GOT MIGRAINES?... YOUR DIET MAY PLAY A ROLE         

Author: Julia Stanislavskaia, MSc, RD                                                     

WHAT IS A MIGRAINE HEADACHE ? 

Unfortunately for us, there are many types of headaches, and one of the most common types is a migraine headache. How is a migraine different from other headaches? During a migraine episode one may experience nausea, vomiting, lethargy, vision or hearing disturbance and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. These are the classical migraine symptoms and they do not occur as a result of or secondary to another medical condition. 

Risk factors for migraines include family history of migraines, gender and age. Women are three times more likely to get migraines than men and while they can occur at any age,  most people with a migraine will likely have the first attack by the age of 40.

POTENTIAL CAUSES

Some of the most common migraine triggers include stress, changes in sleeping patterns, hormonal shifts, environmental stimuli, physical stress, medication and supplements and finally … DIET. After all, 60% to 80% of your immune system is the gut.

Some of the research has shown that 43% of migraine sufferers report skipping meals as a migraine trigger, while 31% report specific foods triggers. Specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also trigger a migraine.

So what to do first? As for many other symptoms, it is best to start with a journal. One needs to track frequency and intensity of the migraines. The intensity of the migraines should be determined by using a severity pain scale of one to five, one to 10 or anything similar. Track the migraine patterns and see what they may be coinciding with.

 Once environmental and medical causes have been ruled out or taken care of with the help of your family physician and perhaps your journal, you can start looking at food. Foods may be the main contributor to migraines or could simply worsen the symptoms. Consider the connections with food listed below.

OVERALL EATING PATTERN, MEAL SCHEDULE

Ask yourself the following questions:             

• Do you eat 3 meals per day?

• Do you snack between meals?

• Do you go for more than 4-5 hours without eating?

• Do you drink adequate amounts of water? (How often are you urinating and what does your urine look like?

clock-460.jpg

If you said yes to any of these questions, the first step is to re-think your meal plan as it will address not just the migraines but your overall health. Basic factors such as dehydration and skipping meals can cause an onset of a migraine. Most people need to eat every 4 to 5 hours and some individuals require food every 2 to 3 hours. Plan three balanced meals consisting of three parts: a whole grain, a protein and a fruit or vegetable. Plan for snacks in between meals where the time lag is longer than 4 hours. Keep hydrated. The guideline is to drink 2 liters of water per day or more. However, there is a great variation between individuals. Other tips to check your hydration status are: look at your urine- it should be light in colour and never dark, concentrated and odorous. You should be urinating every 2 to 3 hours.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES 

• Nitrites and nitrates

Some nitrites and nitrates are naturally occurring and others are manufactured artificially. These chemicals are used in foods as preservatives and they are the oldest and most effective way of preserving meats. 

· Tyramine and histamine

These two elements are products of certain amino acids and make up specific up proteins in your body. Small quantities of these are present in most foods including plant and animal sources. However, large quantities of tyramine and histamine in sensitive individuals can trigger symptoms, including migraines. Migraine sufferers need to be especially concerned with high tyramine foods.

• Other chemicals and food additives

Some food dyes, especially tartazine have been linked to migraines as well. Please see table below for more examples. There is no strong evidence to link migraines with other triggers yet, but remember that everything is very individual and everyone’s body and immune system are different. Numerous components of processed foods have been reported as migraine triggers including monosodium glutamate (MSG), dyes and other chemicals. Keeping a personal migraine log, will give you the best and most information about your personal triggers.

MICRONUTRIENT DEFICIENCY

 Magnesium deficiency appears to play a role in the migraine mechanism. Ensure to have adequate magnesium in your diet. Magnesium is found in a variety of food groups and best sources include: okra, potatoes with skin, Swiss chard, quinoa, all bran cereals, fortified soy milk, black eyes peas, soy beans, tofu, baked beans, hummus, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seed butter, almonds, salmon, halibut and mackerel. When consuming a balanced diet one should be meeting nutrient requirements for magnesium. In case you are concerned, you can consult with a Registered Dietitian.

Although the evidence for Magnesium supplements is conflicting, some health care providers may recommend it. There are few side effects and it has been be effective in reducing the frequency of migraines in some individuals. Please consult your health care provider if you feel this may be a good option for you.

 SOME REMEDIES

• Riboflavin, also known as B2, has also been used for migraine prevention. There is research to support this, but the evidence on its effectiveness in practice is limited. Dosages used in research range between 25 and 400 mg of B2, taken once daily. A healthy adult’s daily requirement of B2 is between 0.9 and 1.1 mg, depending on the gender. Although it has few side effects, the dosage you would be taking is significantly higher, so please discuss with your health care provider if you would to try.

• Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is present in almost every cell of your body and is necessary for basic cell functioning. It has been recommended for multiple health reasons, including decreasing the frequency of migraines. CoQ10 has little impact on the severity of the migraine, but it has been shown to reduce frequency by as much as 48% and is another supplement to consider when dealing with migraines.

SUMMARY

1. KEEP A MIGRAINE LOG TO HELP DETERMINE THE TRIGGER(S) FOR YOUR MIGRAINES

2. ONCE OTHER TRIGGERS HAVE BEEN RULED OUT AND/OR TAKEN CARE OF, LOOK AT THE FOOD

3. ENSURE YOU HAVE A HEALTHY BALANCED DIET IN LINE WITH CANADA’S FOOD GUIDE RECOMMENDATIONS

4. ENSURE YOU ARE NOT SKIPPING MEALS AND ARE WELL HYDRATED

5. KEEP A FOOD RECORD AND A MIGRAINE RECORD IF SPECIFIC FOODS ARE TRIGGER SUSPECTS

6. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH A REGISTERED DIETITIAN IF HELP IS NEEDED