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If you suffer from migraines, you will do/try anything to alleviate the pain.  Symptoms can include throbbing pain, nausea and vomiting, light, sound and smell sensitivity and vision problems.  Regardless of your symptom, anyone who has experienced a migraine will agree, they are debilitating.

The role of nutrition in preventing migraines is widely studied.  Many foods, ingredients and nutrients have been associated with migraines and the inclusion or exclusion of these foods can be attractive to those seeking to avoid pharmaceuticals as treatment.

“Trigger foods or foods that have been associated with a cause and effect relationship to migraines include: dairy, chocolate, eggs, wheat, nuts and peanuts, organ meats, smoked or dried fish, citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, corn, ripe bananas, and dried fruits.   More specifically foods containing tyramine and other biogenic amines (phenylalanine) are directly associated to migraines. Tyramine is formed from the breakdown of protein as food ages. In general the longer a food ages, the higher the amount of tyramine.  Examples of  foods that have high levels are tyramine include: aged cheeses, alcoholic beverages, processed meats and certain beans (fava, broad, garbanzo, lima, pinto).  Specific cheeses that have high levels of tyramine include: Blue, Brie, Cheddar, Feta, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Muenster, Parmesan, Swiss and processed cheeses.

Additives and Preservatives: In addition to specific foods, many additives or preservatives in foods are associated with both headaches and migraines.  I recommend you avoid the following list regardless of migraines or not as these additives and preservatives are associated with many health concerns. They include: aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners, (See Ask the RD: Stevia), MSG, sodium nitrates and nitrites, potassium bromides, and artificial food colorings/dyes.

Omega 3’s vs. Omega 6’s: Recent research also suggests that the  reduction of Omega 6 fats in the diet has been associated with a reduction of both headaches and migraines.  Omega 6 fats are prevalent in the US diet.  Sources include: canola, vegetable, corn and soybean oil to name a few.  The role of Omega 6 in migraines appears to be related to arachidonic acid.  This specific Omega 6 fatty acid is a precursor for both prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and leukotriene B4 (LTB4), levels of which are elevated during migraine attacks.  While NSAIDs (i.e. Advil/Ibuprofen) reduce these levels, the reduction of Omega 6 fats without the need for pharmacotherapy may help to reduce migraines.  The American diet is rich in Omega 6 fats as compared to Omega 3 fats. (See  The Essentials in Your Diet: Omega 3 Fish Oils), therefore including higher levels of Omega 3’s ,anti inflammatory fats,  in comparison to Omega 6 or inflammatory fats is strongly encouraged.  Food rich in Omega 3’s include: fish (specifically deep cold water fish), seeds (i.e. chia and flax), grass fed beef, and walnuts.

Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is the number one nutrient deficiency in the US.  It is estimated that up to 75% of the population may be deficient and one known symptom related to deficiency is headaches and migraines.  Menstrual migraines are most strongly associated with a magnesium deficiency.  The addition of magnesium supplementation or the inclusion of magnesium rich foods can prevent deficiency and limit symptoms associated with deficiency. Note: Many foods rich in magnesium (nuts, peanuts, wheat products) are also on the “trigger” food list, thus magnesium supplementation or green leafy vegetables rich in magnesium may be the better source.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a molecule that blocks receptors of adenosine, a nervous system chemical that causes physiological effects to take place. Adenosine is responsible for the dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Caffeine competes with adenosine at the receptor site causing the blood vessels to then constrict, alleviating migraines and headaches.  There is conflicting information regarding caffeine and headaches.  Some research suggests that caffeine can be a “trigger” while other research recommends the inclusion of caffeine to alleviate headaches/migraines.  Caffeine “withdrawal”  appears to trigger headaches and it is often abated by coffee drinking, however high daily use may contribute to resistant headaches and migraines.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)There are studies that have found significant reductions in headache frequency and headache days with pharmacologic doses (400 mg/day) of riboflavin. Ironically many foods that are rich in riboflavin are also on the “trigger foods” list.   Foods that rich in riboflavin include: yogurt, spinach, mushrooms, almonds, eggs, grass fed cows milk.  Supplementation of Vitamin B2 is easy and often the recommended dose above can be found in a good quality multivitamin.

Those interested in researching the association of specific foods or additives that may “trigger” their migraines are encouraged to go on an exclusion diet and see if the migraines lessen or cease. While diet has a strong cause and effect relationship to migraines, migraines can also be associated with hormonal changes or imbalances.  If you suspect your migraines are associated with a hormone imbalance  talk to your physician and consider testing your hormone levels.

Copyright © Jaime Coffey Martinez, Nutrition CPR, LLC

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