NEW YORK — Switching to a vegan diet may help people with chronic migraines ease their debilitating headaches, a new study finds. Researchers report that a man suffering non-stop migraines rid himself of the condition after going vegan for just three months.
In the case report, study authors note that the patient was able to stop taking migraine medication after switching to the plant-based diet. In the eight years after making the diet change, he has not had a migraine since.
Studies have shown that dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and watercress provide powerful antioxidants that can ease extreme head pain. Researchers are now advising chronic migraine sufferers to consider trying a plant-based diet that is “safe, effective, and permanent.”
Many migraine sufferers are aware of their food triggers, whether it be chocolate, caffeine, cheese, and nuts. In some cases, eating such foods immediately leads to another debilitating headache that can last between four and 72 hours.
Migraine pain can be a ’12’ on a scale of 0-10
Migraines, which impacts one billion people worldwide, either come as episodic incidents (less than 15 attacks a month) or chronic ones (more than 15 headaches days a month).
The researchers examined a man who endured severe migraine headaches without aura for more than 12 years. For migraine sufferers, an aura can cause them to see strange things, like colored spots or flashing lights during their headaches. This occurs is around one in three migraine patients.
The patient in this study tried prescription medication, cut out trigger foods, and practiced yoga and meditation in a bid to stop the severity and frequency of the headaches. Six months before changing diets, the man’s migraines became chronic and occurred 18 to 24 days per 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 also accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. On a scale of zero to 10, he scored the pain severity as 10 to 12.
What’s in the vegan diet?
Study authors report that the patient then started a vegan diet and ate at least five ounces of raw or cooked dark green leafy vegetables each day. He drank a 32-ounce green smoothie and limited intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils, and animal protein.
After two months on the LIFE diet (Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday), the patient 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 decreased.
Even when he tried certain “challenge” foods, such as egg whites, salmon, or iced tea — which triggered his headache attacks — the migraines became much less painful and much shorter in duration. After three months, his migraines stopped completely and they haven’t returned.
Pre-existing conditions can make migraines worse
As for the cause of the man’s migraines, the researchers note that the patient’s HIV-positive status likely played a role in the severity of the headaches. Study authors say HIV can heighten the risk of experiencing migraines and contribute to more severe symptoms.
“This report suggests that a whole food plant-based diet may offer a safe, effective and permanent treatment for reversing chronic migraine,” corresponding author Dr. Joshua Dunaief and his team write in a media release.
“While this report describes one very adherent patient who had a remarkable response, the LIFE diet has reduced migraine frequency within 3 months in several additional patients.”
The findings are published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.