Migraine headaches – what you eat could change your life


A USA study found migraine headaches were cut by up to 40% by eating less of this and more of that.

Key Points


  • Migraine affects nearly 5 million Australians.
  • It causes chronic pain, lost work time and lower quality of life.
  • American researchers find fatty fish and lower vegetables oils could hold the secret.

A diet higher in fatty fish helped frequent migraine sufferers reduce their monthly number of headaches and intensity of pain compared to a diet higher in vegetable-based fats and oils.

American researchers, including the National Institute on Aging, found dietary changes can improve the debilitating chronic pain condition and migraines without the related downsides of often prescribed medication.

Migraine ranks among the most common causes of chronic pain, lost work time, and lowered quality of life.

Chronic migraine


More than 4 million people worldwide have chronic migraine (at least 15 migraine days per month) and more than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during an attack, which can last anywhere from four hours to three days.

Migraine affect nearly 5 million Australians, and is more common in women than men, which is thought to be due to hormonal factors.

Current medications usually offer only partial relief and can have negative side effects including sedation, and the possibility of dependence or addiction.

The study – how it worked


This study of 182 adults with frequent migraines expanded on the team’s previous work on the impact of linoleic acid and chronic pain.

Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid commonly derived from corn, soybean, and other similar oils, as well as some nuts and seeds. The team’s previous smaller studies explored if linoleic acid inflamed migraine-related pain processing tissues and pathways in the trigeminal nerve, the largest and most complex of the body’s 12 cranial nerves.

They found that a diet lower in linoleic acid and higher in levels of omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fish and shellfish) could soothe this pain pathway inflammation.

Over 16 weeks, participants were randomly assigned to one of three healthy diet plans. They all received meal kits that included fish, vegetables, hummus, salads, and breakfast items.

One group received meals that had high levels of fatty fish or oils from fatty fish and lowered linoleic acid.

A second group received meals that had high levels of fatty fish and higher linoleic acid.

The third group received meals with high linoleic acid and lower levels of fatty fish to mimic average US intakes.

Participants monitored their number of migraine days, duration, and intensity, along with how their headaches affected their abilities to function at work, school, and in their social lives, and how often they needed to take pain medications.

When the study began, participants averaged more than 16 headache days per month, more than five hours of migraine pain per headache day and had baseline scores showing a severe impact on quality of life despite using multiple headache medications.

Lower veggie oil and more fatty fish wins


The diet lower in vegetable oil and higher in fatty fish produced between 30-40% reductions in total headache hours per day, severe headache hours per day, and overall headache days per month compared to the control group.

The researchers noted that increasing fatty fish oils (omega-3 fats) was more effective in reducing headaches than fish-oil based supplements and reduced the need for pain medications.

Source: National Institute of Aging