An active lifestyle and nutritious diet are important for your overall health, but did you know research suggests there is a link between nutrition and migraines specifically? From dietary changes that help prevent migraines to tips on what to eat and drink when you are experiencing a migraine, in this article, we explore the link between nutrition and migraines.

While certain foods or chemicals may trigger a migraine in one person but not another, there are some common dietary triggers for headaches and migraines. These include:

  • Chocolate
  • Processed meat
  • Citrus fruits
  • Cultured dairy products
  • Aged cheese
  • Caffeine – in coffee, energy drinks and tea
  • Foods that contain additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates and aspartame
  • Some wines, beers and spirits

In addition to these food triggers, dehydration and your dietary eating habits and patterns, such as missed, delayed or inadequate meals, can trigger migraines too.

So, what changes can you make to your diet to prevent headaches and migraines or help relieve them during an attack?

Understand what your dietary triggers are

The first step is to work out what your dietary headache or migraine triggers are. You can do this by keeping a headache food diary, recording what you ate and any headache/migraine symptoms that occur as a result. Look for patterns and foods that trigger your headaches and then avoid these foods and find alternatives to them. This may involve spending some time reading food labels and eating more home cooked meals so you are aware of exactly what you are eating.

Once you know what your dietary triggers are, it is much easier to avoid and prevent them by planning your meals in advance and making better options when eating out.

At Migraine Specialist, we ask all of our patients to carefully complete headache diaries as part of their treatment plan, and detailing the food they eat and the symptoms they experience is an important part of that.

Small changes that will have an impact

In addition to learning more about what your personal dietary triggers are, you can also make some general changes and substitutes to help with prevention and management of your migraines. These small changes include:

  1. Eat more fresh foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean proteins and avoid foods with added preservatives like MSG.
  2. Stay hydrated – Avoid dehydration by drinking a minimum of 2-3 litres of water throughout the day. Of course, this will depend on your climate and activity level, but make sure you are getting at least 2-3 litres each day. A good way to keep track of your water intake is to carry a water bottle around with you and make sure you drink a lot of water especially if you feel a headache or migraine coming on.
  3. Keep your blood sugars stable and eat regular meals and snacks that are balanced. Choose fibre rich, wholegrain or low GI carbohydrate foods and avoid missing or delaying meals.
  4. Include probiotic and prebiotic foods in your diet for your gut. Probiotic foods include sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, tempeh and kimchi and prebiotic foods include oats, asparagus, garlic and legumes.

The relationship between your gut and brain

We spoke to nutritionist Dietitian & Nutritionist Rebecca Gawthorne about the connection between your gut and brain, and how this can impact headaches and migraines.

Rebecca said, “Your gut and brain are closely connected and research is finding that maintaining a healthy gut may benefit headache and migraine sufferers. Research suggests that those who regularly experience gastrointestinal symptoms have a higher prevalence of headaches than those who don’t have gastrointestinal symptoms, meaning that those who get frequent headaches may be predisposed to gastrointestinal problems. Digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease, also may be linked to migraines. Treating these digestive conditions may help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.”

Rebecca also said when you include probiotic and prebiotic foods in your diet, you can help your gut maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria and which in turn, may reduce headaches and migraines.

What should I eat during a migraine

We know that migraines are uncomfortable, painful and debilitating, and there are lots of side effects. While it is important to follow advice from your doctor or medical professional and take prescribed medications during a migraine attack, both Rebecca and Dr Limberg have also offered nutritional and diet suggestions that may be helpful when you are experiencing a headache or migraine.

Firstly, if you feel a headache or migraine coming on or are experiencing an attack, drink lots of water and stay hydrated to relieve the pain. If you are experiencing nausea, you may need to sip slowly on water and if you have been vomiting, an electrolyte replacement drink can help rehydrate you more effectively.

If you feel like eating, bland folds like plain crackers or bread can also help if you have been vomiting. Some people may also find ginger or peppermint helpful in relieving symptoms.

In addition, avoid any of your headache and migraine trigger foods and opt for foods that you know don’t cause any migraine symptoms for you, such as fresh vegetables and fruit. If you think that your headaches and migraines may be related to skipping a meal, eating something containing carbohydrates, like some fresh fruit, may help.

Dr Limberg also said that caffeine can have pain relieving effects, and a cup of coffee, with a combination of analgesic medications, can be beneficial at the onset of a migraine event.

Most importantly, know that you don’t have to suffer alone and in silence – there are so many options for prevention and management no matter how minor or severe your headaches and migraines are. Check out our blog for more resources on headache and migraine prevention and management, or give us a call on (07 3831 1611) if you want to chat to our team about a solution that is right for you.

If you know someone who suffers from frequent headaches and migraines, pass on this article so they can make some small diet and nutritional changes that have a big impact.

Thanks to Dietitian & Nutritionist Rebecca Gawthorne and our Neurologist Dr Nicole Limberg for their advice and expertise on the link between nutrition and migraines for this article.