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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
A farmer’s daughter from Tipperary, Laurann has always had an appreciation for food, nutrition and health promotion.
Laurann has an honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham and a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin. She is also an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London.
With a passion for nutrition and experience working in Ireland and the UK, Laurann uses her knowledge and skills to help people achieve optimum health and assists in the prevention and treatment of nutritional related problems through means of nutritional consultation, personalised diet plans, health promotion and education.
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.