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The Best Foods That Help with Headaches & Migraines

Often traditionally treated with medications and other lifestyle remedies, there are also foods good for migraines. So instead of reaching in the medicine cabinet, give the kitchen a visit!

The Best Foods That Help with Headaches & Migraines


Those who have experienced migraines know how debilitating they can feel. While traditionally treated with medications and other lifestyle remedies like stress management and avoiding migraine triggers, there are also foods that help migraines settle or decrease in severity.

Alas, look no further, here are the best foods that help with headaches that will not pass!

What Causes Migraines?

Unfortunately, migraine causes are not completely understood. However, medical professionals agree that genetics and environment play a major role.

The most common risk factors for migraines include family history, age, sex, and hormonal changes. Thus, people with family members who also suffer from migraines, those in their thirties, women, and females on their menstrual cycle have the highest risk of migraines.

Although anything can technically trigger a migraine, the most common include:

• Hormonal changes in women such as fluctuations in estrogen, serotonin, and synthetic hormone medications
• Inflammatory food and drinks
• Stress
• Bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells
• Sleep changes
• Weather or pressure changes
• Certain medications
• Some food additives
• Dehydration
• Skipping meals
• Intense physical exertion 

Beyond that, researchers are exploring the correlation between migraines and changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).

In addition, there are various types of migraines with different major triggers, symptoms, and treatment and many people suffer from more than one type. While the two most frequent types are migraine without aura (previously called the common migraine) and migraine with aura (previously called classic, complicated or hemiplegic migraine), the others include.

• Chronic 
• Acute 
• Vestibular (vertigo)
• Optical (eye)
• Menstrual
• Complex
• Acephalgic (no headache/visual only)
• Hormonal
• Stress
• Cluster (behind the eye)
• Vascular (throbbing or pulsing headache)

Common Migraine Symptoms

These will differ from person to person and based on the specific type of migraine experienced but include:

• Aura: a cluster of symptoms that prefaces the attack phase of a migraine
• Throbbing/pulsing pain- a specific pattern and feel of pain associated with migraine headaches
• Nausea and vomiting
• Mood changes, from euphoria to depression
• Neck stiffness
• Sensitivity to light
• Increased thirst or urination
• Frequent yawning
• Food Cravings

If symptoms progress to mental confusion, fever, seizures, double vision, numbness, or trouble speaking and/or if it lasts for more than 72 hours, seek medical help immediately.

Best Food to Prevent Migraines

Due to their complexity, there is no definitive "migraine diet," but some foods hold high potential for treating or decreasing symptoms of migraines. Below lists some of the most likely foods that may prevent or relieve migraines:

• Cereals (void of nuts, dried fruits, or aspartame)
• Plain or sesame seed bagels
• Quick breads
• Plain pretzels or chips
• Unflavored crackers
• White, wheat, rye, or pumpernickel bread from the store
• Fresh, lean proteins (chicken, fish, turkey)
• Poppy seeds
• Pumpkin seeds
• Sesame seeds
• Sunflower seeds
• Most Fresh fruits
• Fresh Vegetables

Foods That Trigger Migraines

There is some scientific evidence that indicates specific foods and food additives are more likely to trigger migraines, and one study deemed restricting trigger foods an effective migraine treatment.

In addition, 27 percent of migraine sufferers believe that certain foods either trigger or enhance the likelihood of another environmental factor to trigger their migraines.

In no particular order, here is a list of potentially triggering foods:

• Excessive caffeine (more than 400 milligrams/day; 4 to 5 cups of coffee)
• Red wine (due to high histamine content)
• Aged cheeses (tyramine content)
• Yeast (tyramine content)
• Other alcohols (tyramine content)
• Nuts and seeds (tyramine content; not the ones listed above)
• Artificial sweeteners (especially in diet sodas)
• Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, (used in many processed foods)
• Processed/cured meats (nitrate and nitrite content) 
• Chocolate
• Citrus fruits

Other commonly reported triggers are avocados, livers, dairy, dried fruit, garlic, onions, beans, fermented foods, potato chips, smoked or dried fruits, tomato-based products, and certain fresh fruits.

Best Food to Soothe a Migraine

The same foods that help prevent migraines also assist in treating them, mostly because they do not include any common triggers. In general, the best treatment foods are natural, whole, and void of preservatives, artificial flavoring, and other refined additives. 

Furthermore, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) promotes a mostly plant-based diet, full of "pain safe" foods including the following:

• Orange, yellow, and green veggies (especially kale and collard greens)
• Rice (brown is better)
• Non-citrus fresh fruits (especially figs)
• Foods high in riboflavin (vitamin B2) like fish, red meat mushrooms, grains
• Seafood (especially shrimp and salmon)
• Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, or vanilla
• Fresh meats like poultry and fish
• Quinoa
• Water

The Bottom Line

Migraines are annoying at best and severely debilitating at worse. They often lead to undesirable symptoms like lethargy, nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to external stimuli.

Beyond typical treatment like medication, certain foods can help prevent and treat migraines including fresh veggies, lean proteins, non-citrus fruits, rice, quinoa and water. On the flip side, some foods more commonly trigger migraines such as excessive caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and MSG.

It can be helpful to keep a migraine journal and note what was eaten leading up to, during, and after the migraine to detect patterns, potential triggers, and possible food treatment options.

All-in-all, more research is warranted to understand the mechanism of migraines in order to provide better treatment offerings. But for now, sticking to a wholesome, fresh diet appears to reduce instances and severity of them.

So, cook some delicious Mediterranean recipes to stave off those menacing migraines!

References:

Angel T. What Foods Can You Eat to Prevent Migraines? Healthline. Published June 9, 2020. www.healthline.com/health/migraine/what-to-eat-when-you-have-a-migraine

Crystal S. 10 Foods to Avoid If You Get Migraines. Cove. www.withcove.com/learn/migraine-trigger-foods

Migraine. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published January 16, 2020. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

Nall R. Everything You Want to Know About Migraine. Healthline. Published December 20, 2017. www.healthline.com/health/migraine

Nall R. Foods for Migraine: Prevention, Triggers, and Relief. Medical News Today. Published January 28, 2021. www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323161.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on May 13, 2021. Updated on July 07, 2021.

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