Top Five Foods That Help Reduce Headache
Top Five Foods That Help Reduce Headache
Diet is essential to migraine management, but not in the ways you might expect. Rodolfo Low was a chemist, professor, Ford Foundation advisor, and migraine sufferer. In Victory over Migraine: The Breakthrough Study That Explains What Causes It and How It Can Be Completely Prevented through Diet, he presented the findings of his twenty-two years of clinical research.
Drawing a connection between insulin levels and migraine, he concluded that patients can eliminate their migraines altogether by better managing their blood sugar levels, for which he advised a hypoglycemic diet.
This so-called migraine diet boils down to a simple formula: Eat more protein more often, and eat fewer simple carbs. Based on these ideas, this article explains what it means when people regularly wake up with headaches, why it’s important to eat protein in the morning, and what’s wrong with carb breakfasts, energy bars, and sweet snacks.
Migraine and Low Blood Sugar
Dr. Low, a migraine sufferer since childhood, noticed a pattern about his and others’ migraine episodes and began doing clinical research to investigate his hypothesis: when migraine-prone people consume foods containing simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugars, corn syrup, fructose, and maltose, they get migraine attacks. (He always got them after a day spent at the movies consuming lots of candy.) For over two decades, Dr. Low analyzed how sugar, or glucose, is metabolized in patients who are prone to migraine. It’s complicated (and of course the science is always advancing), but in a laywoman’s vastly simplified terms, here’s the story:
All the food we eat is metabolized, or broken down, into a sugar called glucose, which is then processed by the liver before it enters the bloodstream. Some of the glucose is used immediately, and some is stored as fat so it can be accessed later. When the pancreas is overactive (a condition called hyperinsulinemia), it secretes too much insulin, the hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the blood. As a result, too much sugar is eaten up by the excess insulin, resulting in a condition called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Hypoglycemia reduces the body’s energy. In order to boost energy, the adrenal glands release the “speedy” hormones, adrenaline and catecholamine. These energy boosters, which are also produced in response to stress, cause blood vessels to constrict, which causes release of lipids called prostaglandins, involved in dilation and inflammation of blood vessels in your head. The dilated blood vessels impinge upon surrounding nerves, sending signals to your brain stem and brain and…now you’ve got migraine.
1. Opt for natural carbohydrates.
Eat foods rich in natural carbohydrates along with protein foods to prevent migraine—the key word here being natural—such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and pasta. Balanced meals will even out your blood sugar levels and help you digest the protein.
Unrefined whole grains and flours, such as 100 percent whole wheat, brown rice, steel-cut oats, buckwheat, and corn, contain healthy nutrients and fiber, which are separated out in refined versions.
Choose cereals that are free of added sugars or lightly sweetened with honey or fruit juice.
Sometimes your stomach wants the comfort of white basmati rice served with butter and nutritional yeast, or a French baguette with butter. It’s okay to mix it up, in moderation, depending on your mood and tummy.
2. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Unsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids, sourced from animals and plants, are an essential part of the human diet. It is also a very good addition to your migraine diet.
Omega-3 is beneficial for people with migraines because it tones and relaxes smooth muscle tissue, the type that makes up the cardiovascular system, including blood vessels in your head related to migraine.
The so-called fatty fishes, rich in omega-3, include (from high to low content) herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, halibut, tuna, swordfish, greenshell/green-lipped mussels, tilefish, canned tuna, pollock, caviar, and oysters.
Omega-3 is abundant in eggs, and grass-fed chickens produce eggs with more of it. Similarly, grass-fed beef has higher omega-3 content than grain- and corn-fed beef.
Nut and seed sources of omega-3 include flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans, soybean oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and walnut oil are among the foods to eat when you have a migraine.
The wild green purslane, considered a pesky weed by many gardeners, is the highest source of omega-3 of any leafy green vegetable and is also high in vitamins E and C.
Omega-3, alone or in combination with omega-6 fatty acids, can be bought in supplement form, but it is better to consume it in food, which provides other nutrients.
3. Eat magnesium-rich foods.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps control smooth muscle tissue tone and many important chemical reactions in the body. It also helps in migraine prevention.
The following foods are rich in magnesium: dark leafy greens, pumpkin and sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, pollock, mackerel, tuna, white beans, French beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, millet, and bulgur.
Avocado, yogurt, goat cheese, bananas, dried figs, prunes, apricots, dates, and raisins are also magnesium rich. Note: Many of these foods also contain amines, which can be triggers for some migraineurs.
Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, but put it in the “migraine mixed-bag” category because it is also a trigger for some people.
4. Eat a variety of produce.
Eating a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits is essential for good nutrition.
In hot summer months, among the anti-migraine foods to eat include fresh salads and uncooked fruits and vegetables, which are cooling.
In cold autumn and winter months, lightly steam, sauté, or bake vegetables and make soups to keep your system heated, hearty, and less susceptible to colds, flu, and upper body tightness.
In winter, balance fresh produce with dried, canned, baked, or frozen, depending on availability. Purchase canned products packaged in bottles or BPA-free cans. By canning or freezing your own, you can control the ingredients.
Beware of dried fruits preserved with sulfites, sulfates, or sulfur dioxide. These preservatives help fruit retain its color (like those bright-orange apricots!) but it should not be a part of your diet to eliminate migraines.
5. Drink lots of water.
A good migraine diet plan is not complete without water. Drink at least two quarts or liters of pure water per day. Tea, coffee, juice, milk, and soda do not count in that calculation.
Water keeps your body hydrated, aids with digestion, and is just as necessary during winter as summer. Mild dehydration can make you feel tired and have low energy. Don’t ignore your thirst or wait until you feel thirsty.
Use a water bottle made of stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastic.
If you are not used to water or do not like drinking it, get a bottle with a pull-up spout. You can ingest more easily by sucking (the first way we learn to eat) than by sipping.
Drinking a sixteen-ounce glass of water first thing in the morning is a very important step in any headache diet. Use large glasses instead of small ones to increase your water intake.
Keep a water bottle or tall glass of water next to your desk.
Carry water with you wherever you go—in your car, running errands, to work, meetings, classes, recreational activities, workouts. A ten-minute errand can easily turn into an hour or two, and without your water, you will be “going thirsty.”
Find water that you like. If you do not like the taste of water, you can develop a palate for it; just as you prefer one brand of juice, soda, coffee, or tea over another, experiment to find the water you like. I prefer distilled or reverse-osmosis and carbon-purified water over mineral water because it tastes sweeter to me. The point is, I like it so I drink more.
Aside from consuming food that promotes natural migraine prevention, it is equally important to drink water throughout your day. Try not to guzzle it all at once when you realize you are thirsty, especially at night, when drinking too much might make you wake up to use the bathroom. Pace yourself.
“If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.” Have you heard that claim? Well, it’s got a point. If you are not always aware of, or you ignore, your body’s cues, then yes, by the time you become aware of your thirst you might be dehydrated.
Research your best options for clean, safe drinking water. Technology to detect and combat pollutants is always advancing, and in some areas you can drink the tap water unfiltered. Filtered options include carbon-filtered pitchers, filtered faucet attachments to remove chlorine and other chemicals that appear in the water or from old pipes, and bottle delivery.