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Frequent Migraine Headaches Bothering You? Eat More Fatty Fish, Less Vegetable Oils

Migraine is one of the most common causes of chronic pain, lost work time, and lowered quality of life.

Dietary changes have potential for improving chronic migraine pain and reduce the need for pain medications.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Published : July 2, 2021 4:24 PM IST

A migraine is more than a headache. It's a neurological disease involving nerve pathways and brain chemicals. Research indicates that migraine is the sixth most disabling disease in the world. It causes intense, throbbing headaches that last from a few hours to several days, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Most migraine sufferers get a painful attack once or twice a month, but people with chronic migraine get headaches 15 or more days a month. These painful, recurring headaches can make living a normal life a challenge. If frequent migraine headaches are bothering you, changes in your diet could offer some relief. Consuming a diet with more fatty fish and less vegetable oils can reduce frequency of migraine headaches and intensity of pain, suggested a new study.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), parts of the National Institutes of Health; and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. The results were published in the July 3 issue of The BMJ.

In previous smaller studies, the team had shown that a diet lower in linoleic acid and higher in levels of omega-3 fatty acids could soothe migraine-related pain. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in corn, soybean, and other similar oils, as well as some nuts and seeds.

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Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and shellfish. The new study that included 182 adult frequent migraine sufferers expanded on their previous work.

Dietary changes may reduce the need for pain medications

In the new study, the participants were categorised into three groups. In a 16-week dietary intervention, each group was assigned to one of three healthy diet plans.

  • Diet with high levels of fatty fish or oils from fatty fish and lower linoleic acid.
  • Diet with high levels of fatty fish and higher linoleic acid.
  • Diet with high linoleic acid and lower levels of fatty fish

When the study began, the participants had, on average, more than 16 headache days per month, over five hours of migraine pain per headache day, despite using multiple headache medications.

The group that received diet lower in vegetable oil and higher in fatty fish experienced between 30% and 40% reductions in total headache hours per day, severe headache hours per day, and overall headache days per month compared to the other groups. Blood samples from this group also showed lower levels of pain-related lipids. However, they reported only minor improvements in migraine-related overall quality of life compared to other groups in the study.

The research indicates that dietary changes have potential for chronic migraine pain without the related downsides of common prescribed pain medications, said Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., scientific director of NIA.

Some facts about migraine

  • Migraine is one of the most common causes of chronic pain, lost work time, and lowered quality of life.
  • More than 4 million people worldwide have chronic migraine (at least 15 migraine days per month).
  • Women aged between of 18 and 44 are more prone to migraines.
  • Common prescribed medications for migraine usually offer only partial relief and can cause side effects like sedation and addiction.

With inputs from agencies

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