A new study reveals that a diet rich in fatty fish oils can help relieve migraine pain. People who had frequent migraines on the fish diet had fewer and less severe migraines than participants who ate a diet high in vegetable fats.
Researchers from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) participated in the study. Sections of the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill were also present. The findings were published in the July 3, 2021 issue of the BMJ.
The research built on the team’s previous studies of how linoleic acid affects chronic pain. Linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, is found in corn, soy, and similar oils, nuts, and seeds.
The team’s previous research investigated whether linoleic acid exacerbates migraine pain-processing tissues and pathways in the trigeminal nerve. It is the largest and most complex of the body’s twelve cranial nerves. This research found that a diet low in linoleic acid but high in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) could reduce migraine pain.
The study showing how fatty fish oils can reduce migraines
This current study involved 182 adults with frequent migraines. Participants underwent a 16-week dietary intervention following a specific diet. The researchers randomly assigned them to one of three healthy diets, which included fish, vegetables, hummus, salads and breakfast foods.
They received meal kits that followed these guidelines:
- The first group received meals high in fatty fish oils and low in linoleic acid.
- Meals from a second group had higher levels of fatty fish and higher linoleic acid.
- The latter group received meals high in linoleic acid but low in fatty fish, which resembles the standard American diet.
During the study period, participants noted the frequency, duration, and intensity of their migraines. They also kept track of how their headaches affected their work, studies, and social life. Finally, the volunteers noted how often they needed painkillers to control symptoms.
At the start of the study, participants had an average of more than sixteen migraine days per month. They experienced more than five hours of migraine each day. They also had baseline scores that revealed a significant impact on quality of life even when taking multiple painkillers.
The results: fatty fish oils cause a marked reduction in migraines
Researchers found that a diet low in vegetable oil but high in fatty fish oils produced the best results. Migraine sufferers had a 30-40% reduction in the following areas compared to the control group:
- total number of headache hours per day
- severe headaches hours a day
- total number of headache days per month
Blood samples taken from participants who ate more fatty fish oils revealed lower levels of pain-related lipids. However, even though they had less severe and less intense migraines, they reported only minor improvements in their quality of life. Still, the diet high in fatty fish oils produced better results than the diet high in linoleic acid and fatty fish.
Migraines consistently rank among the most common causes of chronic pain, sick days, and reduced quality of life. It is also one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. More than four million people worldwide suffer from chronic migraines at least fifteen days a month. More than 90% of patients are unable to work or function normally during an attack, which lasts from four hours to three days.
Women between the ages of 18 and 44 are at increased risk for migraines. About 18% of all American women suffer from migraines. Migraine medications can reduce pain, but they don’t usually eliminate symptoms. They also have unwanted side effects such as sedation, dependence or addiction.
Nature is the best medicine.
“This research has found intriguing evidence that dietary changes have the potential to improve highly debilitating chronic pain like migraine without the downsides associated with often-prescribed medications,” said Luigi Ferrucci, MD, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of the NIA.
Chris Ramsden, a clinical researcher in the NIA and NIAAA Intramural Research Programs, led the NIH team. Ramsden and his team study how lipids affect aging, particularly chronic pain and neurodegenerative diseases. Comprised of fatty acids found in various natural oils, lipids help support many vital body functions.
Lipid mediators called oxylipins help regulate pain and inflammation. Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids act as precursors to oxylipins but produce opposite effects. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish oils, for example, help reduce pain. However, omega-6 fatty acids exacerbate pain and inflammation.
“Dietary changes could offer some relief to the millions of Americans who suffer from migraines,” Ramsden said. “This is further evidence that the foods we eat can influence pain pathways.”
The researchers said the study holds promise for people with frequent migraines. Researchers say that following a diet high in fatty fish oils but low in linoleic acid may prevent migraines better than fish oil supplements. In addition, these dietary changes reduce the need for painkillers. The team hopes to expand the research in the future, studying how diet can affect other chronic diseases.
Final thoughts on the study
Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods such as fatty fish oils have many health benefits. Better cognitive function, increased energy, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of depression and anxiety have been linked to omega-3s. However, a new study reveals that fatty acids can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
The study found that people who ate a diet high in fatty fish oils and low in linoleic acid had 30-40% fewer migraines per month. Their migraines also decreased and they didn’t need medication as often. Researchers say research provides evidence that dietary changes can provide relief for migraine sufferers. Hopefully, they will find out how a diet high in fatty fish oils can improve other health issues in the future.
By Kristen Lawrence. Articles in English