tyramine is said to be the culprit. Chocolate and wine contain nitrates, as described above.

Another trigger: biogenic amines in natural food

Do you always cook yourself and do you eat almost exclusively natural food and do you still suffer from migraines? Biogenic amines can also be a trigger.

These are substances that occur in vegetable and animal products, including the above-mentioned tyramine in cheese. They also occur naturally in the human body. histamine is the best-known example.

Normally, the gut and liver regulate that too many biogenic amines do not enter the bloodstream. Certain enzyme systems are responsible for this. If this barrier does not function properly, an excess of biogenic amines is created, which can cause physical reactions. This can also trigger a migraine attack.

There are foods that can stimulate the release of biogenic amines in the human body. The best known are pork, tomatoes and shellfish. Will a bell ring?

Or do you lack certain nutrients?

There is some evidence that a deficiency in certain nutrients can trigger or worsen migraine attacks. So make sure you have a good vitamin and mineral status. You do this by eating unprocessed food in all colors of the rainbow. Let veggies predominate in your meals and stay away from sugars and processed industrial foods.

Frequent migraines? Have an orthomolecular or naturopathic doctor measure and detect any deficiencies. A good, tuned multi can bring your vitamin and mineral profile back into balance. There are also some notable nutrients that influence the development of migraines:

  • Magnesium
    Women with hormonally sensitive migraines often appear to have a magnesium deficiency. (3) Good magnesium sources are green leafy vegetables, whole grain (pseudo) grains, nuts, dried fruit, and seaweed. But beware:  stress, sugar, and coffee (caffeine) cause an increased need for magnesium because these foods ensure that this mineral is excreted. Research shows that after supplementation with magnesium in combination with vitamin B6, the frequency and severity of migraines decreased. (4)
  • Omega 3  fatty acids
    There are many conflicting reports about the role of omega-3 fatty acids in migraine relief (5) (6) (7). So it cannot simply be concluded that this healthy type of fat has a direct influence, positively or negatively, on its effect. For hormone-sensitive migraines, around menstruation or menopause, the evidence seems to be somewhat clearer. It is known that omega-3 fats are important for our overall health, especially for our brains.
  • Vitamin B
    Especially the vitamins B2, B6, and B12 are important to reduce migraines (8). You can develop a deficiency of this by getting too little of it through your diet. For example, by eating too little raw and unprocessed food (vitamins B2 and B6 are sensitive to heat), because you have a higher need due to the contraceptive pill or a high protein intake. It is also possible that the liver cannot convert this vitamin family properly into the active, absorbable variant. To find out, the substance homocysteine ​​can be measured, which becomes too high if the conversion does not go well. This can be easily determined by taking a blood sample.

Magnesium and some B vitamins, in particular, can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.

What else can you do?

The influence of diet on migraines (and 5 tips to reduce migraines)

  • Consider a Q10 supplement
    You’ve probably heard of Q10 as the ‘anti-wrinkle drug’. This enzyme also seems to work well against migraines. The sources with the most Q10 are organ meats, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red palm oil, egg, spinach, and avocado. As we get older, we make less Q10, so a supplement is a welcome addition. Research shows that Q10 supplementation leads to a significant reduction in the number and severity of migraine attacks after three months (9)
  • Get fresh  ginger  at home
    Both the severity and duration of migraines can be reduced by using ginger. Ginger also appears to be effective when it comes on suddenly. Even as effective as a painkiller. (10)
  • Pamper your bowels
    Poor bowel function often affects headaches and migraines. A liver that has trouble detoxifying can also trigger an attack. Do you regularly suffer from your stomach, bloating or difficult bowel movements? Then a gut therapist can map out the health of your gut and give you specific advice. And that also benefits you in other areas, because healthy guts mean overall good health.
  • Keep your blood sugar stable
    The rapid rise and then fall of the blood sugar level also appears to be a triggering factor. This is because these fluctuations are accompanied by the production of stress hormones that can alternately tighten and relax the vessels. Do not eat throughout the day, but make sure you have 2 or 3 nourishing, rich meals. This prevents sniffing moments and cravings for (unhealthy) snacks. Sugars, stress, caffeine and fast carbohydrates cause an unstable sugar level.
  • Drink plenty of water
    Dehydration of your body can also trigger a migraine attack. We often drink too little water, especially in autumn and winter. Drink a large glass of filtered water when you wake up and between meals.

Other factors that may play a role

The influence of diet on migraines (and 5 tips to reduce migraines)

Finally, there are a few notable triggers of migraine. They can stand alone or be a co-cause. I assume you recognize this as a possible cause of your migraines.

  • Night shifts and irregular life
  • Sleeping too short or too long
  • Fatigue
  • Too much stress
  • Missed meals, skipping meals (see stable blood sugar level)

You can’t control everything, but what you eat and drink and which supplements you use is really up to you. Your diet has more influence on migraines than you might think. I hope this article has made that clear. Think of migraines as a cry for help from your body. Do your best to find out what it needs from you. You can often do much more than you think!


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