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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.
Will an Elimination Diet Help You Avoid Migraines?
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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