Migraine and the connection to diet

Migraine and the connection to diet

Posted on Nov 10, 2023

Migraines, those intense and debilitating headaches that can cast a dark shadow over one's day, have long been a mysterious and complex neurological phenomenon. While various factors contribute to the onset of migraines, recent research has shed light on a potential connection between these severe headaches and our dietary choices.

Understanding Migraines: A Brief Overview

Migraines are not just your average headaches; they come with a range of symptoms, including throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes visual disturbances known as auras. While genetic and environmental factors play a role, identifying triggers is crucial for managing and preventing migraines.

The Diet-Migraine Nexus: Unraveling the Links

Trigger Foods:
Certain foods and beverages have been identified as potential triggers for migraines. These culprits can vary from person to person, but common triggers include aged cheese, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods containing additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate).

Dehydration and Skipping Meals:
Inadequate fluid intake and irregular eating patterns can also contribute to migraine episodes. Dehydration and low blood sugar levels are known to trigger headaches in susceptible individuals.

Tyramine Content:
Tyramine, a naturally occurring compound found in certain foods, has been linked to migraines. Foods high in tyramine, such as aged cheeses, cured meats, and some types of beans, may prompt migraine attacks in sensitive individuals.

Artificial Sweeteners:
Some studies suggest a connection between the consumption of artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame, and an increased frequency of migraines. Monitoring the intake of these additives may be beneficial for those prone to migraines. Artificial sweeteners are often found in processed meals. These sweeteners are used in place of sugar in meals and beverages. Unfortunately, these sugar substitutes have been linked to migraine headaches. It is believed that aspartame is the primary cause of migraine headaches.

Headaches and migraines may be brought on by consuming too much caffeine or by the withdrawal from caffeine.

Caffeine-containing foods and beverages include
·      coffee
·      tea
·      chocolate

One frequent substance believed to bring on migraine attacks is alcohol. In a reliable study, more than a third of people who get migraines said that drinking was a common trigger for them. In a survey of those who claimed alcohol to be a trigger, 77% said that red wine in particular was a problem. There is a correlation between alcohol use and dehydration, which is a major factor in the onset of headaches.

Chocolate, after alcohol, is estimated to be the second most prevalent cause of migraine headaches, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
Caffeine and beta-phenylethylamine, both of which are found in chocolate, have been linked to an increase in headaches in certain individuals.

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MSG-containing foods
The sodium salt of glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in human bodies, is known as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Some foods naturally contain MSG, and many more have it added to them. It's generally safe to consume; however, some studies have shown a correlation with migraines.  According to the American Migraine Foundation, it may cause severe headaches in 10–15 percent of those who suffer from migraines.

Preserved Meats
Nitrates are used as preservatives in cured meats to maintain their colour and taste. This includes deli meats, ham, hot dogs, and sausages. These meals have been shown to increase blood levels of nitric oxide, which has been linked to improved brain blood flow. It has been suggested that nitric oxide may be a trigger or aggravating factor in migraines.

Aged cheeses
The amino acid tyramine is found in aged cheeses. It develops as a result of the protein degradation that naturally occurs with food storage. When the cheese has been aged longer, it develops a stronger odour and flavour, but also a higher tyramine concentration.  It has also been suggested that tyramine, another chemical, might bring on migraine and headache attacks.

Fermented and pickled foods

Pickled and fermented foods, including old cheeses, may be rich in tyramine. Examples of such foods are: Kimchi, kombucha, and pickles (which can also have alcoholic content)
Frozen items

Consuming icy treats like ice cream or slushies has been linked to acute, piercing headaches.You are more likely to get a headache that develops into a migraine if you consume anything cold too fast, if you exercise too hard, or if you are too hot.

Foods that are high in sodium

Some individuals have migraine headaches when they eat meals high in sodium, particularly manufactured foods high in sodium that may include dangerous preservatives.
High salt intake has been linked to elevated blood pressure, which in turn may trigger headaches or migraines.

Empowering Individuals Through Dietary Awareness

While the link between migraines and diet is still an evolving field of study, many individuals have reported significant improvements in their migraine symptoms by making mindful changes to their eating habits. Keeping a detailed food diary can help identify personal triggers, allowing for a more targeted and effective approach to migraine management.

It's essential for individuals experiencing migraines to consult with healthcare professionals for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized advice. Adopting a balanced and nutritious diet, staying hydrated, and being mindful of potential triggers can be valuable tools in the ongoing journey towards managing migraines and improving overall well-being.

In the intricate web of factors contributing to migraines, diet emerges as a modifiable element that individuals can harness to take control of their health. As our understanding of this connection deepens, so does the potential for more targeted and personalized approaches to migraine prevention and management.

Migraine Relief

Migraine treatment options range from pharmaceutical drugs to OTC treatments to holistic approaches. Some alternative treatments, such as getting regular massages, are effective in alleviating migraine symptoms and may reduce the number of times you get a migraine. Taking vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and practising biofeedback (which teaches you to monitor your bodily reactions to stress) may help avoid migraines.
Continuity and Preventative Measures
A migraine attack may be quite uncomfortable and disruptive. The good news is that you can take steps to reduce your risk by making adjustments to your daily routine and embracing new behaviours.

