According to the Migraine Trust, there are a staggering 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK, affecting around one in seven people. That’s a lot of people suffering with this debilitating condition.
However, the good news is there is much than can be done to help nutritionally.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at migraine and shares some nutritional tips that can help.
What causes migraines?
There are several suggestions as to what causes migraine as research is still very much on-going. However, there is often a genetic predisposition. Many more women than men suffer from migraines and they are frequently cyclical, meaning they’re linked to the menstrual cycle.
Traditional research describes migraines as vascular headaches involving dilation or contraction of blood vessels. More recent research has found a link to having high levels of prolactin, a hormone present in both men and women and responsible for milk production in women. However, high levels have also been found in migraine sufferers which may improve treatment options where people are unable to find relief.
Additionally, there has been research to suggest that migraine sufferers have low levels of our ‘happy hormone’ serotonin in the blood stream, hence some medication helps raise serotonin levels. Certain foods can also help raise levels.
Whilst the exact cause may be unclear, we do know for sure there are certain triggers, and foods that can send migraine sufferers running for a darkened room.
Foods to enjoy
The good news is that whilst there are certainly foods that should be avoided, there’s plenty to enjoy which may help alleviate symptoms; pineapples, almond milk, almonds and cherries have all been shown to have positive effects on symptoms.
Importantly, foods known to raise serotonin levels include fish, turkey, oats, soya, tofu and seeds which should be included regularly in the diet.
The mineral magnesium is essential for relaxing the muscles and for aiding relaxation in the body generally. Stress and poor sleep are often migraine triggers, therefore be sure to include plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains. If sleep is a problem for you then an oatcake with a small, warm drink of soya milk may help just before bedtime.
Get your omegas
The omega-3 essential fats help reduce blood platelet ‘stickiness’ meaning blood flow to the brain will be better. Oily fish is the best choice but if that’s not your bag or you’re vegetarian, then flaxseeds are also a great source of omega-3s. Sprinkle some on your morning oat-based breakfast every day for a super start to the day!
Nature provides a wealth of herbs which have many therapeutic benefits so it’s certainly worth trying them to see what works for you. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and encourages good blood flow, so would certainly be the first choice. Plus, it’s so easy to include in the daily diet. Try it freshly crushed in tea, in stir fries, Thai curries, and with lightly fried seabass fillets, for example.
Turmeric is another brilliant anti-inflammatory botanical that can be used widely in dishes. Turmeric is great in soups, curries, and casseroles but is also delicious sprinkled over chopped sweet potato wedges whilst they’re cooking in the oven, with a little olive oil.
Lastly, calming herbs such as peppermint and camomile make brilliant teas and help to de-stress, lessening the likelihood of attack.
Foods to avoid
Whilst many sufferers will know their own triggers, some will struggle to find foods that are setting off their migraine attack. Foods containing the amino acid tyramine, including hard cheeses, bananas, canned fish, tomatoes, avocados, dairy and potatoes, plus beer and red wine, are known triggers. Sadly, chocolate is often a trigger too.
Be very careful of foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG; this is often found in take-aways, and processed food labels need to be checked carefully. However, it’s always best to eat home-cooked foods as much as possible to avoid the possibility of having MSG.
It’s also worth having a food intolerance blood test which looks at the common trigger foods, plus others which may be problematic for you.
Whilst there is unlikely to be only one nutritional change that will make the difference, taking a combined approach is far more likely to achieve success.
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