migraneLearn how you can use food as a weapon against headache pain, and take aim with migraine-fighting recipes by Joy Bauer and Heidi Gunderson.

Tired of relying on pills to fight migraines? Maybe you don’t have to. Some lifestyle and diet modifications may do the trick. “Migraines are the most frightening enemy I have,” says Crysta Stephenson, a hardworking single mom with two children who has suffered from migraines for a long time. She likens the power of a migraine to the force of a tsunami coming ashore. “The pain cannot be controlled, and sheer willpower will not send it away.”

Hormonal changes as well as a host of other triggers, such as exposure to loud noises and not eating enough, bring on Stephenson’s attacks. “If I drink too much caffeine or go without for a day, it can give me a migraine,” she explains. “If I overload on cake, candy, or cookies without eating meat to balance them out, I get a headache. I am in constant fear of an attack coming on.”


Migraines can cripple a person mentally, physically, and emotionally. They can make it virtually impossible for an individual to continue a day at work, to take care of children, and even put one foot in front of the other. “Once an attack has begun, there’s almost nothing I can do to stop it,” says Stephenson.

“Recently, I trembled uncontrollably during an attack while I was driving. I had to get off the road immediately. The only emotional relief I have for migraines is what comes when the attack is over, but then I begin feeling anxious about when the next one will start.”

The FDA recently approved the injection of BOTOX around the head and neck area as a preventive measure against chronic migraines, those that occur most days of the month. Other forms of treatment include oral medications, nasal sprays, self-injections, and surgery. But there are more natural weapons in the antimigraine arsenal.

Instead of aspirin, ibuprofen, or BOTOX, knowledge about food and your eating patterns may be the best tool when fighting this neurological predator. Different foods can either treat or trigger migraines in many people. Of course, everyone is different. Some remedies may work for one person but are useless to another. For example, caffeine may trigger a headache for some, yet for others may alleviate pain.

Combined triggers usually cause migraine headaches during a time of vulnerability, such as a monthly menstrual cycle or episodes of excessive stress. “Your food choices may help prevent migraines,” says Angela Ginn, RD, LD, CDE, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). However, research has been inconclusive in regard to the relationship between trigger foods and migraine attacks.” Controversial diet triggers include alcohol, caffeine, and food additives.

“Having a regular eating pattern or spacing of meals three to four hours apart will lower the risk of developing a migraine,” Ginn advises. It is important to figure out whether any foods trigger your migraine headaches and then remove them from your diet. “I recommend keeping a detailed journal to identify any potential triggers,” suggests Ginn.

“The journal should include stress levels, food and beverages consumed, environmental issues, time of the migraine attacks, the amount and quality of sleep the night before, exercise patterns, and the severity of the migraine.”


Why might certain foods set off a migraine? One reason is that they may affect your blood vessels. Alcohol, food additives, and tyramine-containing foods trigger migraines because they constrict and dilate blood vessels. Chocolate also has this effect; however, medical researchers do not agree on whether to blame chocolate itself or a substance within it called phenylethylamine.

But there are foods that can help migraine sufferers. Caffeine, when used in small amounts, can be helpful in treating migraines. But caffeine is a tricky character. “One study demonstrated that it was effective in reducing the pain associated with migraines,” explains Ginn. “Another study demonstrated that excessive caffeine intake may result in withdrawal headaches.” Those who suffer from migraines need to figure out how much caffeine they need (or don’t need) to avoid triggering migraines.

In addition, Alexander Mauskop, MD, founder of the New York Headache Center and a board-certified neurologist, recommends that migraine sufferers consume whole grains and dark, leafy vegetables on a daily basis to help decrease the risk of migraines. “These foods are rich in magnesium and other important nutrients,” he explains.

In addition to diet, exercise and relaxation regimens can play a big role in controlling migraine headaches. Mauskop recommends a 30-minute cardio workout five days a week. Ginn agrees that lifestyle changes can help, adding that people who experience exercise-induced headaches should talk to a healthcare provider about effective strategies. She also recommends the use of stress management and relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. If you find that your headaches are brought on by stress, you may want to find time to relax throughout the day. “Better still, meditate one minute twice a day or longer,” adds Mauskop.

Your sleep schedule is also very important. “Sleep deprivation is a strong trigger of migraines,” says Mauskop. “Sometimes too much sleep is also a trigger.” It is important for migraine sufferers to find a sleep schedule that works for them and stick to it. “It is very individual.”

Try these recipes by authors Heidi Gunderson and Joy Bauer, designed to relieve migraines.barbecue-sauce

Barbecue Chicken Sandwiches

1 pound cooked chicken, shredded or torn into bite-size pieces
1 recipe barbecue sauce (recipe at right)

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Stir chicken and sauce together in a baking dish. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until hot. Serve on whole wheat bread or hamburger buns. Enjoy!

TD&N Nutrient Analysis (based on 4 servings): Calories: 404; Total Fat: 18 g; Saturated Fat: 10 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 134 mg; Sodium: 397 mg; Carbohydrates: 23 g; Fiber: 0 g; Protein: 36 g

Taco and Burrito Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 2 shallots, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
21⁄2 teaspoons chili powdertaco
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute shallots in oil for 2 minutes in a large frying pan. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes more. Add beef and remaining ingredients and cook until beef is browned.
Drain. Make taco salad or burritos and enjoy!

TD&N Nutrient Analysis (based on 4 servings): Calories: 191; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 70 mg; Sodium: 76 mg; Carbohydrates: 1 g; Fiber: 0 g; Protein: 24 g

swiss-chardWHAT HELPS?

• Regular meals: Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Skipping meals can cause a drop in your blood sugar level, which can trigger a headache.
• Peppermint: According to Alexander Mauskop, MD, peppermint has been shown to have pain-relieving
• Essential oils: Inhaling the fragrance of essential oils can help to relax the mind and body and relieve stress.
• Acupressure: In some cases, massaging the meaty flesh at the base of the neck with your middle and pointer fingers will relieve migraine pain.
• Caffeine: Caffeine has some pain-killing properties and, when used in low doses, can be very helpful in treating headaches.
• Protein and fiber: Eating protein and fiber with each meal can reduce the risk of migraines. “Choose lean proteins with every meal,” advises Angela Ginn, RD, LD, CDE.
• Hydration: Dehydration can trigger headaches.
• Weight management: Obesity can make you more susceptible to migraines.
• Supplements: Those such as coenzyme Q10, magnesium, and riboflavin may be beneficial.

WHAT HURTS?microwave-salmon

• Alcohol: contains the migraine triggers tyramine, histamine, and sulfites
• Caffeine: when consumed in excess or on a regular basis
• Food additives: nitrates, nitrites, and MSG
• Artificial sweeteners: such as aspartame or sucralose
• Chocolate: unclear whether the culprit is chocolate itself or the phenylethylamine it contains
• Tyramine-containing foods: include aged cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, beer, or aged foods in which proteins are broken down
• Cured dairy products: include aged cheeses such as blue, brie, cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss
• Legumes: certain beans, peas, or lentils, or products made from these foods (such as peanut butter) that contain migraine-inducing tannins
• Yellow No. 6: can cause an intolerance that may lead to an immunologic response resulting in a migraine