For example:
·      Consumption of food on a consistent and regular basis, with no skips
·      Avoiding oversleeping and reducing your coffee consumption
·      Limiting your exposure to bright lights and direct sunshine, both of which may trigger a sensory migraine, and practising yoga, mindfulness, or meditation to reduce stress are also good ideas.
·      Taking regular pauses away from displays (TV, computer, etc.)

Top 5 Yoga Poses for Migrain

If you are among the 88 percent of people in the United States who do not suffer from migraines, consider yourself lucky. For the other 12 percent of us, migraines can be debilitating (if you know, you know). It’s more than just a bad headache—from extreme pain to nausea and vomiting to tingling and light sensitivities, migraines, in a word, suck.

Considered a neurological disorder or disease, migraine attacks typically last between four and 72 hours. Men, women, and children can all be affected by migraines, but 85 percent of migraine sufferers are women. There are several medications and treatments available, but there are also natural ways to help—yoga can not only aid in the recovery from migraines, but also prevent them from occurring in the first place.

How can yoga help migraines?

Yoga is great for reducing stress, a major cause of migraines and headaches in general. Yoga relaxes your entire parasympathetic system, slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. This helps your body to recover after a migraine attack. Studies have even shown that a regular yoga practice can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines.

Whether you’ve already talked to your doctor about migraine relief or you are looking for some other ideas to ease the pain, roll out your yoga mat and give these poses a try.

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Why this yoga pose helps with migraines: Child’s Pose is very calming to your system and can reduce pain. This pose can also help if that pressure on your forehead feels good or relieves pain. (Tip: Rest your forehead on an ice pack on the ground to help numb the pain in your head!)

How to: Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs.

Broaden your sacrum across the back of your pelvis and narrow your hip points toward the navel, so that they nestle down onto the inner thighs. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of the pelvis while you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck. Rest your forehead on the mat.

Stretch your arms forward with your palms down and fingers spread wide. Rest here for anywhere from a few breaths to a few minutes.

Marjariasana / Bitilasana (Cat-Cow Pose)

Why this yoga pose helps with migraines: Cat-Cow improves your circulation, stretches your neck and spine, and is very calming to both the mind and body.

How to: Start on your hands and knees in Tabletop position. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.

As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look straight forward. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.

Repeat as many times as needed, following your natural inhale and exhale.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Why this yoga pose helps with migraines: When a migraine hits and all you want to do is lay still in a dark room, Corpse Pose can help you relax into a meditative state, or at the very least, allow your mind to rest and find some relief from the pain.

How to: If possible, ask a partner to align your head to get the most benefit from Corpse Pose. Ask them to gently cradle your head in their hands and draw the base of your skull away from the back of the neck, lengthening the shorter side of the neck, so that both ears are equidistant from the shoulders. Then, ask your partner to lay your head back down on the floor, making sure that the tip of your nose is pointing directly toward the ceiling. If you’re alone, use your hands to lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck before releasing it back to the floor. If you have any difficulty doing this, support the back of your head and neck on a folded blanket.

In Savasana, it’s essential that your body be in a neutral position. Lie on the floor and release both legs, softening your groin, and see that your legs and feet are angled evenly. Narrow your front pelvis and soften (but don’t flatten) your lower back. Reach your arms toward the ceiling and rock slightly from side to side, broadening your back ribs and your shoulder blades. Then release your arms to the floor. Rest the backs of your hands on the floor. Breathe.
Yoga poses to help prevent a migraine attack

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Why this yoga pose helps prevent migraines: Bridge Pose helps release tension in your upper body. In this pose, you also increase the blood supply to your brain by lifting your heart above your head.

How to: Lie supine on the floor, and if necessary, place a thickly folded blanket under your shoulders to protect your neck. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible. Exhale and, pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel. Clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders. Lift your chin slightly away from your sternum and press the top of your sternum toward the chin.

Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release with an exhalation, rolling your spine slowly down onto the floor.

Why this yoga pose helps prevent migraines: Standing Forward Bend relieves stress and improves your circulation, which can help regulate your hormones.

How to: Start in Tadasana, hands on your hips. Exhale and bend forward at your hips, not your waist, to lengthen the front torso.

If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or fingertips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Press the heels firmly into the floor and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling.

With each inhale, lift your body slightly. With each exhale, release into the pose a little more. Let your head hang from the root of the neck, which is deep in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.

Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose)

Why this yoga pose helps prevent migraines: This pose is known to be helpful for a range of ailments, including high and low blood pressure, depression, anxiety, headaches, and migraines.

How to: You may want to fold one or two blankets and put them under your lower back for added support in this pose. If you’re stiff, the support should be lower and placed farther from the wall; if you’re more flexible, use a higher support that is closer to the wall. You also may need to adjust your distance from the wall based on your height—if you’re shorter, move closer to the wall; if you’re taller, move farther away.

Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit sideways on the right or left end of the support—whatever side feels more comfortable—with your side against the wall . Exhale and swing your legs up onto the wall while bringing your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. Your buttocks don’t need to be pressed up against the wall, but they should fit in between the support and the wall.

Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck, soften your throat, and keep your chin in a natural position. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up. Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Stay in the pose for 5–15 minutes.