Suffering from migraines? You’re not alone! Almost one in five American women deal with them, and many more have other types of debilitating headaches and neurological disorders. However, a new study says that making a small tweak to your diet could alleviate some of your symptoms — and make those awful headaches pop up less frequently.
Researchers at the National Institute on Aging conducted an experiment with 182 migraine-suffering participants to see if different types of fats and oils in their diets could make a difference. Their belief was that omega-6 fatty acids — specifically a compound called linoleic acid — from corn, soybean, and similar vegetable oils in different foods (like chips, tortillas, and salad dressings) may be inflaming tissues that cause migraines.
In contrast, promising previous work has shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in items like fish and chia or flaxseeds have lower linoleic acid levels. They wanted to see if diets richer in those foods could lead to decreased numbers of migraines. Over a 16-week period, they separated participants into three different groups, with some people eating a more omega-6 fatty acid-rich diet, some eating a more omega-3 fatty acid-rich diet, and some eating a combination of both.
All told, researchers discovered that participants who consumed more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids saw a reduction in the number of migraines they had each month by 30 to 40 percent compared to people who consumed more omega-6 fatty acids. That translates to having 1.3 to 1.7 fewer headache hours per day and two to four fewer headache days per month. Some participants reported lessened severity of their migraines, too.
While scientists want to do more work on the subject before making an official recommendation, they do believe that changing your diet slightly by eating fewer foods with omega-6 fatty acids and more containing omega-3 fatty acids could make a difference. “Changes in diet could offer some relief for the millions of Americans who suffer from migraine pain,” explained Chris Ramsden, a study co-author, clinical investigator, and professor. “It’s further evidence that the foods we eat can influence pain pathways.”
Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet, especially if you’re already treating your migraines with medication or other interventions, but these tweaks could be worth a shot!