What Are Migraines?
For those of you who suffer from migraines; you would have experienced how intense it could be. Migraines have been actually identified as a neurological disorder involving nerve pathways and brain chemicals. Having said that, a headache is different than a migraine in two main aspects; intensity and duration. Headaches are naturally more common due to ordinary human habits such as lack of sleep, dehydration, stress, hormonal swings, low magnesium levels or B vitamins, etc. Headaches usually last no longer than a day and typically don’t interrupt daily living.
Migraines involve brain chemical imbalances, lack of serotonin, in addition to genetic and environmental factors. I personally do not have an experience with migraines; but from what I have gathered based on clients and friends’ experiences, some of the common symptoms are constipation, mood swings, unexplained food cravings, neck pain or stiffness, constant thirst, lethargy, sensitivity to sounds, light and smells, nausea, frequent yawning, and sometimes fake visuals and hearing noises.
Migraines and Nutrition
Food is one of the most controllable daily decisions we make that can affect migraine health. We may not control the weather, and it’s hard to control our hormones, but we can control what we put in our mouths!
There are certain foods that contain tannins, sulfites, nitrites, tyramine, octopamine, phenylethylamine, artificial chemicals, and histamine that could instigate migraines. Here is a list of some examples of foods that contain the aforementioned components:
- Aged cheeses (foods high in tyramine)
- Red wine
- High sodium foods
- Skipping meals
- Aspartame and most sweeteners
- Canned soups
- Soy sauce
- Histamine-releasing foods such as bananas, strawberries, raspberries and citrus
- Yeast extract (not the same as nutritional yeast)
- Cold cuts, smoked fish and cured meats
Now I am not a doctor and I don’t know if you should avoid medication to treat migraines. But there is a beautiful balance to entertain between what doctors know can work with medications and the work we need to do on ourselves with our lifestyle and diet. Both may be needed to make an effective and life long treatment plan and I think both need support from your health care professionals.
We all need to watch our diet for ultimate health, but migraine sufferers need to be more focused, meticulous and aware of their unique triggers. I would definitely recommend going with an elimination diet and removing all trigger foods and slowly re-introducing them while monitoring what triggers the discomfort back so you can be aware forever with what works for you and what not.
You should opt for whole foods that have more fiber and vitamins. Try to change things like white bread, pasta in your diet to whole grains. Eat a variety of vegetables. Omega-3s are super important as well. Eat healthy fats, not low fat! Limit “saturated” and “trans fats” when possible.
Limit sodium to less than 2300 mg/day. Most salt in our diets comes from processed foods. Cook “from scratch” whenever possible and try to dine in rather than eat out more often.
Don’t skip meals, especially if this triggers migraines. Consider eating 5 small meals per day. Merge a portion of carbohydrates with protein or a healthy source of dietary fat to stay full longer. Drink water through the day instead of sugary drinks like soda or juice.
Getting enough sleep and a consistent sleep-wake cycle is crucial for managing migraines. Reducing intense stimuli like flashing lights, strong smells (perfume, smoke, etc.) and loud sounds. Manage and filter your medication and supplements; some women for an example are sensitive to birth control and can be one of the players in causing migraines.
Supporting gut health is key; 70% of our immunity is in our guts, it’s important to maintain healthy digestion especially if foods can be fundamental triggers to your suffering. Take it seriously and do not depend solely on medication because eventually you will develop an immunity to that medication and it won’t be as effective as it is right now.
Every migraine is unique to the person so it’s very important to self-experiment with finding your own triggers and things in your lifestyle that you can control and manage to prevent. Always be smart about your health – we have the empowerment to take care of ourselves which should also include when to know it’s time to go see a doctor. If you have a headache that’s incredibly intense, lasts longer than a day, is very severe and sudden, or you intuitively know you should get help, do not bend it. Get up and make the choice to invest in your health and wellbeing. It is your temple and most precious asset.
Zein Nimri is an AFPA certified sports nutritionist, NESTA kids nutritionist, long distance runner, cyclist and traveller with big dreams. Follow her on Instagram @Zeinutritionist she is currently an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach.