This Dietary Change Can Reduce Migraine Headaches

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Woman with migraine headache
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Reaching for foods with more fish fats and pushing away dishes rich in vegetable oils might help keep migraine headaches at bay, according to new research.

Compared to a control group, study participants who ate a diet lower in vegetable oil and higher in fatty fish saw between 30% and 40% reductions in:

  • Total headache hours per day
  • Severe headache hours per day
  • Headache days per month

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, conducted the study, which recently was published in the medical journal The BMJ.

In a press release, Chris Ramsden, a clinical investigator who led the NIH team, says:

“Changes in diet could offer some relief for the millions of Americans who suffer from migraine pain. It’s further evidence that the foods we eat can influence pain pathways.”

Migraines are a neurological disease. More than 4 million people worldwide have chronic migraines — meaning at least 15 migraine days per month — and more than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during an attack, which can last up to three days, the NIH says.

About 18% of women experience migraines, with women between the ages of 18 and 44 most likely to experience them.

Medications are available to treat the condition, but they typically offer only partial relief and come with negative side effects such as sedation.

As part of the study, 182 participants were asked to agree to a 16-week dietary intervention. At the outset of the study, participants averaged more than 16 headache days per month and more than five hours of migraine pain on those days.

The participants ate one of three randomly assigned healthy diet plans based on meal kits that included fish, vegetables, hummus, salads and breakfast items. The three diets were:

  • Meals that had high levels of fatty fish or oils from fatty fish (omega-3 oils) and lower levels of linoleic acid
  • Meals that had high levels of fatty fish and higher levels of linoleic acid
  • Meals with high levels of linoleic acid and lower levels of fatty fish — which is comparable to the average U.S. diet

Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fat that commonly comes from corn, soybean and other similar oils, as well as some nuts and seeds.

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