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The diet and its influence on migraine

The diet and its influence on migraineMigraine headaches, a problem that affects far more women than men, is one of the diseases that costs most sick days, and there is no medical treatment that can cure the underlying cause. What we eat appears to play a major role, which is because foods such as matured cheese, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, red wine, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) can trigger migraines and headaches. Also, eating an unbalanced diet that is low in specific nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, and Q10 can disrupt certain metabolic processes, thereby setting off an attack. This was seen in a new study that is published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

There are few and limited studies of the link between diet and migraine headaches. The new study therefore aimed at looking at the connection between migraine headaches and dietary diversity, which was calculated by using the Dietary Diversity Score (DDS).
Study participants who consumed too few calories or suffered from various diseases were excluded from the study. The same was the case with those who took supplements of magnesium, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Q10, or feverfew. These supplements have demonstrated that they can prevent or mitigate migraines.
The study ended up including 262 participants aged 20-50 years. The volunteers’ migraines were diagnosed with reference to specific criteria (ICHD-3), which included details about the frequency, severity, and duration of the migraines. The scientists also measured serum levels of nitric oxide (NO) because this compound plays a major role in the development of migraines.
The participants’ food intake was split into the following categories: dairy products, corn products, vegetables, fruit, and meat, in accordance with the USDA food pyramid. Afterwards, they calculated each participant’s consumption of various food subgroups that included cheese, and where meat products included fish and eggs. Vegetables included potatoes, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, etc., while the fruit category included a long list of different fruits, berries, and juice. Also, they looked at serving size when calculating the so-called DDS (dietary diversity score) that looked at how balanced the diet was and the quality of the diet.
The researchers also gathered data about family history, socioeconomic status, physical activity, and smoking habits.

  • An estimated 18% of women and 6% of men globally are believed to suffer from migraine.
  • The number is increasing, and diet plays a major role.

A balanced diet and certain nutrients prevent migraines

The study showed that patients suffering from migraines generally tend to eat a more unbalanced diet, which was also reflected by their poor food choices. These unhealthy eating habits may be a result of different factors such as the migraine itself with its accompanying symptoms like nausea, mental comorbidities, and lower living standards. The scientists also found a link between the frequency of migraines and serum levels of nitric oxide that affects the blood vessels.
It is commonly accepted that eating a healthy selection of coarse greens provides many different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support our circulatory system and nervous system, both of which are involved in migraine attacks. Scientists have found a link between various B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid) and migraines, which is linked to impaired energy turnover in the cells and elevated blood levels of homocysteine (typically seen with migraine).
The researchers behind the new study conclude that eating a more varied diet can reduce the number of migraine attacks and may lower levels of nitric oxide. It may also improve the gut flora, which is related to migraine headaches via the gut-brain axis.
The scientists also mention that earlier studies have shown an inverse link between migraine and dietary intake of magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc. Several studies have even demonstrated that high-dosed supplementation with magnesium (200-600 mg daily) may prevent or ameliorate migraine attacks. There are also studies that show that a paleo-type diet or “high fat, low carb” diets that focus on animal protein, healthy fats, and fewer carbohydrates help. This is most likely because this type of diet has a positive impact on gut flora, blood sugar levels, weight control, hormone balance, and other metabolic processes.

Beware of things that can trigger a migraine

The researchers also refer to other studies that show how different types of food can trigger an attack, for example coffee and caffeinated beverages, chocolate, milk, cheese, and alcohol. Pay careful attention to histamine-containing foods and beverages where histamine is produced naturally by bacteria in connection with fermentation, storing, and various production processes. There is a lot of histamine in things like matured cheese, pickled herring, fish sauce red wine, sausages, smoked ham, smoked salmon, bacon, vinegar, and sauerkraut. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other additives can even release histamine from the white blood cells in the body and trigger migraines or other types of headaches. This is especially common in people who lack enzymes in their intestine or blood that the body uses to break down histamine.


Shahnaz Amani Tirani et al. Association between dietary diversity score and migraine headaches: the results from a cross-sectional study. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2023.

Shadi Ariyanfar et al. Review on Headache Related to Dietary Supplements. Current Pain and Headache Reports 2022

Izabela Domitrz and Joanna Cegielska. Magnesium is an important Factor in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Migraine – From Theory to Practice. Nutrients 2022

Omid Sadeghi et al. Association between serum levels of homocysteine with characteristics of migraine attacks in migraine with aura. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 2014

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