People Prone to Migraines Should Watch Their Diets

November 2, 2016
Amy Jacob

For individuals battling migraines, a morning cup of coffee or extra glass of wine can act as devastating headache triggers. Rather than excess caffeine, the true migraine trigger culprits are nitrites and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

For individuals battling migraines, a morning cup of coffee or extra glass of wine can act as devastating headache triggers. Rather than excess caffeine, the true migraine trigger culprits are nitrites and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

However, saying an abrupt goodbye to foods and beverages that contain high concentrations of these components can be more than a little difficult.

To better understand this situation, Vincent Martin, MD, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, assessed different approaches to preventing headaches with diet:

1. An elimination diet that avoids foods and drinks known to trigger headaches

2. A comprehensive diet whose composition can prevent headaches

According to Martin’s two-part review of more than 180 research studies on the subject of migraine and diet, “One of the most important triggers for headache is the withdrawal of caffeine. Let’s say you regularly pound three or four cups of coffee every morning and you decide to skip your morning routine one day, you will likely have full-fledged caffeine withdrawal headache that day.” Martin did report that drinking more than 400 milligrams daily (one cup is 125 milligrams), can even activate symptoms beyond migraines, like anxiety and depression.

The other migraine trigger, MSG, is often a central part of diet as a flavor enhancer in processed foods, soups, international foods, snacks, salad dressing, seasoning salts, ketchup, barbeque sauce, and heavy Chinese cooking. Naturally, according to Martin, you can only eliminate MSG by eating fewer processed foods, and switching to more natural items like fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats.

Nitrites are also threats, as the preservatives are found in processed meats (bacon, sausage, ham, and lunch meat) to preserve color and flavor. Research indicated that approximately 5% of migraine patients were likely to experience an attack on the days they consumed nitrite-filled foods. On a positive note, stronger government regulations on labels have reduced the use of nitrites.

Tailoring weight-loss diets to prevent migraines might seem daunting, but experts have outlined a promising diet option for those suffering more frequent migraine attacks. Researchers suggest boosting omega-3 fats while decreasing omega-6 levels.

This means replacing polyunsaturated vegetable oils — corn, sunflower, safflower, canola, and soy – with flaxseed oil. Additionally, Martin suggested consuming flaxseed, salmon, halibut, cod, and scallops, while avoiding peanuts and cashews.

Healthy diets are always key to maintaining overall health, and now research has suggested new ways for migraine patients to control their dietary triggers.

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