Can a plant-based diet, credited with a variety of positive health impacts, also help relieve these chronic symptoms?
Researchers in New York published a case study of one man with severe chronic migraines who tried everything to combat it, and then switched to a plant-based diet – loaded with very dark green leafy vegetables.
He quickly gained significant relief from the headaches, doctors reported online November 18 in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
“This report suggests that a whole food plant-based diet can provide a safe, effective and permanent treatment for the reversal of chronic migraines,” writes a team led by Dr. David Dunaief, who specializes in nutritional medicine and has’ a private practice in East Setauket, NY
One expert in migraine who was not linked to the study was cautiously optimistic about the findings.
“It is difficult to make much out of one case report, [but] it does illustrate the importance of all these non-pharmacological, evidence-based treatments, “said Dr. Noah Rosen, who heads Northwell Health’s headache center in Great Neck, NY.
As the researchers noted, more than 1 billion people worldwide have migraines, defined as unilateral, throbbing headaches, sometimes with a variety of other symptoms, lasting between four and 72 hours.
Some migraines are episodic, meaning they occur less than 15 days a month. Others are chronic, with 15 or more migraine days per month plus migraine symptoms at eight days per month.
To be considered successful, migraine treatment must halve the frequency and duration of seizures or improve symptoms.
The 60-year-old man whose experiences are outlined in the report has endured severe migraine headaches without aura for more than 12 years. Six months before his clinic referral, his migraines became chronic, occurring between 18 and 24 days each month.
He tried a number of possible solutions, including the prescribed medication zolmitriptan and topiramate. He also cut out potential ‘trigger’ foods, including chocolate, cheese, neute, caffeine, and dried fruits. Furthermore, the man also tried yoga and meditation to thwart the attacks.
None of those interventions worked.
The man has the ache as throbbing, which suddenly and intensely begins in the forehead and sleep on the left side of his head. His migraines usually lasted 72 hours and also included sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting. His pain severity was 10 to 12 out of a scale of 10.
He does not have high levels of systemic infection but had a normal beta level carotene in sy blood, possibly because he ate Sweet potatoes daily. Sweet potatoes are relatively low in nutrients known as carotenoids, which are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics, the authors explained.
Leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and water candles do however, contains high levels of carotenoids.
So, Rosen’s team advised the man to adopt the Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday (LIFE) diet. It is a nutrient-dense, whole-food, plant-based diet. The regime advocates eating at least five ounces by weight of raw or cooked dark green leafy vegetables every day, drinking one 32-ounce daily green LIFE smoothie, and limiting the intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils and animal proteins, especially dairy and red meat.
After two months on the diet, the man said his migraines were dramatically reduced – to just one migraine day a month, and even that headache was less severe.
At the same time, his blood tests showed a significant increase in beta-carotene levels.
Before long, the man stopped taking all his migraine medications. His migraines stopped completely after three months and did not return in 7 1/2 years.
The man was allergic, and previously published research suggests that better control of allergies can also lead to fewer migraine headaches. In this case, the man’s allergy symptoms also improved – to the point that he no longer had to use seasonal medication.
He was also HIV-positive, and HIV has been linked to an increased risk of migraines. It is possible that the man’s HIV status and antiretroviral drugs contributed to his symptoms, the authors said, although it was not possible to study them further without stopping the antiretroviral treatment.
“While this report describes one very subsequent patient who had a remarkable response, the LIFE diet reduced migraine frequency within 3 months in several additional patients,” Dunaief added.
In turn, Rosen said that “the role of proper diet and migraines has had some studies showing benefit.”
Getting properly hydrated, eating a healthy “low-glycemic” diet and getting plenty of omega 3 fatty acids (as found in oily fish) all have a positive effect on combating migraines, he said.
In addition to food, good sleep, regular exercise and psychological interventions such as “cognitive behavioral therapy, awareness and progressive muscle relaxation” can also help, Rosen said.
Find out more about migraines at the American Migraine Foundation.
SOURCE: BMJ Case reports, news release, 18 Nov. 2021