The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will an Elimination Diet Help You Avoid Migraines?

If you suffer frequent migraine headaches, following an elimination diet may help you avoid migraines. More well-done studies on this approach are sorely needed, however.
Migraine headache pain

News that the FDA has just approved a new medication (Aimovig, generic name erenumab) to prevent migraine headaches has attention focused on prevention. While some patients will doubtless welcome this development, many sufferers would like to find other ways to avoid migraines. Apropos of prevention, one reader asked about the data behind a migraine elimination diet.

 Is There a Diet to Avoid Migraines?

Q. People with frequent migraine headaches are often advised to follow an elimination diet. Is there any evidence regarding its effectiveness?

The Science Behind Migraine Elimination Diets:

A. A comprehensive review of diet and headache in the journal Headache (Oct. 2016) notes that this is a controversial topic.  Unfortunately, the research on diet to avoid migraines is not as rigorous as one might wish.

What Foods May Set Off Headaches?

Some migraine sufferers find that they get headaches if they drink coffee, milk or alcoholic beverages like red wine. In addition, many people report migraines as a consequence of eating chocolate, citrus fruits, aged cheese, nuts or processed meats such as salami. Further, some people may react to MSG (monosodium glutamate), caffeine and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Canadian scientists found that between 10 and 64 percent of people suffering frequent migraines reported one or more of these foods as a trigger (Zaeem et al, Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, Nov. 2016).

Sadly, researchers have conducted very few well-designed studies to confirm the benefits of elimination diets. However, in a small randomized controlled trial, patients experienced fewer headaches and less pain during the elimination diet phase (Bunner et al, Journal of Headache Pain, Oct. 23, 2014). Moreover, Italian patients with recurrent migraines reported significantly fewer during the low-fat portion of a controlled trial (Ferrara et al, Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, April 2015).

Will You Try a Diet to Avoid Migraines?

Consequently, both physicians and patients would welcome better research. People who suffer migraines may want to try a diet to see if eliminating specific foods helps them avoid migraines.

Are you interested in trying such a diet? Otolaryngologist David Kaylie, MD, FACS, shared one with us after a recent interview. He suggested that many episodes of dizziness are best explained as the onset of migraines. Following an elimination diet to avoid migraines may be one of the best ways such patients can prevent vertigo. Here is the link: Migraine Diet

If you have frequent migraines, you may also wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Jennifer Kriegler of the Cleveland Clinic. It is Show 1055: What Are the Best Treatments for Headaches?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have suffered with migraines for many, many years and was put on Inderal which helped greatly. Then I had a Candida Yeast overgrowth issue and went gluten free. To my amazement my migraines disappeared. My sister had similar results. I have not had a migraine in over 4 years! Yes, I am no longer taking the Inderal. It sounds difficult, but the quality of my life today without gluten and sugar is worth it.

I was tested for food allergies /intolerance by my doctor due to stomach issues and found I am allergic to wheat, eggs, and milk plus a few lesser reacting foods. I cut these foods from my diet, and a pleasant unexpected reaction occurred. I had been having migraine aura daily, and sometimes 2 or 3 times daily, sometimes with headache but most of the time not. They went away completely after removing those foods from my diet. Now if I eat anything with eggs and sometimes gluten or milk (cultured dairy has not been a problem) I will get a migraine aura usually about 24 hours after consuming the food.

My mother had the most severe migraines with vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. This was in the late 40’s, and our family doctor said to give up all forms of wheat for 1 year. She had to read all labels carefully. But she did it, and after that year (without even 1 headache) she slowly added wheat back into her diet. She lived another 62 years until 100 yrs old without ever having another headache.

In 2004 I began eliminating certain foods from my daily living, and with diligence I was successful. VOILA. Not overnight, but eventually, no more migraines! I probably take in too many carbs, and I work on that daily. I am not celiac, just very intolerant of food additives. Celiacs can get cancer and have great problems conceiving so being tested is important.

At the time gluten free products were mostly by research. Many of my friends and family thought I was on a fad diet, and it wouldn’t last. Well, it has. My biggest hurdle was for sure gluten. It was in everything! Now many foods are labeled so it’s much easier. Other culprits for me were/are nitrates (in most wines), MSG and aspartame. Good luck to anyone on this journey. It can be done.

I have suffered with migraines for almost 35 years. At one point they were nearly constant (an excruciating existence). When you suffer like I did you don’t need a scientifically researched study to try something as innocuous as an elimination diet. I did and have successfully relieved at least 99% of my migraines. I wouldn’t care if well-researched, scientific studies indicated that elimination diets didn’t work. If it works for me, that’s good enough.

I had horrible migraines all my life. I started a vegan diet and never had one again. If only I had known all the years I suffered.

I had migraines and headaches all my life, and finally in my 60’s the severe ones started. This after a lot of tests with Gastroenterologist who said he would cure me and then didn’t want to see me anymore as all tests were normal. I was finally referred to a Naturopathic physician who did a food sensitivity test. He said I have more sensitivities than he had seen but since eliminating these foods I am virtually headache-free as well as no problems with diarrhea. I am now 86 and so thankful I finally found the problem after raising children while having headaches all the time.

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