The study, published in the BMJ, measured the effects of diet on the frequency and severity of migraines in US participants over 16 weeks. Three healthy eating plans were assigned to 182 adults with frequent migraines. The participants received food packages with fish, vegetables, hummus, salads and breakfast products.
One group received meals high in oily fish and low in linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid commonly obtained from corn and soybeans.
A second group received meals high in oily fish and linoleic acid, while a third group received meals high in linoleic acid and low in oily fish – to mimic the levels of the average US diet.
Participants were asked to monitor the number of days they had migraines, their duration and intensity.
At the start of the study, participants had 16 headache days per month with over 5 hours of pain per headache day.
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Participants on a diet high in oily fish and less vegetable oil reported between 30 and 40 percent fewer hours of headache per day.
Blood samples from this group showed lower levels of pain-related lipids.
Luigi Ferrucci, NIA’s Scientific Director, said, “This research has found fascinating evidence that dietary changes have the potential to improve a very debilitating chronic pain condition like migraines without the associated drawbacks of frequently prescribed drugs.”
It is believed that migraines are the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves, and blood vessels in the brain.
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The neurological disease is one of the most common causes of chronic pain, absence from work and a reduced quality of life.
Chronic migraines affect more than 4 million people worldwide, and over 90 percent of those affected are unable to work or function normally during a seizure.
Chris Ramsden, one of the study’s lead researchers, said, “Diet changes could provide some relief to millions of Americans who suffer from migraine pain.
“It’s further evidence that the food we eat can affect pain pathways.”
There are several types of migraines, including:
- Migraines with aura – when there are specific warning signs before the migraine starts
- Migraines without aura – the most common form in which the migraine occurs without the specific warning signs
- Migraine aura without a headache – when an aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced but a headache does not develop.
Although there is currently no cure for migraines, there are a number of treatments available to help relieve symptoms.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen can help relieve symptoms.
Nausea medications can also successfully treat migraines in some people.
If medication is inappropriate or does not help prevent migraines, the NHS recommends acupuncture as a complementary or alternative treatment.
The numbers show that a course of up to 10 sessions over a 5 to 8 week period can be beneficial.
Numerous organizations offer advice and support for people with migraines, including the Migraine Trust.
The Migraine Trust can be contacted on 020 7631 6970.