A plant-based diet may be the cure for migraine patients, case study finds

Author: Helen Greaves

Read Time:   |  19th November 2021

A US case study following the treatment of a 60-year-old chronic migraine sufferer has uncovered a possible link between plant-based diets and the treatment of migraines and severe headaches.

Health experts are calling for more research into links between migraines and diet after doctors revealed a patient had eliminated severe migraines by switching to a plant-based diet.

The patient, who had suffered debilitating migraines for more than a decade, had tried prescribed medication, yoga and meditation, and had cut out potential trigger foods but nothing had worked to relieve the severe headaches.

Within a month of starting a plant-based diet – including lots of dark green leafy vegetables – the migraines had disappeared.

The man has now not had a migraine in more than seven years and cannot remember the last time he had a headache.

The case was reported in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

Doctors in the US who treated the patient suggested it may be worth adopting a plant-based diet to ease the symptoms of chronic migraine.

However, independent experts have cautioned that because the report was a single case it is impossible to generalise the finding and should not be taken as a universal solution for migraines.

Treating migraines with a plant-based diet 

More than a billion people worldwide experience migraines. While drugs can help prevent and treat them, the report states that growing evidence suggests that diet may also offer an effective alternative without any of the side effects associated with some of the drugs.

In the report, doctors advised the man to adopt the Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday (Life) diet, a nutrient-dense whole-food plant-based diet.

He was advised to consume one 32 ounce ‘LIFE’ smoothie every day, at least five ounces by weight of dark green leafy vegetables in salad or cooked vegetables per day, and to limit consumption of whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils, dairy, and red meat.

Within two months, the frequency of his migraine attacks had fallen from six to eight in a month to just one day per month. The length and severity of the attacks had also improved.

After three months his migraines had stopped completely. He has now been free from severe headaches for over seven years.

Prof Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, who was not involved in the case, said: “This is a case report and therefore it is impossible to generalise the finding.

“Migraine is a debilitating condition, and it is important to find ways to treat and manage it. Diet can play an important role in the management of many diseases, and some foods are known to trigger migraine.

“Bioactive compounds found in dark-green leafy vegetables and other foods might have an important role in the management of many diseases, but in order to make definitive statements and recommendations, considerably more research is needed.”

Dr Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston University’s medical school, said the report was “interesting” but “cannot be taken as a solution for all people with migraines”.

“The diet that was used was one which is largely in line with many countries’ dietary recommendations and included eating more vegetables – especially dark-green leafy vegetables.

“The problem with this type of report is that there is no control or comparison intervention, it could be an effect of the diet which was started, but also it could be a response to something they were no longer eating or even just the behavioural effect of a change in diet which may have led to the reduction in migraines.”

The patient’s perspective

The patient, a 60-year-old man whose identity was not disclosed, said in the report:

“I am a photographer, and migraines made my job almost impossible. Before I changed my diet, I was suffering six to eight debilitating migraines a month, each lasting up to 72 hours.

“Most days, I was either having a migraine or recovering from one. I was on preventive medication, topiramate, and I would take Zomig when I first felt symptoms.

“Still, if I missed the 15–30 min medication window, the migraines would be a 12 out of 10, and I could end up in bed in the foetal position. I was desperate.

“However, within 1 month of beginning a nutrient-dense plant-based diet that included primarily lots of dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, oatmeal, and a daily green smoothie, I was able to get off both medications.

“As soon as I stopped the topiramate, my energy increased. Now the migraine medications have expired, and I have not had a migraine in 7 years. I can’t even remember the last time I had a headache.

“I am no longer a prisoner in my own body. I have my life back.

“As a bonus, my asthma improved dramatically since changing my diet, so I no longer take asthma medications. I also was able to get off my cholesterol medication.”

Learn more about the potential benefits of a plant-based diet.

Written by

Helen Greaves

Helen Greaves

Helen has been vegan since 2018 and has a background in vegan food marketing and social media. She's mother to a mischief of rats, and loves to spend her spare time making vegan cakes and bakes.

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