Whilst many of us may get the occasional headache, for those who suffer from migraines it can have a huge impact on their quality of life, particularly when they’re unexpected or extremely severe. Here nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly and owner of Nutrition By Laurann brings us through her top lifestyle and nutrition strategies for migraine relief.
A migraine is usually a moderate or severe recurrent headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of your head. Many people also have symptoms such as nausea (feeling and being sick), as well as increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Remember that you are not alone as “migraine is a common condition, affecting approximately 1 in 5 women and around 1 in 15 men” (HSE).
What Are The Causes of Migraines
Whilst the exact cause of migraines is unknown, they can vary depending on age, gender and genetics. There are many factors which can contribute to migraines such as hormonal, emotional, physical, environmental, medication and dietary (HSE).
- Hormonal: Whilst there may be a hormonal link to migraines in men, hormonal imbalances and migraines tend to be more associated with women.
For ladies, some may get migraines around the time of their period due to hormonal changes around this time. Period related migraine is most likely to develop in either the 2 days leading up to a period or the first 3 days during a period. This is because of the natural drop in oestrogen levels at these times and is called ‘pure menstrual migraine’. The Menopause may also result in changes in migraines with many women finding that their migraines improve, whilst for others it can trigger migraines or make them worse.
During pregnancy, headaches may also get worse in the first few weeks, but they usually improve or stop completely during the last 6 months and have not been found to harm the baby
- Emotional: Changes in our emotions can trigger our emotions for example if we’re going through periods of stress, anxiety, tension, shock, depression and even excitement (HSE).
- Physical: This can include tiredness or fatigue, not getting enough or poor-quality sleep, poor posture and blood sugar imbalances (HSE)
- Environmental: These types of triggers are extremely common in migraine sufferers and may include stimuli such as bright lights, flickering screens (including televisions, computers and phones), loud noises, smoking/smoky rooms, changes in climate or temperature and strong smells (HSE)
- Medications: Whilst all medications vary, certain ones may trigger migraines for some people, such as “sleeping tablets, the combined contraceptive pill, any oestrogen-based contraception and hormone replacement therapy/HRT (HSE).
Note: Please contact your GP or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns.
- Diet: Several dietary triggers for migraine have been identified, these include food sensitivities or intolerances, dehydration and missed or delayed meals (HSE).
If you have been suffering with severe headaches or migraines for a long time, it’s always best to contact your GP who may recommend testing or an appropriate medical treatment.
Lifestyle Strategies For Migraine Relief
- Sleep Routine: Have a regular sleep pattern, and avoid having too much or too little sleep, aiming for a minimum of 6-8 hours per night.
- Stress Reduction: Whilst it’s hard to avoid the many stresses that life throws at us, it’s important to find our own stress reduction strategy which could include a 5-minute breathing technique, mediation, a walk, exercise, writing, art or reading a book, anything that gets those stress hormones reduced.
Nutritional Strategies For Migraine Relief
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (EPA & DHA): Their anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to reduce the severity and frequency of migraines.
Food Sources: Oily fish (trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, and salmon), nuts (walnuts, pecans and pistachio), seeds (pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, chia seeds, linseed and hemp seeds) and plant oils (extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil and linseed oil)
Recommended Supplement: Eskimo-3 with Omega 3 & Vitamin E
- Ginger: Can help to block inflammatory compounds which trigger migraines, it also helps to relief nausea which can often happen in severe cases.
Food Sources: Grated ginger stem or ground ginger spice. Why not try adding to a homemade juice (see recipe below) or curry
Recommended Supplement: Solgar Ginger Root
- Magnesium: Also known as ‘nature’s natural sedative’. Research on magnesium has found it to be effective as a treatment option for headaches including migraines, tension- type headaches and cluster headaches, particularly magnesium oxide.
Food Sources: Include wholegrains, beans and dark leafy vegetables
Recommended Supplement: Sona Magnesium
- Reduce The Sugar: Rapid changes in blood sugar levels from eating too much sugar may result in ‘sugar headaches’ otherwise known as a ‘sugar hangover’ or ‘sugar crash’.
For those who get sugar cravings the following supplement helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity.
Recommended Supplement: Pharma Nord BioActive Chromium
- Caffeine: This is an interesting one as for some it may help to ease migraine symptoms, with caffeine having properties which can help to alleviate the pain. However, for others who may be sensitive to caffeine it may actually be a trigger, definitely one to watch.
