Does an Anti Inflammatory Diet for Migraines work?

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Have you been looking for the best migraine diet? Ever wonder if an anti inflammatory diet for migraines really works? In this guide, we’ll discuss the essential things you need to know about migraines, an anti-inflammatory diet, and things to include or avoid to help manage and reduce migraines and migraine symptoms. 

Does an anti inflammatory diet for migraines work?

Before we get into it, we want to remind you that each body is unique. Each body will respond differently to different things and where an anti inflammatory diet for migraines may work wonders for one person, it may not work as well for another. Ultimately, it’s essential that you pay attention to your own body – this will help you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. We will say though, that following an anti inflammatory diet for migraines will only improve overall health. This way of eating has proved, time and time again, the multitude of benefits it has on health and wellness.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is a Migraine?
  2. Can Inflammation in Your Body Cause Migraines?
  3. What is an Anti Inflammatory diet?
  4. Anti Inflammatory Diet for Migraines: Increase Omega-3's + Decrease Omega-6's
  5. Anti Inflammatory Diet for Migraines: Increase your Antioxidant Intake
  6. Five Foods that are Good for Migraine
  7. Five Additional Tips for Managing Migraines (including migraine supplements!)

What is a Migraine?

So, what is a migraine and how can you tell when you’re experiencing one?

A migraine is different from a classic headache. It's regarded as one of the most disabling diseases in the world. (source) and it's considered a disease since it disrupts your body’s typical structure and functions. 

A migraine is a type of headache that causes symptoms of throbbing pain or painful sensations in parts of the head. The pain can also spread to other areas and lead to pain and tension in the neck. Migraines affect day to day functioning and can worsen when engaging in physical activities, and exposure to lights, sounds, or triggering smells. If left unmanaged, they can cause nausea or vomiting and last for hours to days. 

Migraines are unfortunately a common condition – they occur in 1 out of every 5 women and 1 out of every 15 men. (source). The onset of migraines can also differ from one individual to another. Some may experience warning signs, such as constant ringing in their ears, a halo or an extreme sensitivity to light. Others may feel a numbing sensation or experience unexplained fatigue.

The cause of migraines is still poorly understood and there is the suggestion that inflammation and restriction of blood flow to the head area is related. There are also many triggers that migraine sufferers experience including dietary and non-dietary factors such as overexertion, missing meals, chemical exposure, food preservatives, light, noise, hormonal changes, and mental or emotional stress. Eeek we know….that's a long list!

migraine headaches can be debilitating

Can Inflammation in your Body Cause Migraines?

Yes, inflammation can contribute to migraines, so naturally reducing overall inflammation in our bodies suggests that it could provide some migraine relief and reduce migraine frequency.

But what exactly is inflammation? Inflammation, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It’s actually a natural response of your body to protect itself against harm and helps your body heal. Here is a simplified example to help it make sense. If you injure your arm by bashing it against a corner, it will become red, swollen, and inflamed. That response is inflammation and the first sign that your body is starting to heal. That inflammation is protecting the injured area and bringing additional nutrients through the blood to help fix the problem. So, in this sense, inflammation is a good thing!

On the flip side, inflammation that becomes chronic is not such a good thing and can become harmful to your body. Chronic inflammation is a result of poor lifestyle choices or genetic conditions and can last months to years leading to an increased risk of several diseases! To find out if chronic inflammation is an issue for you, there is a blood test that looks for a marker of chronic inflammation in the body called CRP (c-reactive protein). Higher than normal levels of CRP in the blood suggests a higher level of inflammation in the body. Generally, you need to do this test in a lab but, with Everlywell's home testing kit, you can take their vitamin D + Inflammation Test from the comfort of your own home! Check it out here and for a limited time you'll get 25-30% off with code: PRIME

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home tests for chronic inflammation

What is an Anti Inflammatory Diet?

An anti inflammatory diet has been shown to help reduce inflammation that is chronic and/or systemic (meaning throughout your body). In essence, an anti inflammatory diet is one that includes foods that are known to play a role in reducing inflammation and limiting foods that potentially increase it. There are common food components and additives that are considered inflammatory such as nitrites (and nitrates), msg (monosodium glutamate) trans fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Anti-inflammatory foods are high in omega-3's and various antioxidants, such as anthocyanin which can be found in foods like spinach and kale.

There are different types of anti-inflammatory diets out there that various people have branded and coined with fancy names but one of the most common that you may of heard about is the Mediterranean Diet. This diet emphasizes eating foods from the Mediterranean region, like olives, olive oil, fish, and fruits like tomatoes. It also emphasizes eating foods that are high in antioxidants like berries and green tea. This type of diet has been shown to have some benefits for reducing inflammation in the body.

