A vegan diet may help people with chronic migraines reduce their debilitating headaches, according to a new study from researchers at Penn University. According to the researchers, a man suffering from nonstop migraines was able to get rid of the condition after only three months of going vegan.
The study authors note in the case report that the patient was able to discontinue migraine medication after switching to a plant-based diet. He hasn’t had a migraine in the eight years since making the diet change.
Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and watercress, have been shown in studies to contain powerful antioxidants that can alleviate severe headaches. Researchers are now recommending that chronic migraine sufferers try a plant-based diet that is “safe, effective, and permanent.”
Many migraine sufferers are aware of their trigger foods, such as chocolate, caffeine, cheese, and nuts. In some cases, eating such foods immediately results in another debilitating headache that can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.
Migraine pain can be rated as a ’12’ on a scale of 0-10.
Migraines, which affect one billion people worldwide, can be episodic (fewer than 15 attacks per month) or chronic (more than 15 attacks per month) (more than 15 headaches days a month).
The researchers studied a man who had suffered from severe migraine headaches without aura for over 12 years. Auras can cause migraine sufferers to see strange things during their headaches, such as colored spots or flashing lights. This happens to about one out of every three migraine patients.
In order to reduce the severity and frequency of the headaches, the patient in this study tried prescription medication, avoided trigger foods, and practiced yoga and meditation. Six months before making dietary changes, the man’s migraines had become chronic, occurring 18 to 24 days per month.
He described the pain as starting suddenly and intensely in the left side of his head’s forehead and temple. The pain was throbbing and typically lasted 72 hours. His headaches were accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting. On a scale of 0 to 10, he rated the pain as 10 to 12.
What exactly is a vegan diet?
According to the study’s authors, the patient then began a vegan diet and ate at least five ounces of raw or cooked dark green leafy vegetables every day. He consumed a 32-ounce green smoothie and avoided whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils, and animal protein.
After two months on the LIFE diet (Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday), the patient reported that the frequency of his migraine attacks had decreased to one day per month, with the length and severity of the attacks also decreasing.
Even when he tried certain “challenge” foods that triggered his headache attacks, such as egg whites, salmon, or iced tea, the migraines became much less painful and shorter in duration. His migraines stopped completely after three months and have not returned.
Migraines can be exacerbated by pre-existing conditions.
In terms of the cause of the man’s migraines, the researchers believe that the patient’s HIV-positive status contributed to the severity of the headaches. According to the study’s authors, HIV can increase the risk of migraines and contribute to more severe symptoms.
“This report suggests that a whole food plant-based diet may offer a safe, effective and permanent treatment for reversing chronic migraine,”corresponding author Dr. Joshua Dunaief and his colleagues write in a press release.
“While this report describes one very adherent patient who had a remarkable response, the LIFE diet has reduced migraine frequency within 3 months in several additional patients.”