- Chocolate: The jury is out on this one too as a few studies have found chocolate to be associated with migraine in a small minority of people, however it may not be the case for everyone and could depend on if you have a sensitivity to chocolate.
- Reduce The Alcohol: Causes increased blood flow to your brain and can result in dehydration both of which can be headache and cluster migraine triggers. Whilst sulphites, used as preservatives in both white and red wine, are considered a potential migraine trigger.
- Limit Tyramine Containing Foods: Tyramine is a substance found naturally in some foods. It's especially found in aged and fermented foods, such as aged cheeses, smoked fish, cured meats, some types of beer and yeast extracts. This one is a well-accepted migraine trigger.
- Increase Your Water Intake: Dehydration can trigger episodes of migraine or tension headaches, so for those who get migraines it’s important that you meet your minimum fluid requirement. This is particularly if you do a lot of training, when in hot environments or during the winter whilst the heating is on.
Tip: Aim for a minimum fluid intake of 35ml x kg bodyweight every day
- Include Regular Meals: Eat small, frequent snacks to keep your blood sugar level up. For those who suffer from migraines, missing meals or going too long without food can trigger attacks. Have a small snack before going to bed (such as a yogurt) and aim to always eat a good breakfast.
- Food Intolerances/Sensitivities: Very commonly a sensitivity to certain foods can trigger migraines in many individuals. Whilst food allergies are typically quick to spot as they cause an immediate reaction, food intolerances can be a little bit more difficult to identify as the onset of symptoms take a little longer to show (anything between 1-120 hours), making it difficult for individuals to recognise which specific foods could be triggering their migraines.
Food Intolerance Testing: For a blood-based food intolerance test please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anti-Inflammatory Migraine Reliever Recipe
Oven Baked Ginger Glazed Salmon
Whilst many of us strive to eat healthy, there is also a misconception that eating healthy is expensive and that processed and convenience foods are a better option if you have many mouths to feed or if you are on a tight budget.
Here nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly, owner of Nutrition By Laurann provides us with some top tips for eating healthy on a budget.
1. Meal Planning – Meal planning is not only great for the purse strings, but having our meals and snacks pre-prepared for the week makes both our work and home lives flow seamlessly. It also helps to avoid the temptation of take away and convenience foods.
Tip: You can download your free meal planner guide and sample 7 day meal plan here: https://nutritionbylaurann.ie/your-meal-planning-guide/
2. Composing Your Meals & Food Portion Sizes:
Remember to include 1) a healthy protein source (the size of the palm of your hand or ¼ of your plate), 2) a healthy carbohydrate source, preferably brown/wholegrain (the size of your fist or ¼ of your plate), 3) 2 vegetable portions (the size of 2 fists or ½ of your plate) and 4) healthy fat sources such as extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed/nut oils, avocado, nuts and seeds.
- Include Healthy Snack Options:
3. Write Your List & Stick To It – Once you’ve decided your meals and snacks for the week, make a list of your ingredients and their quantities. This ensures that you only purchase what you need. Tip: before writing your list be sure to check your fridge and cupboards as you may already have some of the ingredients that you need.
4. Shop Around – Where time allows, it can be sometimes helpful to shop around as different supermarkets and stores have different offers on at different times. One of the benefits of shopping in store is that you can personally choose the freshest produce.
5. Buy in Bulk – It can often be cheaper to buy in bulk than single products individually, in other words economies of scale. For example, a large pack of vegetables over individual, this can then be cooked, frozen and eaten later.
6. Avoid The Impulse Buys – There are often numerous offers as we stroll through our supermarket isles, this is where your list comes in. Tip: Ask yourself is it on your list? and do you really need it?
7. Online Grocery Shopping – Online shopping became even more popular during lockdown however it has the additional advantages of convenience as well as online deals and discounts that wouldn’t be available in store, it’s definitely worth the research.
8.Look Out For Healthy Meal Deals – Many supermarkets now have meal deals which include all the components of your meal such as your meat + vegetable mix + noodles. These are most obvious around traditions and celebrations such as mother’s/father’s day, Easter and Christmas but are available all year round.
9. Don’t Go Shopping When Hungry – This one is a given, we can often make poor food choices when we’re hungry and when shopping it’s often hard to see the wood from the leaves. Tip: Why not have one of your pre-prepared snacks listed above, to avoid hunger from clouding your judgement.
