Eating a Mediterranean diet with lots of oily fish can greatly reduce migraines

Researchers find that added levels of Omega-3 help reduce the frequency of headaches

K53256 Young woman suffering from headache with friend in background at cafe. Alamy
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Eating a Mediterranean diet filled with oily fish could be the key to reducing migraines, according to a new study.

Researchers from the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, US, wanted to test the effects of fatty acids found in certain foods on the severity of migraines.

Pain-regulating molecules, known as oxylipins, are found in both Omega-3 and Omega-6. However, those from Omega-3, found in oily fish and certain nuts and seeds, have pain-reducing effects, while those from Omega-6, found in refined vegetable oils, have pain-amplifying effects.

Dr Christopher Ramsden and his team of colleagues recruited 182 patients who suffered from migraine headaches for between five and 20 days a month to each follow one of three randomly assigned diets. One of the food plans involved raising Omega-3 but keeping Omega-6 fatty acids the same; another raised Omega-3 and lowered Omega-6; and a third controlled diet that included typical levels of both fatty acids.

Each of the diets was kept as similar as possible, with the only difference being the main source of protein – extra portions of oily fish for those with higher Omega-3 levels – and the type of oil or butter being used.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the research found that both of the diets with added Omega-3 increased levels of a pain-reducing oxylipin, compared with the controlled diet.

Researchers also found the frequency of migraines to be significantly reduced by the diets, by 1.3 headache hours a day and two headache days a month for those in the high-Omega-3 group, and by 1.7 headache hours a day and four headache days a month for those eating a high-Omega-3, low-Omega-6 diet.

The diets did not reduce the severity of participant’s headaches, however, although some recorded instances of shorter headaches.

Updated: July 02, 2021, 8:50 AM