Good news for the 45 million or so Americans who regularly experience migraines. According to a new study published in the BMJ Journal, a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can dramatically reduce severe headaches and migraines.
This was especially true for participants who increased their omega-3 fatty acid intake while reducing their omega-6 fatty acid intake.
The link between fatty acids and migraines
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish like mackerel, salmon, cod, flaxseed, chia seeds, and oysters. Foods high in omega-6 fat include poultry, walnuts, almonds, peanut butter, and eggs.
“The reduction in headache days per month was impressive. It was similar to some of the drugs used to prevent migraines, and that’s very exciting, “said Daisy Zamora, co-author of the study, researcher at the National Institute on Aging and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine.
Americans are not getting enough omega-3 acids
Although participants in the new report who consumed fewer omega-6s and more omega-3s had fewer and shorter headaches, both are healthy food sources.
The problem is, Americans consume a lot more omega-6s than omega-3s. Most health organizations recommend a minimum of 250–500 mg omega-3 fatty acids for healthy adults. Women should try to consume around 12 grams of omega-6 fats per day, while men should aim for 17 grams per day.
To determine how an imbalance affects headaches and migraines, the authors of the new report recruited 182 people who reported migraines for five to 20 days a month. Everyone was randomly assigned to one of three groups for 16 weeks.
Before starting the analysis, participants were given a diary to keep track of the intensity and frequency of their migraines and how it affected their ability to function throughout the day.
The first group was the high omega-3 fatty acid diet group. The participants in this group ate salmon and tuna daily.
The second group consumed a lot of omega-3 fatty acids while decreasing their omega-6 fatty acid intake. The participants in this group cooked their meals with macadamia nut oil, olive oil, coconut oil or butter as opposed to the typical vegetable oils with a high omega-6 fat content.
The last group consumed an average US diet with typical amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fats that are consumed by Americans.
At the start of the study, participants had an average of about 16 days with severe headaches per month. This value was hardly influenced by medication.
Those who belonged to the high omega-3 and low omega-6 group reduced the total number of headaches they experienced by 30 to 40% compared to the group who ate an American diet .
“These results support the recommendation of a high omega-3 diet for patients in clinical practice,” the authors write. “They bring us one step closer to a goal that headache sufferers and their caregivers have long wanted: a migraine diet backed by solid results from clinical studies.”