10. Use Your Supermarket Club Cards – Don’t underestimate the power of the club card from which you can get discounts, deals and vouchers. Tip: Why not download the ‘Stocard’ app on your phone within which you can store all of your discount cards and take the weight out of your wallet.
11. Batch Cooking – Once you’ve purchased your meal ingredients, set aside a couple of hours to batch cook a couple of nutritious meals, soups and sandwich fillings. Tip: 1) Line two baking trays with foil 2) on one lay out your chicken/turkey fillets and on the other you can lay out some salmon darnes 3) season them with herbs and spices and cover, 4) bake for 25-30 minutes at 180∞Celcius 4) meanwhile boil your vegetables and potatoes/wholegrain rice/wholegrain pasta, 5) divide your meals into your storage boxes and allow to cool, 6) place in the fridge if they are to be consumed within 3 days, otherwise place in the freezer and remove the night before as needed.
12. Load Up On The Veggies – Vegetables are not only reasonably priced but packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and can be enjoyed cooked as part of your main dishes or raw in salads or as snacks such as listed above.
13. Invest in Tupperware Boxes – When meal prepping, good tupperware containers are a great investment. Tip: It’s important to avoid cheaper plastic food storage boxes as they may contain a component called BPA, which when exposed to heat (even sunlight) can release into our foods (the same goes for water bottles). Look for food storage boxes which have the BPA free stamp on them, I prefer the Sistema food storage boxes which are available to purchase online and in most larger supermarkets.
14. Don’t Fear The Reduced To Clear – Often at the end of the day the supermarket will mark down food products which are close to their expiry date. Whilst many of these are perishable and need to be used that day or the day after, others can be frozen and used later. For those on a budget you can get real bargains here.
15. Use Your Leftovers – Not only does this avoid waste but it’s a great way of getting additional mileage out of your meals. Tip: Why not use your leftover meat and vegetable to make up a delicious soup or as use sandwich fillings.
16. Use Your Freezer – Never underestimate the power of your freezer in terms of healthy eating on a budget and extending the lifespan of your foods. As mentioned above you can 1) buy in bulk and store for when needed (remember economies of scale) 2) freeze your batch cooked meals and defrost the night before, 2) you can store reduced to clear freezable foods and 3) you can freeze your bread and toast it when needed
17. Grow Your Own – Why not try grow a little vegetable or herb garden. Whilst some foods require a little bit of effort to grow, others can be easily grown at home such as onions, radish and lettuce. It can feel extremely rewarding growing and having access to your own produce whilst also being a fun activity for all the family. Tip: Why not check out this article on the easiest and trouble free vegetables for beginners to grow https://www.quickcrop.ie/blog/2016/02/top-ten-trouble-free-vegetable-crops-for-beginners/
Healthy Budget Recipe
One Pot Lemon Chicken Potato Bake
Protein supplements can play an important role as part of your sports nutrition strategy. However, there are a lot of protein supplements out there so it's important for us to understand what they are, what they do and if we need them?
What Are Protein Supplements?
Protein Supplements help us to meet our protein requirements where our diet doesn't meet these needs.
Protein supplements should never be used as a meal replacement but purely supplement our dietary protein.
You should never have to pay a subscription for a protein supplement or any nutrition supplements as you dietary needs are constantly changing.
Protein supplements extremely valuable for athletes and recovery from illness or injury
What to Look For in a Protein Supplement
Amino Acid Profile - Amino acids are the protein 'building blocks', the greater spectrum of amino acids (the amino acid profile), the better the protein supplement as it can carry out a wider range of functions.
The Absorption Rate - Different proteins absorb at different rates (uptake into the muscle, tissues and cells). This is particularly important as people have different training goals, different metabolic rates and train at different times of the day
Types of Protein Supplements
Whilst there are many types of protein supplements, these are the most common
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
When Taken - Pre WorkOut
When Taken - Post Training
When Taken - Post WorkOut
Vegan Protein Blends
When Taken - Post WorkOut
Note: In the right quantities brown rice protein and hemp protein can provide the full amino acid (building block) spectrum
Laurann has an Honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham, a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin, is an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London, a professional member of the Celiac Society Ireland, is registered with the Institute of Public Health Ireland and fully insured.