Low-Fat Diets for Migraine Headache


The pain of migraine headache has been called indescribable, yet millions of women know it all too well. Although the cause of migraine isn't fully understood, researchers have invested a lot of energy in detecting factors that may be involved.

Dietary fat emerged as a potential culprit only after researchers found that migraine sufferers often had elevated levels of certain fatty acids during headache episodes. Such lipids are thought to play a role in aggregating platelets -- the disclike structures in blood that are pivotal in blood clotting. There are indications that platelet aggregation is one of the first steps in a cascade of events that dilate blood vessels throughout the brain, creating the excruciating pain associated with migraines.

Studies over the last several decades have determined that eating a meal rich in fat, particularly saturated fat, gives an immediate boost to LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood and subsequently increases platelet aggregation. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, took a lead from this observation and designed a test to determine whether lowering dietary fat might reduce the number of headaches that migraine sufferers have.

The researchers studied 42 women and 12 men who had had at least one migraine episode a month during the preceding year. The participants were asked to list all of the foods they had eaten at the end of each day and to record the time, duration, and intensity of every headache they had experienced. They followed their customary diets during the first 28 days, but were instructed to follow a diet containing no more than 20 grams of fat a day during the second 28-day period.

The participants' records indicated that the number of headaches they suffered was directly related to the amount of fat they consumed. Those who consumed less than 69 grams of fat a day at the beginning of the study suffered an average of 5.4 headaches in 4 weeks, but those who consumed more fat had an average of 10 headaches during the same period. During the second 28 days, when average daily consumption of fat had fallen from 65.9 grams to 27.8 grams, the average number of headaches declined from 6 to 1. In addition, the intensity of headaches dropped from 2.9 to 0.5 on a scale in which 0 indicated no pain and 6 excruciating pain.

The diet had other benefits. The participants lost an average of 2 pounds and 4% body fat. Those who decided to undergo cholesterol testing at the beginning and end of the study found that, on average, their total cholesterol levels had dropped from 206 to 178 mg/dL, their LDL-cholesterol had fallen from 125 to 112 mg/dL, and their HDL-cholesterol had climbed from 50 to 57 mg/dL.

Although controlled clinical trials are needed to validate the role of dietary-fat reduction in migraine treatment, the results are promising. If you have migraines, curtailing fat to 20% of calories may be worth a try.

The study appeared in the June 1999 issue of the Journal of Women's Health & Gender-Based Medicine.

Share this with your friends

Migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily perceptions, headaches, and nausea. Physiologically, the migraine headache is a neurological condition more common to women than to men. The word migraine was borrowed from Old French migraigne (originally as "megrim", but respelled in 1777 on a contemporary French model). The French term derived from a vulgar pronunciation of the Late Latin word hemicrania, itself based on Greek hemikrania, from Greek roots for "half" and "skull". The typical migraine headache is unilateral and pulsating, lasting from 4 to 72 hours;[2] symptoms include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to bright light), and hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to sound); approximately one third of people who suffer migraine headache perceive an aura — unusual visual, olfactory, or other sensory experiences that are a sign that the migraine will soon occur.
online drugs