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If You Suffer From Migraines, Try Fatty Fish

Could the key to combating chronic migraines lay in eating more seafood? New research suggests that fatty fish just might offer some relief.

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Anyone who suffers from chronic migraines knows just how impossible finding relief can be – especially if your migraines are stopping you from living life fully. While there are plenty of tips, tricks and remedies you can try to prevent or soothe migraines, there’s now evidence that turning to food just might play a key role in keeping these painful headaches at bay. Making tweaks to your diet could help you lessen or prevent migraines, according to a July 2021 research study.

Changing your diet to include more fatty fish may potentially reduce migraine severity and frequency

This new research study examined 182 participants, all of whom averaged about 16 migraine days each month, with migraines lasting over five hours for each individual. 

Participants were randomly assigned one of three diets to try: A diet high in EPA, DHA and linoleic acid; a diet high in EPA and DHA but low in linoleic acid; or a diet high in linoleic acid and low in EPA and DHA. Participants on high EPA and DHA diets ate 1.5 grams of these fatty acids daily, while those on the low EPA and DHA diet ate just 150 milligrams per day. Those on  the high EPA and DHA diets got their nutrients from fish.

After participants stuck to their assigned diets for 16 weeks, researchers found that those who tried diets high in EPA and DHA – and subsequently ate more fatty fish – saw positive changes. Eating more fatty fish resulted in 30 to 40 percent fewer headache days per month and fewer headache hours per day compared to the study’s other participants. Getting more EPA and DHA offered the potential to reduce the frequency of migraines as well as each individual headache’s lifespan. 

Plus, researchers noted that eating a diet high in EPA and DHA also increased participants’ oxylipin levels, which is a byproduct of these two fatty acids that may help to reduce pain and inflammation. And that’s potentially great news for anyone who’s hoping to fend off migraines in any way.

What is it that makes fatty fish beneficial for migraines?

The study’s researchers pinpoint an increased intake of EPA and DHA with the study’s results. Getting more of both of these nutrients directly correlates with a potential lower frequency and length of migraines.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are both omega-3 fatty acids. Your body uses these two fatty acids in plenty of processes, and according to a 2012 research review, they play a role in everything from healthy aging to protecting the brain to keeping lipids in check. And if you get too little EPA and DHA, you may experience more inflammation too.

One of the best sources of these two particular omega-3 fatty acids? Different varieties of fatty fish. Fish eat phytoplankton, which allows them to consume and store fatty acids in their own tissues. And when you eat fish, you get all of those fatty acids yourself. As the study pinpointed, upping your intake of fatty fish delivers more EPA and DHA – and getting their suggested 1.5 grams daily as opposed to the typical 150 milligrams daily is what results in a positive reduction in migraine events and their length.

How to get more EPA and DHA in your diet

You probably aren’t getting enough EPA and DHA from your current diet. According to a research review, the current standard American diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids and high in saturated fat. So, if you’re hoping to fend off migraines, you’ll want to make sure you up your intake of these key omega-3s. 

The easiest way to get more of these two fatty acids into your diet is to do what the study’s participants did: Eat more fatty fish. According to the National Institutes of Health, these varieties of fish offer the most EPA and DHA per serving:

  • Farmed salmon, which provides 1.24 grams of DHA and 0.59 grams of EPA
  • Wild salmon, which provides 1.22 grams of DHA and 0.35 grams of EPA
  • Herring, which provides 0.94 grams of DHA and 0.77 grams of EPA
  • Canned sardines, which provide 0.74 grams of DHA and 0.45 grams of EPA
  • Mackerel, which provides 0.74 grams of DHA and 0.45 grams of EPA

You can also turn to tuna, oysters, and sea bass for these omega-3s, though these seafood varieties contain a bit less.

Don’t want to eat fish every day? You can also try fish oils and krill oils to up your omega-3 intake. A typical fish oil supplement contains 180 milligrams of EPA and 120 milligrams of DHA. Just double-check the dosage and nutrition label of the particular supplements you’re considering to determine how many fatty acids they can offer. As long as you’re getting a good amount of both EPA and DHA, you’ll put yourself on track for potential migraine benefits.

Keep reading and learn more about combating migraines and headaches through food: