Although medication can help prevent and treat migraines to some extent, a new study in The BMJ suggests that supplementing this approach with diet changes could make a world of difference – especially by changing the type of fat you eat eat.
The researchers looked at 182 people diagnosed with frequent migraines and divided them into three groups for 16 weeks. One was a standard US diet with an average amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, while a second group increased their omega-3s and maintained their omega-6 levels. The third group ate meals that were significantly less omega-6 fatty acids and much more omega-3 fatty acids.
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The standard group did not see any major changes, but as the omega-3 fatty acids increased, the incidence of pain decreased in the other groups. The group that consumed the least omega-6s saw the greatest improvement.
According to Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power and founder of the Nutrition & Brain Fitness Lab at New York University, this is in line with other research on healthy fats and brain function.
When we eat, nutrients are broken down and transported throughout the body, including to the brain, which uses the nutrients to activate cellular responses and replace brain tissue, says Mosconi. Healthy fats are broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which support our immune systems, she adds, and together they protect the brain from damage and disease.
grilled salmon vegetables
Although both types are necessary, a typical Western diet, which is heavily reliant on processed foods, tends to have omega-6 fatty acids, creating an imbalance. This can increase both inflammation and sensitivity to pain – both major factors in migraines.
“Diet is just as important to brain health as it is to physical health,” says Mosconi. “More emphasis on omega-3s is an important way to reduce inflammation and improve brain function.”
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These fats are found in foods like oily fish like salmon, as well as in nuts and seeds. Omega-6 fatty acids are higher in foods prepared with certain oils, including canola, sunflower, corn, soybean, and thistle.
That doesn’t mean you have to cut out omega-6s altogether, adds Mosconi, but more omega-3s tend to improve the fat balance in your diet. The effect could be a happier, healthier brain for both migraineurs and everyone else.
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