Migraines are the third most common disease in the world, with chronic migraines affecting almost 2% of the population. Yes, some people see migraines as just really bad headaches. However, the reality is that they can have a debilitating effect on the body. Symptoms of migraines include headaches, sensitivity to both sound and light, nausea, vertigo, and dizziness.

Thankfully, a new study has found that changing up your diet may help provide relief. In fact, it appears that omega-3 fatty acids could be the secret to your migraine woes.

How do migraines affect the body?

According to various research, migraines can affect the body in a number of ways;

  • Those with a history of migraines are four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Those who deal with chronic migraines are twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety.

The migraine diet

migraines

According to a recent study published in The BMJ, a diet that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be the key to reducing both the frequency and intensity of migraines.

The study

Omega-3 fatty acids can provide plenty of benefits for the body, particularly the reduction of inflammation and pain, thanks to oxylipins – molecules that regulate pain and inflammation. So researchers from Maryland and North Carolina set out to find a link between omega-3 fatty acids and the release of pain-reducing chemicals.

For the study, the researchers recruited 182 people, 88% of whom were women with an average age of 38. They had suffered from migraines five to 20 times a month, with 67% meeting the criteria for chronic migraine.

The researchers divided the subjects into three separate diet programs for 16 weeks;  one group stuck to a control diet with usual levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in normal foods, the second group adopted a diet that increased the amount of omega-3 they consumed while maintaining their omega-6 levels and the third group followed a diet that was significantly lower in omega-6s and much higher in omega-3s.

To follow their migraines, the participants used an electronic diary, all while completing a migraine questionnaire that measures how much a migraine impacts their quality of life.

What did the study show?

The study findings suggest that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help with those debilitating migraines.

omega
Photo by Arturo Alvarez on Unsplash

According to the researchers, the group that followed a high omega-3 diet experienced 1.3 fewer headaches hours each day and two fewer headaches each month. Furthermore, the group whose diet was high in omega-3 and low in omega-6 reduced their migraines by 1.7 headaches hours per day. They also had four fewer headaches each month. 

Now, while the researchers admit that the study does have its limitations, like how the majority of the participants were mostly young and female, they do admit that the findings highlight how dietary changes can help alleviate pain,

“This study provides a biologically plausible demonstration that pain can be treated through targeted dietary alterations in humans. Collective findings suggest causal mechanisms linking n-3 and n-6 fatty acids to [pain regulation], and open the door to new approaches for managing chronic pain in humans,” they said in a statement.

What to eat?

One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, is cold-water fatty fish. These include:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • herring
  • sardines

If you’re not a fan of eating fish, you can also opt for supplements, fish oils, as well as nuts, and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.

References

Buse DCManack ASerrano D, et al. (2010). Sociodemographic and comorbidity profiles of chronic migraine and episodic migraine sufferers.

Ramsden C EZamora DFaurot K RMacIntosh BHorowitz MKeyes G S et al. (2021). Dietary alteration of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for headache reduction in adults with migraine: randomized controlled trial. doi:10.1136/bmj.n1448

Want to know more?

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Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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