We all know that for many people, certain foods can make migraine worse. But can diet also heal?

We’ll take a look at some eating plans billed as the best diets for migraine: what they involve, which foods are off-limits, and the evidence that they work. Just remember that everyone is different! Your safe foods and food triggers may be unique to you. The free CeCe migraine management app from CEFALY Technology makes it easy to track eating habits and symptoms so that over time, patterns become clear.

We recommend consulting your healthcare provider and/or a nutritionist before trying any special diet for migraine, to make sure it works for you.

The Heal Your Headache Diet for Migraine

What is the Heal Your Headache Diet?

Have you ever noticed people talking about the HYH diet in migraine communities? This is an abbreviation for the “Heal Your Headache” migraine prevention diet, first developed by Dr. David Buchholz, MD. The HYH diet eliminates foods, beverages and additives that can trigger migraine attacks in some people. These include, but aren’t limited to, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, most cheeses and fermented dairy, nuts, citrus fruits, processed meats and fresh-baked breads. It’s described in detail in this book.

Dr. Buchholz advises that you have to stay on the diet for at least a month before it’s maximally effective. Once you see improvement in your migraine symptoms, you may want to try adding certain items back into your diet, one at a time. Pay close attention to your symptoms — if you experience an attack soon after you’ve tried eating almonds, for instance, that may be a trigger food for you.

Does the Heal Your Headache Diet Work for Migraine?

The HYH diet is popular and widely used among people with migraine. Many say it’s made a dramatic difference in the frequency and/or severity of migraine attacks, including Alicia Wolf, blogger and author of The Dizzy Cook. The diet is restrictive and can be difficult to follow, she notes, especially in the early weeks when you’re not yet sure if it works. You’ve got to get past that point: “I believe once you focus on all the things you cannot have, which usually lasts for about a month,” she writes, “you begin to focus on what you can have [and] all the great substitutions that are available.”

The Heal Your Headache diet can be tough for vegetarians and vegans to follow, because it eliminates many fruits, vegetables, nut products and breads.

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The Charleston Diet for Migraine

What is the Charleston Diet?

“Headaches hurt in the head – but they start in the gut,” says Dr. Carol A. Foster, MD. Dr. Foster is the neurologist who developed the Charleston Diet, a migraine elimination diet named for the Charleston Headache and Neuroscience Center. (Don’t confuse this with the Charleston Plan for weight loss.) Like the Heal Your Headache diet, it cuts out many foods known to be high in tyramine or histamine. Unlike the HYH diet, it allows vinegars and prohibits most beans.

Does the Charleston Diet Work for Migraine?

Elimination diets, like the Charleston Diet, can be effective for reducing migraine symptoms and identifying specific triggers. Just as with the HYH diet, you’ll need to stick to the diet carefully for a few months. Keep a food diary and use the CeCe app to track your symptoms, so you’ll know for sure if the diet is making a difference.

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The Ketogenic Diet for Migraine

What Is a Ketogenic Diet?

A ketogenic or keto diet is a high-fat, minimal-carb eating plan that can be effective for weight loss. If you keep your carb intake very low and eat the right ratio of protein and fat, your body can enter a state called ketosis. Instead of deriving energy from carbohydrates, as you normally do, your body burns fat for fuel.

Fats make up about 75% of a keto diet; carbs just 5%; and protein the rest. Keto-friendly foods include eggs, poultry, meat, fatty fish, full-fat dairy, nuts, and low-carb vegetables like broccoli and greens.

Does the Keto Diet Work for Migraine?

A few scientific studies suggest that it can. In one, researchers studied 96 women with migraine who were also overweight. About half of them followed a ketogenic diet for a month, then spent five months on a standard low-calorie diet. These women saw a significant improvement in migraine attack frequency and headache days in the first month, but these improvements faded after they stopped the keto diet.[i]

That being said, the keto diet may not be for everyone. There’s no cutting corners; you don’t get cheat days to eat carbs, or your body will switch out of ketosis. Some foods commonly eaten in a keto diet, such as cheese and nuts, may be migraine triggers for some.

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Gluten-Free Diets for Migraine

What Is a Gluten-Free Diet?

Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). While most people don’t have a problem consuming gluten, it can cause digestive and other health issues for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. For the last 10-plus years, many people have tried gluten-free diets to improve their overall health.

Does a Gluten-Free Diet Work for Migraine?

The jury’s still out on that. One study concluded that, while migraine often improves on a gluten-free diet in people with celiac disease, there’s not much evidence that a GF diet helps migraine in other people. However, if you think gluten may be a trigger food for you, then you could try eliminating it from your diet to see if that helps. You may find inspiration in The Migraine Relief Plan Cookbook, by health coach Stephanie Weaver. Weaver, who lives with migraine, created an anti-inflammatory diet that’s both gluten-free and nut-free.

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Developing Your Own Best Diet for Migraine

What if you don’t have the ability, the time, the money or the patience to adhere to a strict migraine diet?

First, know you’re not alone. It’s not easy to give up foods you love, say “no” to takeout or restaurant meals with friends, and cook special meals every day.

Second, don’t stress about it! Stress is the most common migraine trigger, and worrying about what you’re eating or not eating will do more harm than good.

Third, try to follow some basic, common-sense diet guidelines for people with migraine. These include:

  • Eating healthy foods.
  • Eating on a regular schedule, to avoid spikes and dips in blood sugar.
  • Shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store, which means filling your cart with fresh, less processed ingredients.
  • Avoiding the most common migraine food triggers, such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, old and fermented foods, and food with MSG.

Fourth, use the CeCe app or a food/migraine diary to identify your own particular triggers and safe foods. It doesn’t matter if everyone else says peanut butter is bad for migraines; if you feel fine after eating it, then it’s not a trigger for you.

Lastly, remember that diet is only one part of your migraine treatment regimen. There are many more ways to reduce your migraine frequency and your trigger threshold — and one important one is CEFALY. CEFALY DUAL Enhanced is a non-invasive, FDA-cleared medical device that’s clinically proven to prevent migraine attacks and reduce migraine pain.

[i]> Di Lorenzo C, Coppola G, Sirianni G, Di Lorenzo G, Bracaglia M, Di Lenola D, Siracusano A, Rossi P, Pierelli F. Migraine improvement during short lasting ketogenesis: a proof-of-concept study. Eur J Neurol. 2015 Jan;22(1):170-7. doi: 10.1111/ene.12550. Epub 2014 Aug 25. PMID: 25156013.