Best Habits to Prevent a Migraine, Says Neurologist — Eat This Not That

Among neurologic Complaints, migraines are the most common cause of productivity loss and emergency room visits. Migraines may be the most painful type of headache, increasing stroke, and heart attack risk in men.

While migraines tend to affect more women, migraines in men do happen. About 9% of men are regular sufferers (vs. 17% of women), and certain types of headaches like cluster headaches are more common in men. Genetics also play a role since approximately 70% of sufferers have a close relative with the problem.

Today, some consider chronic migraine (>15 migraine days per month) as an individual and societal burden as it is more disabling than episodic migraine. A hypothesis to this higher probability of progression could be that men are often not diagnosed or misdiagnosed. The theory may be that they are less likely to report or seek medical treatment for migraines.

It is a false notion that migraine is a women’s disease- This stigmatizes the disorder and denies men access to proper care. It is important to be aware of these statistics and seek help if you suffer with migraines. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.


A few years ago, scientists started looking at the influence of female hormones in men with migraine. This study reports that men with migraine displayed an increased level of estradiol (type of estrogen hormone) and clinical evidence of androgen deficiency (less male hormones). If you are having more than 15 headaches a month that are debilitating and interfere with your daily functioning—a visit is warranted to your physician. Once the initial workup is normal, they can refer you to a migraine specialist once conservative measures fail. Looking at medications, supplements and your daily triggers will help you reduce pain and frequency of attacks. There are daily medications and well as preventive prescription medications that can control the overactivity of migraine attacks.

Sleeping Couple Being Woken By Mobile Phone In Bedroom

Use a migraine app to track your symptoms so you can make a correlation to your triggers and symptoms as they occur. The first thing I start with my patients are lifestyle changes to ensure better overall health. Daily habits can go a long way to help you have fewer, less-severe migraines.

Sleep cycle regulation is very important, go to bed at the same time every day, including on weekends and holidays. The brain’s pathways responsible for sleep if disrupted can contribute to migraines.

Essential oils with water drops in the bottle on white background.

It is important to seek out complementary medicine that is proven effective in migraines:

Apply lavender oil or peppermint to the base of your neck or use aromatherapy. Inhaling lavender essential oil may ease migraine pain.

acupuncture can help to mitigate pain and the severity of attacks in many patients.

Ginger prevents nausea that can occur in many migraine patients.

Yoga and biofeedback help many patients cope with pain along with complimentary as well as medication management.

There are many migraine-specific vitamins that your migraine neurologist can recommend along with treatment.

Woman use hand to massage back of neck to relax head muscles and relieve pain.

There are also devices for migraines that attempt to interrupt pain signals, more specifically an external trigeminal nerve stimulation (eTNS) unit. The premise of the Cefaly is similar to that of other neurostimulators being tested for migraine treatment. SpringTM may be another option. You hold this device at the back of your head at the first sign of a headache, and it gives off a magnetic pulse that stimulates part of the brain. In addition, there is a noninvasive vagus nerve stimulator called gammaCore. When placed over the vagus nerve in the neck, it releases a mild electrical stimulation to the nerve’s fibers to relieve pain. Nerivio is a wireless remote electrical neuromodulator.

dark chocolate

Avoid certain foods. Diet plays a vital role in preventing migraine attacks. Your diet plays a part, too. In about 10% of people with these headaches, food is a trigger. Choose better food. Eat as much wholesome, fresh food, like fruits and vegetables, as you can. Avoid processed and packaged foods.

Some common trigger foods include:

  • Baked goods with yeast, such as sourdough bread, bagels, donuts, and coffee cake
  • Chocolate
  • Cultured dairy products (like yogurt and kefir)
  • Fruits or juices such as citrus fruits, dried fruits, bananas, raspberries, red plums, papayas, passion fruit, figs, dates, and avocados
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • olives
  • Soy products (miso, tempeh, soy sauce)
  • tomatoes
  • Vegetables like onions, pea pods, some beans, corn, and sauerkraut
  • Vinegar

Tyramine is a natural compound that forms in protein-rich foods as they age. It’s also a trigger for migraines. These cheeses are high in tyramine:

  • Blue
  • Brie
  • Cheddar
  • feta
  • Mozzarella
  • Muenster
  • Parmesan
  • Swiss

Chemicals added to food to enhance their flavor or help them stay fresh longer may bring on a headache:

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate). While research studies to date do not conclusively establish MSG as a migraine trigger, you should avoid MSG if it appears to be a trigger. It is the main ingredient in soy sauce and meat tenderizers. It’s sometimes listed on packaged foods as “all-natural preservatives” or “hydrolyzed protein.” Reports indicate it could trigger a migraine within 20 minutes of ingestion.
  • Nitrates and nitrites. These chemicals are found in many cured and processed meats, like hot dogs, ham, and bacon. Once they get into your system, they cause your blood vessels to swell, which can start a headache.
  • aspartame. It’s unclear how this artificial sweetener, which is 150 times sweeter than sugar, causes headaches. More research is needed. Still, you may want to limit how much you use.
Female driver sits at wheel in car, touches her head.

Limit stress as tension’s a common trigger. Using mediation, music, meditation, yoga, and massage to relieve tension can help. There are many evidence-based complementary techniques. Along with your prescribed treatment, you might want to try one of these to help prevent migraines, such as acupuncture, massage & cognitive behavioral therapy

It is wise to avoid a drop in blood sugar which can set off a migraine. My patients know to drink at least 4-5 glasses of water to avoid dehydration, which can trigger headaches.

older couple tracking exercise outside

Exercise regularly, many of my patients are afraid it might trigger a migraine. Overdoing a workout may trigger a headache for some people, but research suggests regular, moderate aerobic exercise may make migraines shorter, less severe, and happen less often for many people. Vigorous exercise might be a trigger in migraineurs, but overall the benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risk for people with migraine.

Regular exercise is associated with a reduction in the frequency and intensity of migraines, says. Avoid exercise if you’re in the middle of a migraine attack, as it can make the pain worse. When you’re exercising it can help keep future attacks away from relieving stress, a common migraine trigger.

Exercise also stimulates the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins and enkephalins which are our natural painkillers and natural antidepressants. Migraines share brain receptors with serotonin responsible for our mood.

doctor and patient having a summer conversation

Preventive or good habits can go a long way to prevent migraines. Yet, it is not a substitute for a proper evaluation by a migraine neurologist. Good sources of information are the American Headache Society (AHS) and the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). The most important thing I keep in mind when treating my patients is that everyone is unique and the approach is never a one size fits all solution. Be aware of overusing over-the-counter pain relievers as they can actually trigger medication overuse headaches and cause stomach upset and ulcers. There is hope for your pain and you do not have to suffer in silence. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Shae DattaMD, co-director, NYU Langone’s Concussion Center, and director of cognitive neurology at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island.

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