Head Games

It’s more than a headache, yet migraine solutions are rather hit and miss. As sufferers try to determine why migraines turn their lives upside down, a closer look at what they do and don’t eat can offer some clues.


Life can be a headache sometimes, but for migraine sufferers a painkiller doesn’t come close to easing the symptoms. For people living with migraines, a headache becomes a debilitating occurrence that can last from four to 72 hours. Pain occurs on one side of the head and can involve nausea and vomiting as well as sensitivity to light or sound. Studies indicate around 12 per cent of the population experience migraines and the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the condition as the sixth highest cause worldwide of years lost due to disability. And, unfortunately, it is one of those health conditions that doesn’t appear to have a simple cure.



The cause of migraines is not yet clear, although genetics are considered an important contributing factor. The immediate onset of a migraine can be related to many triggers including: dietary, environmental, hormonal, physical, and emotional. Triggers are not always easy to control, although a closer look at what we eat can have an impact. Studies have shown foods containing magnesium, vitamin B2, high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and folate can help ward off migraines.


Keeping up your water intake is also important. Meanwhile, inflammation and oxidative stress has been connected to migraines, particularly for women. Cold-water fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids will help here too, as will colourful foods such as berries and broccoli, and walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.


When it comes to migraines, it is more likely to be what you don’t eat than what you eat that will offer a solution. The hard part, though, is figuring out what to exclude from your diet. Common triggers can be classified into two main groups:

Natural chemicals: Salicylates (found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, jam, honey, coffee, tea, beer and wine); amines (found in aged meat and cheese, ripe fruits and vegetables, chocolate and fermented products); and glutamates (found in cheese, tomato, mushrooms, stocks, sauces, yeast and meat extracts, and monosodium glutamate, known as MSG).

Food additives: Artificial colours; natural colours; preservatives; antioxidants; and food enhancers.

If you suspect a food chemical intolerance may be the cause of your migraines, it is important to discuss your symptoms with a doctor to rule out medical causes. If you get the all clear, under the guidance of an accredited practising dietitian you can undertake a diet that eliminates all possible trigger substances at once. When your symptoms have subsided (this can take up to eight weeks) the food chemicals will be gradually reintroduced, helping identify those you can and cannot tolerate.


This leafy vegetable has nutritional benefits that include magnesium and folate as well as some of the B vitamins, making it the perfect addition to salads, soups and stews.


Studies have suggested that a component found in extra virgin olive oil called oleocanthal boasts both painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties.



A traditional remedy for things such as nausea, Ginger is now considered to have anti-inflammatory potential. Try a ginger tea made from the fresh root or a herbal option.


Although cucumbers are made up of about 95 per cent water, they are also a delicious source of B vitamins, as well as an anti-inflammatory flavonol.



Research suggests if you are not a regular coffee drinker, caffeine (one to two cups at the first sign of an attack) may help with migraine pain by narrowing blood vessels and restricting blood flow.