Headache (HA) is among the most common medical complaints. The majority is tension-type HA’s. However, a migraine is the most common diagnosis in primary care offices because people seek help with migraines but not with tension-type (1).
This week I highlight five, evidence-based, dietary strategies to combat HA, and stay tuned next week for my favorite HA herbal and nutritive remedies. I suffer from the random debilitating HA and I see this far too often in the clinic. Read on if you or someone you know is a HA sufferer.
Identify Food Sensitivities
It is well known that specific foods trigger migraines. If you are ALLERGIC to a food, your body mounts an immune response based on IgE antibodies. This may cause an anaphylactic reaction in severe cases. With food SENSITIVITY, your immune system responds based on IgG antibodies and inflammation occurs. There are blood tests available to assess IgG antibodies. Studies show that number of HA days and number of migraine attacks significantly decreased with removal of these foods (2). Identifying food sensitivities can also be done through an elimination diet; common allergenic foods are removed from the diet for some time (I recommend 3-6 weeks). Foods are systematically reintroduced while tracking symptoms. We listen to our body as we introduce foods. If symptoms ensue with food reintroduction, then we have identified sensitivity.
Avoid Processed and Preserved Foods
Eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and high quality fresh meats; avoid MSG and nitrites. MSG, a flavor enhancer used in processed foods, has some of the strongest evidence for triggering HA attack (3). MSG can be found in: frozen or canned foods, soups, international foods, salad dressing, snack foods, seasoning salts, ketchup, BBQ sauce and in Chinese cooking. Nitrites are found in preserved meats like bacon, sausage, ham and lunch meat; they preserve color and flavor and are associated with migraine attacks (4).
Drink water and avoid dehydration because dehydration can lead to HA and migraine attack (5). I recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces so that your body can stay hydrates.
Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Higher dietary intakes of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower prevalence of HA (6). Foods high in omega-3 include flaxseed, salmon, sardines, chia seeds, walnuts and grass fed meats. Avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, safflower, canola and soy because these are high in omega-6 fatty acids and it’s all about the balance; increase omega-3 and decrease omega-6.
Consume Foods High in Folate
The more dietary folate one consumed, the lower the frequency of migraine attack (7) in female sufferers. This is particularly true for those with the MTHFR gene SNP. Dark leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, as is legumes, asparagus, eggs, beets, citrus fruits, brussels sprouts, broccoli, nuts, seeds, papaya, banana, fortified grains and beef liver.
Thanks for tuning in! Pass this on to anyone that may find the information useful. If I haven’t seen you in a while, let’s catch up! You can schedule online through my website. If we have yet to meet, I am accepting new patients and would love an opportunity to work with you towards achieving your health goals.
Bajwa et al. Evaluation of headache in adults. UpToDate, 8/2018.2.