14 Jun 2023

Can your diet have an effect on menopausal migraines?

Menopause symptoms can be challenging to deal with, especially when you experience several at once. Fortunately, you can reduce some of the issues related to menopausal migraines by making a few lifestyle changes.

You may not be able to stop the process, but you can at least make things easier by lessening some of the side effects, so your symptoms won’t feel quite so bad. Reducing your migraines might be as easy as changing some of the foods you eat.

How common are migraines during menopause?

Migraines are a relatively common symptom of menopause.

Women in a recent study reported them worsening after menopause (1), making them among the worst or most common side effects for many.

Unlike headaches, migraines can make it impossible to continue your day.

Symptoms include sensitivity to light and severe, throbbing pain (2), which makes them as much worse than a traditional headache.

Some of the other symptoms you may experience with migraines include:

  • Hot flushes and/or chills
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Slower metabolism
  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain
  • Thinner hair

Menopause can be difficult at the best of times, so adding migraines on top makes things much harder to handle.

Luckily, your migraines are one side effect you can mostly manage through diet and exercise.

Eating the right foods might influence how often you experience menopausal migraines, and you may be able to eliminate them entirely just by changing your diet.

We have produced a symptom list to help you identify and track your own symptoms against the common list of symptoms.

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE NOW:

perimenopause symptom checker

Which foods can make menopausal migraines worse?

Inflammation doesn't help migraines; in fact, it can even make them more frequent.

Staying away from foods that cause inflammation may then help you decrease the number of migraines you get due to menopause. Other foods may also cause your migraines to flare up, so try eliminating them from your diet individually to see if you can pinpoint the greatest trigger.

1. Fried Food

Fried food might be what comes to mind when you think of chronic inflammation.

If your diet primarily consists of fried food, you'll likely experience more inflammation than someone who eats grilled meats. Eating it may cause an uptick in advanced glycation end products, which can result in greater inflammation. Cut back to see if it changes how often you experience migraines.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine is tricky to deal with, as it can trigger or reduce headaches.

For example, if a headache is brought on by caffeine withdrawal, drinking coca cola, coffee, or tea might help relieve some pain. People who want to eliminate it should wean themselves slowly until it’s eliminated from their diets.

3. Foods with Tyramine

Tyramine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in animals and plants.

It is one of the most common triggers for migraines (3) and can be found in certain foods, like aged cheeses.

You should note which cheese and other tyramine-rich foods affect you, if any, so you know what to eliminate from your diet. For example, you could switch to non-aged cheeses for a while to see if you notice a difference.

4. Citrus Fruits

You should implement a healthy number of fruits in your diet, but citrus may actually trigger your worst migraines.

However, since fruits are better for you than many other items on this list, eliminating citrus from your diet may not be worth it. Try keeping a food diary and tracking your migraine days to see if certain fruits trigger your migraines.

5. Alcohol

Alcohol can be one of the worst proponents of headaches in many people.

Most people know that drinking a lot of red wine can lead to head pain, but alcohol has been found to have no real direct connection to migraines (4). But you may notice issues when drinking red wine because of the tannin. If you notice you get migraines or headaches from alcohol, cut back, and see how it affects you.

6. Artificial Sweeteners

If you thought kicking fizzy drinks out of your diet might reduce your migraines, you may be mistaken. Artificial sweeteners found in diet soft drinks, like aspartame, might trigger one of your least favourite symptoms of menopause.

Research has found that they can increase the frequency of migraines and headaches (5). Cut back and see how their elimination affects you.

7. Nitrate-Rich Foods

Nitrate-rich foods might perpetuate migraines in certain groups of people. Nitrates negatively affect women and those with higher blood pressure, making them more susceptible to migraines (6). 

Many processed meats, like deli items and bacon, contain added nitrates and should be avoided. You can have just about anything in moderation, but cutting excess nitrates may help you manage your symptoms better.

8. Fasting Periods

While not technically a food you can add or subtract from your diet, fasting can influence your migraines and how frequently you get them.

Unlike the weather or other seasonal changes, you can control this migraine stressor, especially since it involves food or lack thereof — making it part of your diet.

Fasting requires you to go without food for a certain period. Almost one-fourth of American adults have tried intermittent fasting for weight loss (7).

Other reasons include lowering blood sugar levels or maintaining a healthy relationship with food. However, fasting might cause migraines because you’re not getting food at the usual time you’re used to.

Try a smaller fasting window or cut it out entirely during this transitional period of your life. You might be able to ease back once you learn to manage your menopausal symptoms better.

You can also talk to your doctor about how to get the health benefits you want, whether losing weight or regulating internal functions.

RELATED: Migraines in perimenopause and menopause

menopausal migraines

Can foods help with menopausal symptoms?

Fortunately, eating healthier foods can improve your menopause symptoms. Add these foods to your diet. You never know what could improve your migraines or even prevent them.