Now, let's get into the specifics for an anti inflammatory diet for migraines.

foods in an anti inflammatory diet for migraines

Anti Inflammatory Diet for Migraines: Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Limit Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for overall health. They are super helpful for improving our heart health, brain health, and strengthening cell walls which is important for immunity. (source) Omega-3's also play a crucial role in regulating your body’s inflammatory process. According to research, if those individuals who suffer from chronic migraines include Omega-3 fatty acids more regularly in the diet it could reduce the frequency of their migraines.

Common sources of omega 3's are found in oily fish like salmon and sardines. Less commonly talked about though are grass fed meat and grass fed dairy sources. When cattle are fed a grass based diet their fat profile (what their fat stores are made of) are highly concentrated in omega-3's! Check out our update post on The Best Sources for Organic, Grass Fed Meat to find out where you can source this anti inflammatory food! Our favorite place to regularly source grass fed meat is ButcherBox (right now you can get FREE BACON for life when you sign up using our link) and if you're not into subscription services check out Farm Foods and use our exclusive discount code: RR10 and get 10% off your purchase!

If you're not a meat eater, are vegan or vegetarian, you can still get omega-3's from plant sources but just know they aren't as readily available to the body so you need to eat lots more of them! You can find high sources of plant based omega-3's in walnuts, hemp seeds and chia seeds. Fun fact – the reason fish are high in omega-3's is because they eat algae! Now, you can buy supplements made from algae and go straight to the source yourself! Our favorite brand right now is Wiley's Catch Free Omega 3 Supplement. You can get it through our Trusted Wellness Partner, Pharmca! There is also a wide selection of fish based supplements too!

Now, for food that increases inflammation, you'll want to limit things that contain high amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids. The most common sources of these inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids are found in industrial seed oil like canola oil, soy oil, corn oil and cottonseed oil. We also get a high source of omega 6's from animals that are fed a grain based diet. Animals that are fed corn and other grains (which is typical in conventional rearing of beef, pork and chicken) are extremely high in omega 6's. To avoid this aim for pasture raised, grass fed and grass finished meat products when possible!

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Anti Inflammatory Diet for Migraines: Get Plenty of Antioxidants!

Antioxidants are phytochemicals found naturally in plant foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Antioxidants play a role in protecting the body from free radical damage, which is thought to play a role in the development of certain cancers.

There are many families of antioxidants including vitamins, minerals, polyphenols (which include anthocyanins), and carotenoids (such as beta carotene) among others. Check out this graph from Synergy Science for a great visual!

antioxidants to include in an anti inflammatory diet for migraines

Generally speaking, the richer the color a fruit or vegetable is, the higher the levels of antioxidants it contains. Think of dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mangos, strawberries…..the list goes on!

5 Types of Food That Are Good For Migraine Sufferers

We know it's been a lot of information to process so far, so we thought we'd make a more simplified list of foods that are good to include regularly in your diet to help relieve and the reduce the frequency of your migraines.

  1. Increase magnesium rich foods: avocado, bananas, pumpkin seeds, cashews & dark chocolate (yum!)
  2. Omega 3 rich foods: grass-finished beef, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna etc), oily fish (mackerel, sardines), walnuts, hemp, flax and chia seeds
  3. Antioxidant rich foods: there are so many to choose from but start with dark leafy greens, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, bell peppers, beets, sun dried tomatoes and pecans!
  4. Co-Enzyme Q10 rich foods: pork, beef, chicken, trout, mackerel, spinach, broccoli, oranges and strawberries.
  5. Riboflavin rich foods: grass fed dairy, yogurt, cheese, eggs, chicken…and organ meats (if that's your thing 😜)
fruit and vegetables to include in an anti inflammatory diet for migraines

5 Additional Tips to Manage Migraines

Here are 5 additional tips to help manage migraines:

  1. Include protein at all meals
  2. Drink plenty of fluids
  3. Take migraine supplements
  4. Avoid migraine trigger foods
  5. Ditch processed foods

1. Include Protein at all Meals

Do not neglect protein in your migraine diet. Protein contains many essential nutrients that can help reduce symptoms and the frequency of migraines. When you include protein at your meals you also help your body maintain healthy blood sugar levels which limits energy fluctuations. Skipping meals or wonky blood sugar and energy levels can trigger migraines in some people.

2. Drink Plenty of Fluids

Hydration is pretty essential, whether we’re trying to manage our migraines or not. Our bodies contain mostly water, and staying hydrated helps us function correctly. Hydration is a vital part of any anti-inflammatory diet and is super helpful in providing migraine relief. 

