I have noticed lately that a lot of people are experiencing migraines. While there are a million reasons you could be getting migraines, there are some things you can do to work on preventing them in the first place. The diet that we consume regularly will affect how we feel and how our body works. Diet can play a role in whether or not you get migraines, and even the degree to which you get them. Just being vegan is not guaranteed to help with migraines. In this post, I will share foods, tips, and tricks to help you with migraines.

The Build-Up Of A Migraine

It is said that there is a normal cascade of actions that lead to a migraine:

  1. Over time stresses in the body start to add up. This can be any type of stress – physical and emotional. Things like lack of sleep, too much work not enough rest, food allergies/sensitivities, hormonal imbalance (eg- high estrogen levels), constipation, no/not enough exercise, blood sugar imbalances throughout the day, smoke in the air, nicotine, climate, flashing lights, dental problems, etc. The body can only handle so much stress, and when the threshold is reached, a migraine may occur.
  2. The body then responds to this stress by releasing serotonin which constricts blood vessels, and as a result, less blood will be sent to the brain.
  3. The migraine will occur as a reflex dilation of blood vessels occurs. This increases blood flow to the brain which has had low blood flow previous to this (step 2.) The body also releases inflammatory substances that cause swelling and pain.

Food First

Being certified in holistic nutrition, I like to look at foods first to see how they can help or hurt a situation. Migraines are a great candidate for diet changes. Below I discuss some changes you can make to your diet (foods to include and exclude) as well as lifestyle changes and, if you are into it, the deeper psycho-spiritual issues that are common to migraine sufferers. Food is the fuel that keeps us alive and well or alive and not so well. What we eat becomes a part of every cell in our bodies, with a few exceptions (like fiber), so what we put into our system will effect more than just our digestive tract. There is another great reason to try working on your diet before trying medication (only if possible) and that is there are no scary side effects with changing some foods. Reading the list of possible side effects on any medication is enough for me to go running to the hills. Sometimes they are even worse than the symptom being treated in the first place. Plant-based, whole foods are the ones that will help us thrive, and if you were to start eating this way tomorrow, the worst you will have is some possible diarrhea from all the fiber. The difference is that your body will get used to it and soon you will feel better.
Here are some foods and tips that you may find helpful: Add into your diet:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids can be good for prevention. Upping the foods that contain these nutrients can help – so flaxseeds and the oil, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, organic canola oil, and hemp oil (or a DHA/EPA supplement);
  • Magnesium – whole grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy veggies, or a supplement if you are really low;
  • Drink lots of pure water;
  • Check to make sure you are getting enough protein (average is about 50g/day, but need goes up if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, growing, or healing from an injury);
  • Increase intake of green leafy veggies, garlic, onions, and fiber;
  • Try an elimination diet to test for food triggers.

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Remove foods that commonly cause migraines from your diet: 

  • preservatives, tyramine (found in chocolate, wine, fermented foods, and vinegar) and phenylalanine (found in MSG, aspartame, and nitrates), nitrates and nitrites,
  • MSG,
  • tartrazine (found in food dyes),
  • caffeine,
  • salt and sugar (reduce and avoid refined sugar),
  • alcohol,
  • artificial sweeteners,
  • trans- and hydrogenated fats,
  • and food allergies or sensitivities.

Lifestyle Changes

While food is a great place to start, you can also work on certain lifestyle changes as well. We can be eating the best foods, but if you are always in a state of stress, the food we eat is not digested properly and we can get malnourished. The right nutrients may never get to the right cells and we can experience all types of problems, including migraines. Here are some suggestions to get you going:

  • Get enough quality sleep,
  • Regular exercise. Moderate activity like walking, biking, and swimming are great for migraine sufferers. Start off slow,
  • Reduce stress. Set aside time each day for an activity you find relaxing (yoga, meditation, tai chi, massage, a long bath, a slow walk through nature, etc.),
  • Keep a journal related to your migraines. In it you can include what you eat and how much, how you feel after, and record your migraines – when they start and how long they last. You can then look back and think of things that could have triggered it – food, environment, stress, reaction to a smell or sight. Also note what you took to help with the migraine and anything that happens – did it help; if so, how long did it take to work and how many did you take; if not, how many did you take, etc. You can be your own detective.

Things to try when you have a migraine:

  • Go into a dark, quiet room. Put an ice pack in a towel and wrap it around the back of your neck and head for 10 – 15 minutes;
  • When you first feel one coming on, place feet in a hot foot bath and put a cool cloth/ice pack as above on the back of your head and neck. This can help with drawing blood away from the head to reduce pressure.

These lifestyle changes in addition to any food changes you make, will have a big impact on your migraines. You may also notice other changes happening with your health that you never expected! That is the beauty of a whole food diet.

Psycho-Spiritual Connection

There are some great things to try above, but what if you have tried everything – your diet is clean, you have removed triggers, you are low stress, etc, and yet you still get migraines? There is great work around the idea of our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions causing health or sickness in our body. The theory is that our body, mind, and spirit are always looking to be healthy. When our mind wants us to notice a feeling or belief we are holding onto, it will communicate with us through body pains and problems. There are many books written on this phenomenon and there are many similarities found in different people. For example, constipation is said to be caused by the idea of not wanting to let something go, maybe an old belief or memory, and this is found to be a common problem in people suffering from constipation. This is a very interesting area and definitely not talked about much. If you are at the point where you have now accepted migraines as a part of your life, you may want to look deeper into the following thoughts. Not all of them will fit into your situation, but even if one does, it will be worth it to dig deep and work on it. Psycho-Spiritual thoughts to assess:

  • Control, perfectionism,
  • Saying ‘yes’ to too many things for your life and schedule,
  • A need for love and approval,
  • Putting other’s needs before your own – ignoring your own needs,
  • Feeling angry and annoyed with those around you – saying ‘You are giving me a headache.’

Do any of these sound like you? If so, spend the next couple of weeks closely examining them and finding ways to work through your feelings rather than holding onto them. This is no easy task, and you may need professional help, but you can get through it.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things that can accumulate in the body to create migraines, this post is a brief overview of a few of them and how you can begin your journey to overcome them. You do not need to live with migraines. You can get your health back. Take some of the steps above to start your journey today. If you get stuck or lost, get in touch with me to see how I can help. Find me in the Facebook group Vivacious Vegan Women. Join us and become part of the growing tribe of vegan women. We discuss all things related to veganism, nutrition, and women’s health! Yours in plant love, Carly

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References

Brenda Lessard-Rhead, BSc, ND. “Nutritional Pathology Second Edition.” Richmond Hill: CSNN Publishing, 2013. 129-133.

Segal, Inna. “The Secret Language Of Your Body.” New York: Atria Paperback, 2010. 153.

Sherry Torkos, BSc Phm. “The Canadian Encyclodedia Of Natural Medicine Second Edition.” Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2013. 354-358.

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