Ask Marilyn – Star Question: I keep getting headaches and migraines, do you have any nutritional suggestions that might help?

Q: I keep getting headaches and sometimes they can be a migraine attack where I feel nauseous and have to avoid light, what can I do nutritionally to help myself? 

A: One of the most important nutritional recommendations for preventing headaches is to make sure that blood sugar is kept in balance. This means eating little and often (no longer than three hours without eating) and avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates which cause the blood sugar to fluctuate. Stimulants containing caffeine, like tea and coffee, should be avoided as withdrawal of caffeine will often give headaches and continuing the caffeine will add to the roller coaster of blood sugar swings. Avoid getting dehydrated as this can cause headaches, so it is important to make sure that you’re drinking at least eight glasses of water or herb teas each day.   


For anybody who suffers from headaches and migraines, you need to find out if there are any triggers – by knowing them you can take more control. Make a note of what occurred on the day of the headache/migraine. Write down what you ate, what time you ate and what you drank. Were you feeling stressed, overworked or just tired? The aim is to find a pattern or trigger.


Certain foods contain substances, such as tyramine, phenylethylamine and histamine, that trigger headaches and migraines. These foods can include cheese, citrus fruit, red wine, chocolate and coffee. There will be a time lag between eating the food and suffering an attack, which is why it is not always easy to spot which foods could be causing a problem. The time lag is due to the fact that the problem arises when the food reaches the liver and should be broken down by enzymes. For instance, red wine can be a problem as it contains high levels of chemicals known as phenols. Usually an enzyme destroys these chemicals but migraine sufferers seem to have low levels of this enzyme, and the red wine seems to inhibit the enzyme even further. Without these enzymes substances called ‘vasodilating amines’ are released, which expand the blood vessels of the brain. Some foods contain a number of substances that can cause a problem. Both alcohol and chocolate contain phenylethylamine, for example, and cheese contains tyramine. The same foods can also contain histamine or histamine-releasing compounds. For instance, red wine contains 20 to 200 times more histamine than white wine.


There are also some useful nutrients you can add in. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and a deficiency can cause blood vessels to go into spasms, so ensuring good levels of magnesium is important for prevention. Taking magnesium daily has been shown to help not only the intensity but also the duration of menstrual migraines. Also add in Omega 3 fats in supplement form as they will help to control inflammation and pain. One study showed that migraine sufferers experienced a significant reduction in both the frequency and intensity of the attack by taking Omega 3 fatty acids every day.



Comments are closed.