Migraines and other painful, chronic headaches are extremely debilitating. According to the UK's NHS (opens in new tab), it affects around one in every five women and one in every 15 men. Stress, tiredness, certain food and drink, or dehydration can all bring on normal headaches and exacerbate severe migraines – but you may be able to fight the effects by switching up your diet.
A new study published by the National Institute on Aging (opens in new tab) found a diet higher in fatty fish helped frequent migraine sufferers reduce their monthly number of headaches and the intensity of the pain they experienced. Researchers from the University of North Carolina found the group with a diet higher in fatty fish and fish oils produced between 30% and 40% reductions in total headache hours.
On the other hand, the group that mimicked the averaged American diet (low in fatty fish and higher in vegetable oils, linoleic oil from corn, soybean, and other similar sources) saw no change in the amount of migraines and headaches they suffered from, and the intensity of those headaches.
Chris Ramsden, a clinical investigator in the NIA, said: "Changes in diet could offer some relief for the millions of Americans who suffer from migraine pain. It's further evidence that the foods we eat can influence pain pathways."
Suffering from migraines? Check out our best fish oil supplements for more ways to incorporate these beneficial oils into your diet.
More ways to reduce headache pain:
Drink more water. A study from the University of Oxford (opens in new tab) found drinking water is "a cost effective, non-invasive and low-risk intervention to reduce or prevent headache pain". We're often dehydrated and we don't realise it, and if we're dehydrated frequently, it might trigger mild headaches. But don't reach for the painkillers: first, reach for a glass of water (or one of our best water bottle for the gym).
A second study as University of Maastricht, Netherlands (opens in new tab) found around seven glasses of water a day, around 1.5 litres, showed significant reduction in headaches and migraines.
If stress is the thing causing your migraines, regular exercise can regulate and decrease the production of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is the "fight or flight" hormone released when we're under stress. In our ancestors, the hormone might be released when we're running away from a hungry sabre-toothed tiger. However, now, it might be released when we get in a fight with our spouse, or we're late for work.
One study (opens in new tab) found migraines often occur during come-downs from a very high spike of cortisol. Regular exercise, such as yoga, running or resistance training, can suppress and balance your cortisol levels and limit these hormone spikes, creating fewer migraines. Running is especially effective, as getting outdoors and away from screens also levels our your hormones. All you need is some comfy clothes and some of the best running shoes for men or best running shoes for women to get you started.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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