Managing Diet and Migraine

By Alan Finkel, MD, FAHS

Diet is an important part of everyday life, especially true for patients with migraine. Certain food choices can have an effect on a patient’s migraine. There are no universal food triggers. But patients can try managing diet and migraine to minimize these negative effects.

This may seem like a daunting task, but your healthcare provider can play a major part in helping you along. It’s important for doctors to understand your lifestyle and what you eat. This helps them find a plan that works best for you. By working with doctors and figuring out how to make compromises, patients with migraine can start to push back against the effect of migraine.

Working With Your Doctor 

One of the best things a patient can do for their doctor is to identify foods you believe are triggers. Bring these suspicions to your doctor so you can work together to figure out you options and alternatives. Sometimes it’s just about using a more purified version of those foods, like bologna without nitrates or uncured bacon. 

In my time working in migraine and headache medicine, I’ve had patients explain what they consider possible triggers or influences over how their migraine occurs. I’m often asked what kind of diet is the best for managing migraine. I generally recommend the healthiest diet available to help manage symptoms. The Mediterranean diet—diets high in consumption of vegetables, fruits and unrefined carbohydrates, and with fat sources such as nuts, cheeses and polyunsaturated fats—is a good example. Staying away from fried foods and adding lean meats and healthy oils is also important. In some people, avoiding alcohol may also help reduce migraine frequency.

Obesity also ties into diet-related migraine issues. There is a link between chronic migraine and obesity. This means that moving to a healthier diet focused around weight loss could also help.

Finding a Compatible Diet

In many cases, patients might not need to make huge dietary changes. It might not be about avoiding or cutting foods out completely. It could be about having a snack when you’re hungry or not skipping breakfast. You man just need to make smaller changes that can add up to a noticeable difference. I see diet in the context of the whole person, and I often leave it to the patient to make those decisions about what is compatible with the way they want to live. 

—Alan Finkel, MD, FAHS, is a neurologist at the Carolina Headache Institute in Durham, North Carolina.