A clinical nutritionist explains what to eat to prevent migraines

·5-min read
Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

Migraine Awareness Week runs from September 5 - September 12 2022, but for the estimated 10 million sufferers in the UK, it's something on their mind 52-weeks-a-year.

The latest published data from the NHS and NICE reveals that there is an excess of 190,000 attacks every day. Despite being so common, there is still little explanation for their cause, or more importantly, a permanent cure.

We asked Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer to explain more about how food, and particular nutrients and ingredients, have the power to cause or prevent a migraine attack, as well as examine other corresponding triggers.

She writes...

Women are affected more than twice that of men – up to 25% versus up to 10%. In the following article I take a look at the role of nutrition when it comes to migraines and what foods can act as a trigger and what nutrients help ward off an attack.

There are many factors that can trigger migraine attacks from stress, sleep issues, insomnia to the use of visual display units, digital devices and even the weather to name but a few. Every migraine sufferer is different and as a result, what may cause an attack for some is not a problem for others and vice versa. One of the common triggers is the consumption of certain food nutrients which can have a direct influence on the number and severity of migraine attacks. Staying on top of your nutritional intake, as well a working on hormone balancing, which includes blood sugar control is really important if you are a migraine sufferer.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a potential migraine trigger for some sufferers. MSG are chemicals added to foods to enhance their flavour or help them stay fresh longer. Many processed foods contain MSG - crisps, canned soup, frozen meals, and some sauces (including tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, and soy). Be sure to check the label on foods you buy. MSG can be spelled out in full or identified by its E number which is E 621.

Photo credit: Suzi Sawyer
Photo credit: Suzi Sawyer

Tyramine can also for some migraine sufferers be a problem. Found in blue, feta, cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss cheese, Tyramine can trigger headaches in migraine sufferers by facilitating a chain reaction in your body which results in a throbbing headache pain.

Histamine is a part of the immune system that causes all the symptoms you associate with allergies. Foods containing histamine can also be an issue for a migraine sufferer. Alcohol, yogurt, dried fruits, avocados, aubergine, spinach, and shellfish, all contain histamine.

While there are some foods we need to avoid as a migraine sufferer if they act as a trigger, there are others we need to be consuming more of to help manage an attack. Keeping hydrated is really important. Between six and eight glasses a day can reduce migraine intensity and duration (1.2-1.5 litres). This intake can also include herbal teas or watermelon, which contains 92% water.

“Eating pineapple can also help control migraines as it contains the enzyme bromelain which is a natural pain reliever thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. And, for women who suffer from menstrual migraine headaches it is worth increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, as they contain hormonally active compounds called phytoestrogens, which have a balancing effect on oestrogen.

“Certain vitamin and mineral supplements can have a positive effect too. B vitamins are a group of water-soluble micronutrients that play many important roles in the body. For example, they contribute to neurotransmitter synthesis and help turn food into energy. Some B vitamins may have a protective effect against migraine headaches. Several studies have shown that the B vitamin supplements riboflavin (B2), folate, (B12) and pyridoxine (B6) may reduce symptoms.

As many of us are guilty of not getting our five a day of fruit and vegetables, bridging dietary gaps is vital and for migraine sufferers I recommend Alive! B-Complex Gummies which can help plug any nutrient gaps, giving you renewed energy and vitality. Likewise, magnesium is an important mineral for countless functions in the body, including blood sugar control and nerve transmission. Evidence suggests that inadequate consumption of magnesium is associated with migraine attacks. Bearing in mind that magnesium is widely deficient in the typical refined western diet and confirmed by the government’s own research - National Diet and Nutrition Survey -– opting for a multivitamin and multimineral daily supplement with magnesium is key.

Lastly, herbs too can be really useful for those of us that are migraine sufferers. The herb Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) contains a wealth of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and other properties, including the ability to reduce the production of histamine. Research suggests that the parthenolide compounds may also help reduce blood vessel constriction as well as acting on the brain’s serotonin system in a similar way to medications used to treat migraine. By inhibiting the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, the severity of migraine attacks can be reduced. However, a herb like Feverfew is not something you can just buy as a herb at the supermarket and hence choosing something like MigraHerb Feverfew Migraine Relief capsules which is a traditional herbal medicine ticks all the boxes and a herbal medicine I would recommend. It helps prevent migraine headaches plus it is suitable for vegans.

Knowing what triggers a migraine attack is really key but that can be very hard to ascertain and for some sufferers it is impossible to know. However, trying to control triggers will help. Stress is bad for all of us, and for many migraine sufferers one of the core triggers. So don’t forget to try and take that TLC time every day. Practising yoga for instance is an excellent way to relieve stress, increase flexibility, decrease pain, and improve your overall quality of life. So keep mobile, active and make sure your diet is full of all the right vitamins and minerals.

Suzi used data collated by the evidence backed Nature’s Way collection of traditional herbal medicines and plant-based supplements.

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