Eating More of This Type of Food May Help Reduce Migraines

This Rx is actually pretty delicious.

According to a study out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was funded by the National Institutes of Health, adults who changed their diets to include more omega-3s—the kinds of fats you get from salmon, mackerel, eggs, soy, walnuts and flaxseeds—suffered an average of two fewer migraines a month than those who stuck to their regular diets.

That result is especially notable because it matches or even exceeds the results of recent attempts to find a pharmacological remedy for migraines, like monoclonal antibody treatments.

"This study provides a biologically plausible demonstration that pain can be treated through targeted dietary alterations in humans," the study's authors wrote in their paper, which was published in the U.K. medical journal BMJ in July.

Migraines are one of the most common medical conditions in the world, affecting about one billion people; yet, are still not fully understood. Much worse than regular headaches, they can cause blinding pain, temporary changes to the nervous system, exhaustion and more. They can effectively make a serious sufferer unable to do anything productive for up to three days, in some cases. Certain medications, including pain relievers, can actually aggravate migraine symptoms, which is why doctors are so interested in a treatment that doesn't rely on pharmaceuticals.

The UNC study followed 182 adults, 166 of whom were women, with an average age of 38. The subjects reported that they usually had between five and 20 migraines a month. They were split into three groups: a control group, a group that ate more omega-3s than before over four months and a group that ate more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s than before over four months. (Omega-6s are another type of fatty acid that can be found in corn, soybeans, nuts and seeds, meats, poultry, fish and eggs—but most of us get them via the lineolic acids in vegetable oils.) The participants recorded how many migraines they got and how severe they were.

Young woman at home at desk suffering headache
Getty Images / Westend61

Besides finding that omega-3s reduced the frequency of migraines, researchers noted that they also seemed to make them milder. Those results, however, doubled for the third group, which consumed more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s—those subjects reported having an average of four fewer migraines a month.

Experts said the UNC study's findings could pave the way for an effective treatment for migraine sufferers—though there's still work to do.

"These results support recommending a diet high in omega-3s to patients in clinical practice," Dr. Rebecca Burch, a headache medicine specialist and neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, wrote in BMJ. (She was not affiliated with the study.) "The major barrier to widespread success of any dietary intervention is adherence because strict diets require time, financial investment, and change in habits...A clear template developed by dietitians and patients would also be valuable to help people with migraine sustain these diets over longer time periods."

More research is needed to clarify the role of omega-3s in migraine prevention and relief, but this is encouraging news for those experiencing migraines regularly. Plus, there are plenty of other reasons to boost your omega-3 intake, including improved blood pressure, healthier hair and healthier joints. Want to up your omega-3 intake? We have plenty of delicious recipes to help you meet your daily quota.

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