Dehydration can be a significant migraine trigger for some people as it affects blood flow which is thought to be a factor in migraines. Staying hydrated does not have to come from drinking water alone; it can also come from low sugar beverages as well as fruit and vegetables. 

Research suggests that women get a daily intake of 2.7 liters of water, which is about 12 cups, while men should get a about 3.7 liters of water, which is roughly 16 cups. 

supplements to take as part of an anti inflammatory diet for migraines

3. Take Migraine Supplements

Taking migraine supplements is also something to consider. Some nutrients to consider include, magnesium, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Co-enzyme Q10, vitamin D, and melatonin. You can look for a supplement that includes all these components such as this one from Migravent or take these nutrients individually.

If you do want to take them individually, here are some amounts to start with. For magnesium, start with 300-600mg daily. You want to increase your intake slowly as large amounts of magnesium taking all at once may cause digestive issues. Go slow, start at 300mg and test out how your body reacts. It has been shown that taking a daily dose of 400-600mg of magnesium can help to prevent migraine onset. Magnesium can also be very beneficial to those who experience migraines around certain points of their menstrual cycle. 

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) has also been studied as a supplement for migraine prevention. Both the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the Canadian Headache Society do recommend its use. As it's well tolerated, with minimal to no side effects, adults can take around 400mg daily and may see some benefit after 2-3 months.  

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant naturally found in oily fish, organ meats and whole grains. It’s important for many basic cell functions and may help some people who suffer from migraines. Although solid evidence is vague, the Canadian Headache Society still recommends it for migraine management. Taking 100mg three times a day is suggested and it may take up to 3 months of regular use to see benefit.

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A deficiency of Vitamin D has also been linked to increased migraine frequency; hence, taking a Vitamin D supplement can help! It's hard to know if you are deficient or not without a proper blood test but if you'd like to check your vitamin D levels from the comfort of your own home, you can do so easily with Everlywell's Vitamin D test! Check it out here and you can save 25% with code: PRIME!

Lastly, on supplements intake, be careful about where you purchase them. It’s best to purchase them from reputable sources. Our trusted source for supplements is through Pharmaca. If you have any questions about supplements, don't hesitate to email Sarah at hi@rootandrevel.com and she'll be happy to provide you with her expertise!

Final note on supplements, you'll want to make sure that any migraine-fighting supplement does not interact with other medications that you might be taking. Always check with a doctor or local drugstore pharmacist.

What foods can trigger migraines?

You may want to avoid migraine trigger foods. For some people, certain foods increase the tendency to get migraines in some people. The triggers are different from person to person and these are only some of the commonly reported ones.

  • Alcohol: About 30 percent of people with recurrent migraines have reported alcohol as a common trigger, especially red wine. (source) On the flip side, some actually find relief in one glass of red wine in the evening.
  • Chocolate: The intake of chocolate is another commonly reported migraine trigger food. There are several scientific explanations for why chocolates can induce migraines in people but again (here is the ever present flip side) dark chocolate actually contains high amounts of magnesium which is beneficial for some migraine sufferers.
  • Processed meats: Nitrate is a common chemical found in processed meats. When it gets into the blood, it can cause your blood vessels to swell, affecting blood flow and possibly leading to a migraine. 
  • Cheese: In some people, certain kinds of cheese have been reported to induce migraines. Aged or fermented cheese contains tyramine, which narrows the blood vessels, increasing your blood pressure and causing migraines. 

Remember, it's all about paying attention to how your unique body reacts to things. What trigger's one person may be another person's source of relief!

ditch processed food as part of an anti inflammatory diet for migraines

Ditch the Processed Foods

Over time, many researchers have established the harmful effects of consistently eating processed foods. Consuming processed foods puts you at an increased risk of several health problems, including inflammation and migraines. Many processed foods contain chemicals and preservatives that can be triggers for some people. There are also many artificial substances, such as sweeteners or colorings. On top of that, processed food contains many processed fats, such as trans fats, which have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. 

If processed food plays a large role in your diet, take it one thing at a time. Pick one common item and replace it with a whole or minimally processed food. Once that becomes a habit, move on to the next one and so on.

Change doesn't happen overnight, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you’re struggling with sticking to change!

Conclusion

So there you have it, our in depth look at whether an anti inflammatory diet for migraines actually works! Ultimately, there’s no hard or fast rule but take one thing at a time, see what changes you can make, and listen to your body.

To your health and a few less migraines!

Sarah & The Root + Revel Team

Do you suffer from migraines? What do you do for relief and prevention? We'd love to know in the comments below. And, don't forget to sign up for R+R's emails where we share exclusive discounts to our R+R community for our favourite products!

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