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Nutraceuticals and diet can play a huge role in headache prevention, and the prevention is always better than the cure. While headache triggers differ from person to person, there are a few common culprits that it’s worth eliminating. Express.co.uk chatted to Andrea Burton, Technical Adviser at Bio-Kult, www.bio-kult.com to find out what to eat to help migraines.
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Many things can trigger migraine attacks, from hormone and emotional factors to physical and environmental factors.
Dietary factors are one of the biggest migraine triggers – migraine patients will typically experience an attack if they have missed, delayed or irregular meals or are super dehydrated.
There are specific foods that can bring on a migraine, so it’s important to understand what they are to avoid increased migraines.
The NHS site says that dietary triggers for migraines are “very individual”, so a headache diary is the best way to identify what causes migraines for you.
Bio-Kult technical advisor Andrea said: “As far as foods, drinks and ingredients are concerned, it doesn’t hurt to try to figure out if one or more food items (or ingredients) might be triggering your headache.
“Eliminate one item at a time over weeks or months and record this information in a headache diary.
“Only cut out food if you have a high suspicion it causes headaches as it is not always sensible to cut out food groups – it may be beneficial to take your findings to a registered nutritional therapist who will be able to help ensure you continue to eat a nutrient-rich diet.”
In your headache diary, also track other factors that occurred within 24 hours of the headache.
For example, Andrea said: “Did you eat on time? Skip meals? Experience a stressful event? What stage in the menstrual cycle is it?
“With all of this information in hand, you can begin to sort out and discover for yourself the factors that provoke your headache.”
What foods trigger migraines?
About 20 percent of headaches are thought to be due to food sensitivities, with the most commonly reported food triggers being:
- Aged cheese (blue cheese, brie, cheddar, English stilton, feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, muenster, parmesan, swiss)
- Coffee or other caffeinated drinks
- Citrus fruits
- Processed meats (containing sulphites and/or nitrates e.g. bacon, sausages, salami, ham)
- Peanut butter
- Other nuts and seeds
- Additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame (an artificial sweetener)
- Fatty or salty foods
- Alcoholic drinks (usually red wine and beer)
Migraines are linked to inflammation, so following an anti-inflammatory diet (such as the low GL diet), high in omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish, antioxidants from colourful fruit and vegetables and spices – such as turmeric and ginger – is recommended.
It’s also important that you cut out more pro-inflammatory foods, such as processed and high sugar foods, vegetable and sunflower oils and excessive amounts of cereal based grains, Andrea said.
She added: “Various foods and food additives are thought to potentially trigger migraine attacks in sensitive individuals so keep an eye on ingredients in shop-bought sauces and convenience foods.
“Clinical trials using the low GL diet have shown this way of eating to be promising for migraine control.
“This means limiting the consumption of white bread, sugar, milk chocolate, sweets, pastries, rice, potato, jams, honey, ready-made fruit juices and sugary drinks, whilst increasing legumes, fruits and vegetables.”
Another important dietary intervention that might be effective in headache improvement is related to the balance between the intake of the essential fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, which help to balance our inflammatory responses.
Andrea added: “Research has also shown that B-vitamins can have therapeutic effects on migraine patients so look at including eggs, asparagus, all green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes and lentils in your diet.
“Magnesium deficiency may contribute to headaches so it may help to increase magnesium intake from green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, rocket, watercress, a couple of squares of organic dark chocolate per day, quinoa, asparagus or by taking a magnesium supplement.”
Many headache patients also report digestive symptoms, with research showing that low-grade inflammation originating from poor gut health may contribute to inflammation of major pain pathways in the brain, triggering headache attacks.
It’s therefore advisable to keep your gut healthy by using a probiotic to reduce both headache frequency and severity.
Andrea said: “Recent research indicates that taking a live bacteria supplement may be of benefit to migraine sufferers.
“The 14 strains in Bio-Kult Migréa (which also contains magnesium and vitamin B), were shown to significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of episodic and chronic migraine in as little as eight to 10 weeks (Bio-Kult Migréa | Find Out More | Bio-Kult UK – Bio-Kult).”
Don’t forget water – maintaining adequate hydration is particularly important for helping to keep headaches at bay.
Andrea said: “Aim to drink two litres a day (this can include herbal teas) and avoid coffee, tea and alcohol which act as diuretics.
“Water can be flavoured with fresh herbs or fruit to make it more interesting to drink.”
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