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Women’s Health: Nutrition & Migraines

Migraines, characterized by recurring headaches accompanied by pain, nausea, and visual or auditory disturbances, affect nearly 15% of people worldwide.  Of the 32 million Americans who experience these headaches, 24 million are women.  Although the exact mechanism is unclear, migraines are believed to be a neurovascular disorder related to genetic, hormonal and environmental factors like diet and stress.

Migraines run in my family and I have haunting memories of the incapacitating pain and auras that plagued my youth. Although there is no medical “cure,” trigger avoidance and medication are effective for some people. I am very fortunate to be able to control my symptoms with diet and relaxation practices like yoga and acupuncture. Since transitioning to a healthy lifestyle, I have been migraine-free for nearly four years.

In my experience, a surefire way to trigger a migraine is to eat sugary foods on an empty stomach.

The research shows that this is not uncommon, and that skipping meals, fasting, and low blood sugar can trigger an attack in many migraine sufferers. If you think that you may be sensitive to meal timing, make sure to pack healthy, portable snacks like all-natural protein rich bars, apples, or trail mix so that you’re prepared when you feel a migraine coming on.

Certain foods can also bring on an attack.

Common dietary triggers include chocolate, alcohol (especially red wine), nitrate-containing products like processed meats, and foods containing yeasts, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. Although it’s smart to avoid many of these foods as part of a healthy diet, keep a food diary or try an elimination diet to identify less obvious triggers. (For more information on elimination diets, contact a Wellness Guides Nutrition Specialist for a consult.)

The research has identified common “trigger foods,” but can certain foods play a role in migraine prevention?

According to Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, the Senior Nutritionist at Wellness Guides, yes, they can. Certain nutrients are thought to help prevent an attack, and research shows that migraine sufferers show a similar pattern of nutrient deficiency, particularly in riboflavin (B2), magnesium, and vitamin C.

Riboflavin-rich foods include mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach, and are particularly important for women taking birth control pills, antibiotics, or for those who regularly consume alcohol, which deplete riboflavin stores. Find creative ways to incorporate these nutrient-rich foods into recipes, or talk to your doctor about finding a supplement that works for you. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1.0mg for female adolescents and 1.1 mg for female adults over 18 years.

Magnesium deficiency is also common in migraine sufferers.

Like riboflavin, deficiency is associated with the use of birth control pills and regular alcohol consumption. According to the NIH, the RDA for adult females is 280-300mg, which can be sourced from magnesium rich foods like leafy greens (kale, chard, spinach), bananas, beans, and whole grains.

Vitamin C is important during times of stress and illness. If you suffer from migraines, try to incorporate bell peppers, kale, and citrus fruits daily

As with many conditions, a healthy diet coupled with adequate exercise, sleep, and time for relaxation can help prevent and control symptoms.

For more information on migraine diet therapy, visit our website


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