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Suffer From Migraines? New Study Says Your Eating Habits May Be To Blame

The study's results suggests that migraines could stem from a lack of essential vitamins and nutrients.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

There's no doubt that headaches can be annoying, especially if they're particularly intense, lengthy, or frequent. However, migraines go beyond a bad headache and can be incredibly painful, nauseating, and downright debilitating. While various factors may lead you to be more susceptible to migraines, there also are things that can trigger the severe situation or make it even worse—that includes your eating habits, according to a new study.

In the study that was published by Nutritional Neuroscience, it was first found that 1,838 out of 8,953 participants who had been involved in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999–2004 were people who suffered from migraines. While taking into consideration potential variables, those behind the study analyzed the available data to find connections between diet—specifically using the prognostic nutritional index or PNI—and instances of both severe headaches as well as migraines.

The findings showed that mild, moderate, and severe malnutrition were connected to participants experiencing more intense headaches more often. Those behind the study also noted that the diets' of severe headache and migraine sufferers tended to lack vitamins and nutrients such as dietary fiber, total folate, riboflavin, selenium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and vitamin K. On the other hand, they were drinking more coffee and consuming more theobromine—something found in chocolate. The team concluded that diet (specifically PNI) was associated with the risk and severity of migraines.

Eating Habits to Avoid If You Have Painful Headaches, Say Dietitians

take off discomfort glasses after long wear and massages nose bridge

"Off the bat, the finding that moderate to severe malnutrition is associated with migraines is not surprising to me," Sydney Greene, MS, RD, tells Eat This, Not That!

"Migraines can be triggered by low blood sugar levels," Greene explains. "If someone is going long intervals between meals, skipping meals, or cutting out major food groups, specifically carbohydrates, this can cause blood sugar levels to dip."

"In addition, prolonged malnutrition usually leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies," Greene says, while also noting that "deficiencies in some vitamins (mostly the B vitamins) and the mineral magnesium might contribute to more severe migraines."

"There are many reasons why someone might not be getting adequate nutrition," Greene explains with regard to why the diets of those suffering from migraines might be lacking. "To start, there could be a vicious feedback loop at play—you get a migraine, your appetite decreases, thus consumption of food decreases, and then the migraine repeats itself. In addition, certain diets such as vegan, vegetarian, and ketogenic diets can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies."

"It is important to find a healthcare provider that has experience working with migraines. A physician or registered dietitian will be able to help create a diet that will mitigate the risk of migraines," Greene advises. "Supplements may be needed in order to prevent the frequency of migraines, and a licensed professional will be able to help create the best protocol."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée