Fish that meet these general guidelines include salmon, trout, sardines, and anchovies and produce omega-3 benefits for migraines. So too do Pacific oysters.
Migraine headaches impact more than 37 million Americans according to the American Migraine Foundation, with a large majority of these individuals (approximately nine in 10) reporting that their head pain interferes with their schooling, work, and social engagements. The World Health Organization adds that migraines — which often reoccur during the course of a person’s life — are twice as common for women as for men, largely because of hormonal differences. While prescription medications and lifestyle changes are often recommended as courses of treatment, one study’s findings suggest that eating fatty fish high produces omega-3 benefits for migraines.
Omega-3 benefits for migraines
On July 1, 2021, the BMJ published a randomized, double-blind controlled trial involving 182 participants. Most of the study subjects were women (88%) with a mean age of 38 years. Each reported having migraine headaches between five and 20 days per month.
During the 16-week study, all participants followed diets that controlled their intake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and linoleic acid. This was accomplished by providing foods that supplied roughly two-thirds of their total daily intake. But not all subjects received the same amounts.
One-third of the individuals followed a diet in which EPA and DHA were both increased to 1.5 grams per day and linoleic acid accounted for roughly 7% of their total calorie intake. Another third followed a diet in which EPA and DHA were also increased to 1.5 grams per day, but linoleic acid was decreased to around 1.8% of their energy. The final third served as a control, consuming more than 150 milligrams daily of EPA and DHA, with linoleic acid accounting for around 7% of their intake.
The researchers, who were from the National Institute on Aging, set the study up this way because they wanted to know whether an increase in omega-3 fatty acids would produce omega-3 benefits for migraines. They also varied the intake of linoleic acid to further determine whether changing intake of this omega-6 fatty acid had any effect.
At the end of the study, both groups following the diets with EPA and DHA intake increased to 1.5 grams daily reported decreased total headache hours per day when compared to the control. They also decreased their number of headache days per month, with the group that also reduced their linoleic acid intake showing the greatest improvement.
Increasing fatty fish intake for migraine reduction
These findings suggest that increasing the intake of fatty fish, which are high in omega-3s, may help chiropractic patients reduce the hold that migraines have on their lives. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- lake trout
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that individuals following a 2,000-calorie daily diet consume at least eight ounce-equivalents of seafood per week. So, this may be a good place to start for migraine sufferers. How can they increase their intake if they aren’t currently eating a lot of fish?
Instead of topping a lunchtime salad with a chicken breast, top it with a salmon filet instead. Or swap out a turkey sandwich for tuna. Add Greek yogurt to the tuna to make a spreadable salad that is lower in fat and calories than one made with mayonnaise. For dinner, make lake trout, herring, or mackerel the main protein. Hungry for a snack? Open a can of sardines.
Because seafood can also contain mercury, the guidelines’ authors (the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services) also jointly recommend choosing options that, in addition to being higher in EPA and DHA, are also lower in methylmercury. Fish that meet these general guidelines include salmon, trout, sardines, and anchovies and produce omega-3 benefits for migraines. So too do Pacific oysters.
If eating fish is an issue, daily omega-3 supplements are recommended, containing EPA and DHA.
Reducing linoleic acid
The American Heart Association reports an inverse relationship between linoleic acid and coronary heart disease, especially when linoleic acid replaces carbohydrates or foods high in saturated fat. However, since the study found that subjects had better results with a lower linoleic acid intake, patients who regularly experience migraines may want to consider this as well.
Nuts and seeds are rich in linoleic acid, as are vegetable oils, eggs, and meat. Because linoleic acid is an essential nutrient, some is needed in the diet to avoid deficiency. For this reason, patients should be cautioned to not cut it out completely.