How to prevent a splitting headache

  • Two foods that can help prevent a splitting headache 
  • What NEVER to eat if you have a migraine 
  • Why you should keep a headache diary (these five smart phone apps will help)

There is no cure for a migraine.

Horrible to think, isn’t it?

Here’s something that’s so debilitating for sufferers that they often have to stay in a darkened room for hours, even days.

And yet science still can’t find an answer.

The closest medicine has come is through drugs known as triptans, which can help reverse the processes in the brain that ‘may’ cause migraines (notice that I’ve put ‘may’ in inverted commas).

But these drugs aren’t a cure. And like almost all prescription drugs, they have their side-effects.

Fatigue… nausea… foggy thinking… poor mental functioning… dizziness… muscle weakness… chest pressure.

I have at least two friends who have serious recurring migraines and I know how miserable it can make them.

It’s hard to plan ahead when you don’t know when these things will strike, ruining weekends you’ve so looked forward to. It impacts your social life, your relationships and your career.

So while I’d love to put an end to your misery, I can’t offer any magic bullets here.

But I can pass on a bit of interesting news that might help…

Two foods that may prevent migraines

New research at Harvard in the USA has shown that eating a lot of nuts and oily fish on a daily basis could help migraine sufferers.

In the study, a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids cut the average time that patients endured splitting headaches by two days a month.

The author of the study said that this “provides a biologically plausible demonstration that pain can be treated through targeted dietary alterations.”

That’s very much my line of thinking when it comes to health in general, so it’s gratifying to see this news.

So if you’re prone to migraines, try and eat more salmon, sardines and walnuts for the next month, and take a note of how many migraines you get (and how severe they are).

What never to eat if you have a migraine

You should also avoid these foods, which are known to trigger migraines:

  • foods with nitrates including bacon and sausage
  • cheese that contains tyramine, such as feta, Cheddar and Parmesan
  • foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • processed foods
  • pickled foods
  • dried fruits
  • cultured dairy products

However, be aware that these aren’t trigger foods for everyone, so you need to do a bit of testing to see which ones cause problems for you.

Keep a diary of everything you eat over a 60 day period. Each week, try a new ‘trigger’ food (while avoiding the others) and note down the effects.

Here’s a useful resource from the National Headache Foundation in the USA – a printout diary that you can use: Headache Diary 

Where it says ‘triggers’ you should write whatever food it was this week that you decided to test.

That website also has some suggestions about apps that you can use to track your headaches and spot the events, foods and lifestyle habits that could make your condition worse.

I’ve taken a look for some of the best ones available:

Five Migraine Diary Apps

  • Migraine Buddy (free, with Android and iPhone versions). Allows you to record your migraine frequency and duration, along with other details such as location, intensity, aura, and what medication you are on. Most importantly, it helps identify triggers. You can then export this info to share with your doctor.
  • Migraine Monitor (free for Android and iPhone). This one also helps you track the frequency, duration and severity of your migraine, then link it to any potential triggers – including the weather!
  • N1-Headache (free for Android and iPhone). The National Headache Foundation recommend this app, which allows you to track triggers, including dietary, emotional, and environmental factors. After 90 days the app sends you an Individual Protector Map, an Individual Trigger Map, a Suspected Trigger Map, a No Association Map, and a Personal Analytical Report.
  • Migraine Healthline (free for Android and iPhone). This apps connects you to other people who suffer migraines so that you can share stories, experiences and tips. You can join different discussions, depending on what you’re most interested in.
  • Ouchie (free for Android and iPhone). This is a bit like Twitter for migraine sufferers. You can post updates to your profile which shares your experiences so that other people can share their symptoms, tips and recommendations. The aim is to help the community manage their pain and avoid severe attacks.

If you have a smartphone, go to the apps store and look these up!

As a final tip…

Sniff this if you get a headache

There is some evidence that inhaling lavender essential oil can ease migraine pain.

Either pour some on a cloth and sniff it at the first sign of an attack or apply some diluted lavender solution to your temples.

Alternatively, Tiger Balm is also effective for many people. Just dab a bit of the fragrant lotion on your temples. You’ll feel a strong tingling sensation on your skin at first, but you should then notice some amount of relief.

Again, try it and see if it works for you.

The key is to build up knowledge about yourself so that you can manage your lifestyle as well as you can to stay migraine free.