A migraine is a neurological process affecting the front or side of the head. This is what produces that severe headache so many of us are familiar with. Whilst it is generally accepted that certain genes make you more prone to migraines, lifestyle and diet are also huge factors. Something that can be helpful in pinpointing trigger factors that may cause migraines, is keeping a journal of the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. It’s also worth noting any other factors such as PMS or digestive discomfort in the journal. This data can be invaluable in working out what triggers these attacks!
Well-known triggers of migraine attacks include:
- Bright lights
- Excessive noise
- Poor sleep quality
- Excessive stress
Researchers have also found these less-common but still prevalent links:
- Tyramine: is a substance found in aged cheese, yoghurt, nuts, peas, beans, plums, figs, bananas and citrus fruits. It triggers the adrenal glands to produce migraine-inducing chemicals.
- Peanuts: contain vasoactive compounds which dilate blood vessels, making headaches worse
- Aspartame: an artificial sweetener. It can cause an inhibition of serotonin and dopamine in the brain which can cause severe headaches
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): a well-known addictive flavouring. This one gets bad press, but with good reason. It’s generally best avoided.
- Nitrates: often found in processed meat to enhance the colour. It can trigger inflammation, which in turn can lead to a migraine.
Migraines are also often the result of hormonal imbalances in the body. A huge 70% of migraine attacks occur in women. This is partly because of fluctuating hormones during PMS. These attacks are therefore known as ‘menstrual migraines’, and they can occur before, during, and after PMS. Migraines are also common in pregnancy and during menopause for a similar reason.
How do you combat migraines with nutrition?
- One of the most common things I recommend to my clients is to eat little and often. This is especially helpful for pregnant women, because medication during pregnancy is strongly advised against. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar to drop, which in turn can cause a migraine. For this reason, also try to avoid especially sugary foods or drinks. Spikes in blood sugar, as well as dips, can cause migraines.
- Vitamin B is key, especially riboflavin (B2), B6, folic acid and B12. Vitamin B has been linked to reducing the risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, strokes, epilepsy, and migraines. It’s worth getting a blood test to work out if you’re deficient in any of these vitamins.
- Vitamin D is also important. It’s probably worth taking a supplement of this because of the lack of direct sunlight over winter months.
- Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. It is an antioxidant and reduces blood pressure. Omega-3 is predominantly found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.
- Regular exercise. If you suffer from migraines, it’s important to stay active. However, make sure you take it easy and try out lighter alternatives.
- Massage can beneficially relieve tension and improve circulation.
When it comes to migraines it’s important not to restrict your diet to the point of collapse. Take small, educated steps towards eliminating potential triggers. Work from your journal of attacks. Take note of what you’ve eaten in the 24hrs prior to attacks, and what other factors make have had an impact. If you’re in doubt, it’s well worth contacting a nutritional therapist or health professional, as everyone responds to different foods differently.
Prior to hiring Rosie as my nutritionist, I suffered from very bad migraines. A friend recommended that I should engage Rosie, and through her thorough analysis, she was able to pin point the food in my diet that was triggering my migraines and recommended a very specific nutrition plan. I can proudly say that four months after starting on Rosie’s nutrition plan, my migraines are gone and I’ve lost 10 pounds! Thank you Rosie!