Suffer chronic migraines? Might be worth upping those leafy greens

To ease the symptoms of chronic migraine, it may be worth adopting a plant-based diet, rich in dark green leafy vegetables, according to doctors in the online journal BMJ Case Reports

The recommendation comes after they reportedly treated a man who had endured severe migraine headaches without aura for more than 12 years.

The patient is said to have tried prescribed meds; cutting out potential ‘trigger’ foods, including chocolate, cheese, nuts, caffeine, and dried fruit; and yoga and meditation in a bid to blunt the severity and frequency of his headaches to no avail.

What a headache!

It’s said that more than one billion people worldwide have migraines, characterised as one-sided, pulsating headaches typically lasting for four to 72 hours.

These are ften accompanied by sensitivity to noise and light and sometimes prodromal auras.

Migraines are either episodic (fewer than 15 days a month) or chronic (15 or more migraine days a month plus migraine features on at least eight days of the month).

Successful migraine treatment is defined as a halving in the frequency and length of attacks, or as an improvement in symptoms.

Diet: a possible effective alternative

While medications can help prevent and treat the condition, a growing body of evidence suggests that diet may also offer an effective alternative without any of the side effects associated with some meds, say the report authors.

Six months before his clinic referral, the patient’s migraines had become chronic, occurring on 18–24 days of every month.

He described the pain as starting suddenly and intensely in the forehead and temple on the left side of his head. The pain was throbbing in nature and usually lasted 72 hours.

His headaches were reportedly accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea and vomiting.

On a scale of 0–10, he is said to have scored the pain severity as 10–12 out of 10.

Blood tests revealed that he didn’t have high levels of systemic inflammation and that he had a normal level of beta-carotene (53 µg/dl).

This was likely derived from his daily consumption of sweet potatoes, which, although high in beta-carotene, are relatively low in the nutrients responsible for the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of carotenoids, point out the report authors.

Carotenoids are instead found in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and watercress. Systemic inflammation and oxidative stress are implicated in migraine.

The report authors advised the patient to adopt the Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday (LIFE) diet: a nutrient-dense, whole-food, plant-based diet.

The LIFE diet includes 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 protein, particularly dairy and red meat.

After two months on the LIFE diet, the patient is said to have reported that the frequency of his migraine attacks had fallen to just one day a month – the length and severity of the attacks had also lessened. Blood tests showed a substantial rise in beta-carotene levels, from 53 µg/dl to 92 µg/dl.

It’s said that he even stopped taking all his migraine medications. Even when he tried certain ‘challenge’ foods, such as egg whites, salmon, or iced tea, which triggered headache attacks, these were much less painful and much shorter in duration than before.

After three months his migraines stopped completely, and they haven’t returned in 7.5 years.

Reportedly the patient also had allergies. Previously published research suggests that better control of allergies may lead to fewer migraine headaches. In this case, his allergy symptoms improved to the point that he no longer needed to use seasonal medication.

It’s said that the patient was also HIV positive, and HIV has been linked to a heightened risk of migraines. So, the study authors say that it is certainly possible that the man’s HIV status and antiretroviral drugs had contributed to his symptoms. They add that a limitation of this case study is that it wasn’t possible to study this link further without stopping the antiretroviral treatment.

However, the doctors conclude: “This report suggests that a whole food plant-based diet may offer a safe, effective and permanent treatment for reversing chronic migraine.

“While this report describes one very adherent patient who had a remarkable response, the LIFE diet has reduced migraine frequency within three months in several additional patients (personal communication).”

For more on this, visit: casereports.bmj.com/content/14/12/e243987 

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