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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keto Diet for Migraine
The migraine community has recently been buzzing about a possible new approach to migraine prevention: a ketogenic diet. On the surface, it sounds enticing: Stick to a high-fat, minimal-carb diet, and you could lose weight and experience fewer migraine attacks. But keto is a big commitment, and the research is still incomplete.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
There are two common conceptions of a keto diet. One is the trendy version: the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet or the Paleo diet. These low-carb, high-protein plans are intended for weight loss and overall health. If a participant keeps carb intake low enough and hits the right ratio of protein and fat, they enter a state called ketosis. This means the body is no longer deriving energy from carbohydrates, but instead has switched to consuming ketone bodies, which are produced by burning fat.But these are not really keto diets!
A true ketogenic diet consists almost entirely of fats. It was first developed in the 1920s to treat epilepsy; doctors had discovered that a ketogenic diet reduced seizures in children.[i] Once effective medications were developed for epilepsy, use of the keto diet decreased.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.
So, Does the Keto Diet Help Migraine?
A few years ago, a study rekindled interest in the keto diet for migraine. Researchers followed 96 women with migraine who were also overweight. 45 of them followed a ketogenic diet for a month, followed by five months on a standard low-calorie diet. Compared to the control group, these women saw a significant improvement in migraine attack frequency and headache days in the first month. These improvements faded after they stopped the keto diet.[ii]
Intrigued by these results, other researchers examined the connection between keto diets and migraine symptoms. A study published in 2019 tried to determine if it was the ketogenic diet or weight loss that resulted in migraine improvement. The results confirmed that a very low-calorie ketogenic diet “is effective for rapid, short-term improvement of migraines in overweight patients.”[iii]
However, this keto-migraine research is still in its infancy. More studies will need be done before we understand the relationship between migraine and ketosis. 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.
How to Try a Keto Diet for Migraine
Adopting a ketogenic diet is not a casual endeavor. “Because the keto diet has such a high fat requirement, followers must eat fat at each meal,” the Harvard Health Letter explains. “In a daily 2,000-calorie diet, that might look like 165 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, and 75 grams of protein.”[iv]165 grams of fat is a lot. An 8-ounce ribeye contains just 30 grams. A handful of macadamia nuts? 32 grams. Two tablespoons of coconut oil have 28 grams of fat. See what 30 grams of fat looks like in other types of foods. You’ll also have to say goodbye to added sugars, breads and grains, most fruits and many vegetables.This high-fat diet carries some health risks. These include:
- High LDL cholesterol levels
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Liver problems
- Kidney problems
- Brain fog
- Health problems (like heart disease) linked to saturated fats[v]
People with migraine also should be wary of foods that may trigger migraine, such as cheese, dried meats, fermented foods and nuts.The best course of action is to consult your healthcare provider and/or a nutritionist before trying a keto diet for migraine. You may want to ask for a personalized nutrition plan to ensure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients while maintaining the correct proportions of carbs, proteins and fats.
If you’re desperate to find a way to prevent migraine attacks without taking more medication, CEFALY might be exactly what you’re looking for. Now available without a prescription in the U.S., CEFALY DUAL is a non-invasive medical device that’s clinically proven to prevent migraine attacks and reduce migraine pain.