1. Foods Rich in Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids can help in several areas of your life, even with menopause symptoms beyond migraines. Some other issues might lessen when you have enough omega-3 fatty acids (8). 

For example, supplements of high doses of omega-3s can alleviate anxiety in most people who take them. Whether you get the proper amount through food or supplements, it's worth adding to your diet.

Some great foods to turn to include the following:

  • Fatty fish, like salmon or sardines
  • Pumpkin or chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • An omega-3 supplement

Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids can help improve your heart health. A proper amount can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, which can be hugely important as you age and become less active. It might also reduce your likelihood of a heart attack.

2. Spinach

Spinach and other dark leafy greens can ease your migraine symptoms when eaten regularly. It has a great dose of magnesium, which can quickly help alleviate headaches.

Spinach is easy to throw into any dish, and because it reduces as it cooks, even picky eaters can eat a serving without complaint. Alternatively, you can add raw spinach to your salads if you don’t want to cook it.

3. Turmeric and Other Spices and Seasonings

You may not think of spices as traditional nutritional supplements, but adding seasonings to your food might make a difference. Turmeric contains curcumin, which can lower inflammation and help with arthritis pain, as well as conditions like diabetes (9). It can turn your food yellow, but if you like its peppery taste, you can use it regularly and in moderation.

You should also consider adding more ginger to your diet, which helps the digestive process and keeps food and drinks moving through your system. Similarly, rosemary can relieve pain and inflammation. Research the spices and seasonings you put in your food and track your symptoms to see if they make a difference.

4. Dark Chocolate

Next time you have a migraine or feel one coming on, indulge in a tasty treat. High blood pressure and migraines are intertwined, as women with regular migraines have almost a 10% higher chance of developing hypertension (10).

Dark chocolate lowers your blood pressure thanks to its flavanols which help to support your heart. However, it may not work for everyone, as cocoa contains caffeine, which might irritate your migraine symptoms more. It’s still worth trying to see if it makes a difference for you.

5. Oestrogen-Heavy Foods

As you transition through menopause, your body produces less oestrogen than before. Changes or drops in oestrogen levels can make your migraines feel a bit worse. 

You may wish to consider Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to boost your oestrogen levels as this will replace your lost hormones.

If you do not wish to take HRT or cannot take HRT then some women report that eating foods with plant oestrogens (phytoestrogens) can help ease the symptoms of menopause that make you feel miserable (11).

Here are some foods high in plant oestrogens:

  • Blueberries and other berries, such as blackberries and cranberries
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
  • Dried apricots
  • Peaches
  • Soyabeans

With additional plant oestrogens in your diet, your symptoms may improve. It’s worth keeping a food diary to monitor which foods impact your symptoms. You can also speak to a doctor to see what else you can add to your diet to help ease some of your migraine symptoms.

RELATED: Managing your menopause without HRT

Eat right to ease your menopausal migraines

Thankfully, you don't have to put up with every menopausal symptom all the time. Though some migraines may feel unbearable, you should take comfort in knowing you can influence their severity by watching what you eat.

You don't necessarily need to make these changes permanently, but swapping out some items for healthier choices could benefit you and reduce how often you get painful menopause migraines.


Mia Barnes is a freelance writer and researcher who specializes in women’s health and wellness. Mia is also the Editor-in-Chief of 
Body+Mind magazine and a staff writer for sites like the SMSNA and the MedShadow Foundation.

References

(1) Ornello, Raffaele et al. “Patterns of Migraine in Postmenopausal Women: A Systematic Review.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 17 859-871. 19 Mar. 2021, doi:10.2147/NDT.S285863

(2) Headaches vs. Migraines – What’s the Difference? UPMC HealthBeat

(3) Diet, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Interventions for Migraine Relief UCI Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute

(4) Vives-Mestres, Marina et al. “Alcohol as a trigger of migraine attacks in people with migraine. Results from a large prospective cohort study in English-speaking countries.” Headache vol. 62,10 (2022): 1329-1338. doi:10.1111/head.14428 

(5) Are artificial sweeteners harmful? The truth, Bill Bangert, University of Cincinnati

(6) Beishon, Lucy et al. “Relationship between nitrate headache and outcome in patients with acute stroke: results from the efficacy of nitric oxide in stroke (ENOS) trial.” Stroke and vascular neurology vol. 6,2 (2021): 180-186. doi:10.1136/svn-2020-000498

(7) Americans say this popular diet is effective and inexpensive, YouGov

(8) Omega-3s for anxiety?, Harvard Medical School

(9) Benefits of Tumeric, University of Utah

(10) Rist, Pamela, et al. "Migraine and the Risk of Incident Hypertension among Women." Cephalalgia, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102418756865.


(11) Bedell S, Nachtigall M, Naftolin F. The pros and cons of plant estrogens for menopause. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2014;139:225-236. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2012.12.004

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