5 Ways To Use Food To Stave Off Migraines

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Migraine headaches are a nightmare for the millions of people who experience them every year, and when one hits, it can take a person out of commission for days at a time. If you've experienced one, you know how debilitating they can be — and you also know the lengths you'll go to when it comes to figuring out how to prevent migraines in the first place.

Different (and uglier) than your average headache, migraines are characterized by the wide range of symptoms that can accompany the throbbing head pain — which include (but are certainly not limited to) nausea, weakness or imbalance, mental fog, visual disturbances, and severe sensitivity to lights, sounds, and smells, according to the Association Of Migraine Disorders. Once a migraine hits, its effects can reportedly carry on for up to three days.

Living with migraines is not only frustrating because they're awful to experience, but also because experts still aren't sure exactly what causes them or how to prevent them. Like many ailments, the causes (and the effective treatments) vary widely from person to person.

Some common triggers include stress and anxiety, lack of sleep, and exposure to bright light, but there are also a lot of foods that cause and affect migraines — and some foods that can help you prevent them. As Dr. Lauren R. Natbony, assistant professor of neurology, headache and facial pain at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Bustle, "Food can be used as part of a preventative tool for migraine." It's just a matter of knowing which foods.

Here are some ways to use food to stave off migraines that could potentially make a big difference if you suffer from these headaches.

1. Avoid Common Trigger Foods

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While food-related triggers vary from person to person, there are a number of foods that are generally considered no-go's if you're trying to keep migraines at bay. Unfortunately, some of the most commonly reported triggers are alcohol and chocolate, according to an article written by Dr. Merle L. Diamond and Dr. Dawn A. Marcus for the American Migraine Foundation.

Another major trigger appears to be processed food. According to Diamond and Marcus, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and additives (such as MSG, aspartame, and nitrates) are potential migraine triggers as well.

Rachel Nall RN, MSN identified some other trigger foods as being aged cheese, cured meats, and smoked fish in an article for Medical News Today. Pay close attention to your body's reaction if you do end up incorporating any of these foods into your diet. If you start feeling migraine symptoms within 24 hours of consuming it (and it happens at least half the time you consume that food), then it may be considered a trigger for you.

2. Stock Up On Preventative Foods

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As mentioned, everyone is different, but there are certain foods that are considered safe when it comes to migraines. And, according to Natbony, the best migraine prevention diet is one that is filled with vitamins.

Natbony tells Bustle, "We typically recommend foods that are high in vitamin B2 (found in green leafy vegetables) and coenzyme Q10 (found in meats, fish, poultry, peanuts, strawberries) as both of these vitamins are involved in mitochondrial energy production which can be impaired in those with migraine."

Even if your day-to-day meals don't adhere to the above suggestions, if you happen to start feeling the early symptoms of a migraine hitting, you can start to implement these foods for the day for some added protection.

3. Consider Lifestyle Changes

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In addition to cutting back on high-trigger foods and incorporating more safe ones, you may consider some lifestyle changes when it comes to food as well. For example, a 2014 study in The Journal Of Headache And Pain showed that a plant-based diet (followed by an elimination diet) could reduce migraine attacks, so simply eating more plant-based meals in general could be helpful. Work with your doctor or a nutritionist on making some lifestyle changes and see if there's one that happens to trigger fewer migraines for you.

4. Pay Attention To Your Eating Patterns

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It's not always simply about the foods you choose — your eating patterns could be affecting migraines, too. For example, going too long between meals or not eating enough food throughout the day could be a factor.

"Minimizing blood sugar fluctuations is important to prevent migraines. To do so we recommend eating small meals with protein every three to four hours," Natbony says. "Protein keeps blood sugar levels constant whereas carbohydrates tend to cause blood sugar fluctuations." Make sure you're spacing out meals properly and nourishing yourself with protein-filled meals and snacks.

5. Know Your Own Triggers

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Everybody is different — literally, each and every body — so while there are certainly some foods that are well-known and common migraine triggers (and some that tend to be safe), they don't affect everyone the same way. Keeping track of the foods you ingest as well as your eating patterns can help you figure out if there are food triggers that affect you personally.

The American Migraine Foundation (AMF) suggests keeping a "headache diary" to help you track your potential triggers. "Use a headache diary to keep track of any changes you are making to your diet, and note how severe and frequent your headaches are, and which foods you were eating or avoiding when they occurred," AMF says on its site. "For any single food to qualify as a potential trigger, a headache should occur within 24 hours, at most, of eating it."

While everyone who suffers from migraines has to learn to deal with theirs differently, trying to control your headaches using food is worth a shot. Get started on your trigger food diary and find out whether food is a major factor for you when it comes to preventing migraines.