More fatty fish and fewer vegetable oils can reduce migraines, study finds

A new study from the National Institutes of Health suggests that people who consume more fatty fish and fewer vegetable oils could reduce their monthly migraine headaches and make the pain less intense.

The study, published in July in the BMJ, was comprised by a team of researchers from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The team had previously studied the link between linoleic acid and chronic pain. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid commonly derived from corn, soybean, and other similar oils, as well as some nuts and seeds. They found that consuming less linoleic acid and more omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and shellfish reduced the intensity of migraine pains. 

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The team then studied 182 adults with frequent migraines. The adults took part in a 16-week diet program and was assigned to one of three diet plans. They all received meals that fish, vegetables, hummus, salads, and breakfast items. However, one group received meals that had high levels of fatty fish or oils from fatty fish and low linoleic acid. The second group received meals that had high levels of fatty fish and higher linoleic acid. The third group received meals with high linoleic acid and lower levels of fatty fish.

During the 16 weeks, participants monitored the number of days they had migraines and measured their intensity. They also noted how their headaches affected their abilities to perform day-to-day activities and how often medication was needed.

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At the beginning of the study, the participants averaged more than 16 days with headaches per month with over five hours of migraine pain per headache.

The results found the group with the diet lower in vegetable oil and higher in fatty fish produced between 30% and 40% reductions in total headache hours per day, severe headache hours per day, and overall headache days per month.

"This research found intriguing evidence that dietary changes have potential for improving a very debilitating chronic pain condition like migraine without the related downsides of often prescribed medications," Dr. Luigi Ferrucci of NIA said.

The study pointed out that migraine, a neurological disease, ranks among the most common causes of chronic pain, lost work time, and lowered quality of life. The study author’s said more than 4 million people worldwide have chronic migraine and over 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during an attack, which can last anywhere from four hours to three days.

Women between the ages of 18 and 44 are especially prone to migraines, and an estimated 18% of all American women are affected, according to the study.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.