Migraines are severe, recurring headaches that can be debilitating for those who suffer from them. Some research suggests that diet may play a role in migraine onset and severity. This has led many migraine sufferers to explore dietary approaches, like smoothies, for managing migraines.
What are migraines?
Migraines are more than just bad headaches. They are a neurological disease that causes moderate to severe throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Migraine attacks can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours if untreated. Symptoms often include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and vision changes.
Around 12% of Americans suffer from migraines. They affect women roughly three times more often than men. Migraines often run in families and first develop between ages 10 and 40. While their exact causes are still unclear, migraines are thought to involve changes in brain chemicals and overexcitability of nerve cells in the brain.
Common migraine triggers
Migraine attacks may be triggered by a number of internal and external factors, including:
- Hormonal changes in women
- Sleep disturbances
- Weather changes
- Bright lights
- Strong smells
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Certain foods
Food triggers vary between individuals but often include aged cheeses, processed meats, chocolate, nuts, dairy products, and foods containing MSG. Research suggests that migraines may be triggered in part by inflammatory substances in foods.
The role of diet in migraines
While many factors can bring on migraines, studies show diet plays an important role for many migraine sufferers. Some research has found that:
- Diets high in omega-6 fatty acids may promote inflammation and increase migraine risk.
- Foods high in tyramine, phenylethylamine, and histamine may trigger migraines in some people.
- Skipping meals can trigger migraines.
- Dehydration from too little water intake is a common migraine trigger.
This has led to interest in structured elimination diets like the low-tyramine MAST diet and diets aimed at improving hydration as ways to reduce migraine occurrence. Let’s look at how smoothies may help.
How can smoothies help prevent migraines?
For many migraine sufferers, smoothies offer an easy way to hydrate, consume veggies and fruits, and avoid common food triggers. Potential benefits include:
- Increasing fluid intake to improve hydration
- Avoiding common trigger foods like cheese, chocolate, processed meats
- Reducing omega-6 intake and increasing omega-3s from nuts, seeds, plant oils
- Consuming magnesium, B2 riboflavin, and other nutrients that may reduce migraine risk
- Avoiding going too long without eating
In one 2012 study, a 12-week diet replacing one meal per day with a low-glycemic green smoothie significantly reduced migraine frequency and intensity in subjects. The smoothies provided hydration and avoidance of trigger foods while improving omega-3 intake.
Best smoothie ingredients for migraines
To maximize nutritional benefits, experts recommend including ingredients like these in smoothies for migraine prevention and relief:
- Water – boosts hydration.
- Coconut water – provides electrolytes like potassium and magnesium.
- Dairy or non-dairy milk – provides hydration, calcium, protein.
- Avocado – source of inflammation-lowering monounsaturated fats.
- Olive oil, flaxseed – provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
- Nuts and seeds – contain healthy fats, vitamin E, magnesium.
Fruits and veggies
- Dark leafy greens – packed with antioxidants, magnesium, and B vitamins.
- Bananas, berries – provide potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C.
- Citrus fruits – high in vitamin C and hydrating.
Avoiding common triggers
- Leave out trigger foods like chocolate, cheese, processed meat.
- Limit high-tyramine foods like aged cheese, beer, wine, nuts.
- Avoid heavy sugar intake.
Tailoring smoothie ingredients to your own migraine triggers is key. Keeping a food diary can help identify your triggers.
Sample smoothie recipes for migraines
Here are some nutritious smoothie recipes to help manage migraines:
1. Hydration Helper Smoothie
- 1 cup coconut water
- 1 cup spinach
- 1 cup mango chunks
- 1 banana
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
2. Green Goddess Smoothie
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 cups kale
- 1 banana
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
3. Morning Sunshine Smoothie
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup strawberries
- 1/2 banana
- 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
- 1 tsp turmeric
Tips for using smoothies to prevent migraines
To maximize the benefits of smoothies for migraine relief, here are some useful tips:
- Have a smoothie daily to avoid going too long without eating.
- Use a blender to liquefy ingredients and make nutrients easy to absorb.
- Drink slowly to improve hydration.
- Make batches ahead you can grab from the fridge.
- Use frozen fruits and veggies to chill smoothies without diluting them.
- Store smoothie ingredients prepared and ready to go.
- Add ginger, cinnamon, or turmeric to combat inflammation.
- Rotate ingredients to ensure variety of nutrients.
Potential smoothie risks
Smoothies can be a healthy tool for managing migraines but do come with some potential downsides, including:
- High sugar content – Too much fruit can spike blood sugar levels.
- Reduced fiber – Blending breaks down fiber, affecting digestion.
- Hunger cues – Liquids don’t trigger hunger cues as well as solid food.
- Tooth decay – Blended sugars stick to teeth and can damage enamel.
- Calorie overload – Smoothies pack a lot of calories into liquid form.
Being mindful of portions and ingredients can help reduce these risks.
Should you try smoothies for migraine relief?
While more research is still needed, available evidence suggests smoothies may be a beneficial part of a diet plan aimed at reducing migraine frequency and severity. By providing hydration, avoiding triggers, and delivering key nutrients, smoothies offer a promising way to help prevent migraine attacks.
Of course, every migraine sufferer is different. Tracking your own triggers and experimenting with custom smoothie recipes tailored to your needs is key to finding what works for you. When combined with proper medical care, smoothies can be a complementary therapy to discuss with your doctor as part of your migraine management plan.
For those struggling with debilitating migraines, exploring natural approaches like smoothies can provide hope. By staying hydrated, avoiding triggers, and loading up on key nutrients, the right smoothie may help reduce migraine attacks and restore quality of life. While smoothies come with some risks if not consumed in moderation, they offer an easy preventative option with little drawback when prepared mindfully.