DIET AND MIGRAINE
20 October 2020
Migraines are headaches of varying intensity which are usually accompanied by nausea and extreme sensitivity to light, sound or both. They are usually recurring and an attack can last for hours to days. The pain is usually severe enough to interfere with your daily activities. Several factors can contribute to developing migraine including genetic and environmental factors. Here we focus on the dietary factors - specifically what foods lead to having migraine attacks.
Skipping meals is one of the most important causes of a migraine episode. It is a known fact that low blood sugar levels caused by long gap between meals can trigger migraine headaches. So migraine patients are often advised to take small, frequent meals. Regular daily meals coupled with adequate sleep can work wonders.
One of the commonly asked questions regarding migraine and diet is the role of caffeine. Does it cause the headache or cure it? The answer is: it can do both. Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients used in medications to treat migraines and headaches in general. We usually grab a cup of coffee to ward off an impending headache. However, it is useful only when used infrequently. Using it daily as a headache cure can actually cause headaches called rebound headaches which occur due to overuse of caffeine. So it is better to limit the amount of caffeine you take in day if you have episodic migraines or completely avoid it if headaches are a daily occurrence.
Coming to the actual dietary triggers of migraine, these include alcohol (especially beer and red wine), chocolate, aged cheese, cured meat, nitrate and nitrite containing food preservatives, artificial sweeteners and MSG. However, it is important to note that migraines are very multifactorial in nature. These foods along with other factors like stress and inadequate sleep are more likely to trigger an episode than these foods on their own. If you identify your food trigger, it is better to avoid it as diet is easily the most controllable factor out of the bunch.
Drinking plenty of water is also important to keep migraine away. One third of the people with migraine say that dehydration is an important cause of headache and can often cause debilitating headaches. So staying hydrated can help with decreasing the occurrence of headaches as well as decrease the pain if you do end up having a headache.
In general people with migraine should be careful while gong on extremely restrictive diets. While some types of diets have shown promise in keeping migraines at bay, if eating a certain way leads to a migraine attack it is better to avoid it. “Eating healthy” is a concept which shows benefit here. In addition to preventing migraines, eating a balanced diet can solve many problems including joint pain, and can help in weight management. Of course, everyone has different eating habits and hence we can’t expect everyone to follow the same diet. The key is finding out what works for you because, after all, each individual is different.