To uncover easy-to-try natural strategies that may ease migraines, we tapped the expertise of Washington-based dietician Joan Hogan, RD, Food for Life founder who’s been specializing in pain disorders related to food, namely migraines, for 30-plus years.
TIP 1: Caffeine’s a tease. When a migraine’s encroaching, you might swat it away by guzzling coffee. But be wary if a pattern forms, says Hogan, whereby you’re constantly combating headache threats with caffeine. While the central-nervous-system stimulant can provide relief by easing blood-vessel muscle contractions to enhance blood flow, the comfort’s only temporary, possibly launching a vicious caffeine-chasing cycle.
TAKE-HOME: Limit or avoid caffeine including: coffee and tea (even decaf), chocolate (all types), caffeine-containing meds (such as Excedrin), natural energy-boosting products containing ephedra and/or guarana (both herbs) and/or bitter orange.
TIP 2: Mealtimes matter. When you have a migraine brain, says Hogan, severe headaches are more easily activated. You’re more susceptible to triggers, including not only dehydration and sleep deprivation but also skipping a meal and/or eating at erratic times, which destabilize blood-sugar levels.
TAKE-HOME: Never skip meals. Also consider mid-afternoon and evening snacks to keep blood-sugar levels stable, if needed. Eating a complex carbohydrate along with a protein is often best, for example, hummus and veggies, apple slices with nut butter, low-fat yogurt with berries, cheese and apple or pear slices, or cottage cheese with tomato slices.
TIP 3: Magnesium as magic. Migraineurs often have lower magnesium levels than those without headaches. Some studies have found that taking magnesium supplements may help prevent migraines, while some clinical trials have shown taking them may shorten attacks. Daily recommended dietary intake for magnesium is 320 mg for women, 420 mg for men. A study in the journal Magnesium Research of 30 migraineurs without aura who took 600 mg of magnesium citrate or a placebo daily for three months found the magnesium group had fewer and gentler migraines. (Note: 600 mg is higher than the recommended daily intake. The common migraine suggestion is 300 to 400 mg. Always consult your doctor before taking any supplement to ensure it is safe for you, especially if you have a chronic condition or take meds. Common side effects may include diarrhea and upset stomach.)
TAKE-HOME: Fold magnesium-rich foods into your diet including: Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, avocados, green leafy veggies (broccoli, kale, spinach), and legumes (peas, black beans, soybeans). Ask your doctor if taking a magnesium supplement as a migraine preventive is appropriate for you.