Health

Can the Keto Diet Reduce Migraines? Here's What Research Says

Published on: August 05, 2019

Can the Keto Diet Reduce Migraines? Here's What Research Says

1 out of every 6 Americans suffer from migraines, and women are more prone to it [1]. Migraines have no cure, and painkiller overuse can make them worse. So it only makes sense to look for other treatments to use in the long-term. With that in mind, let’s have a look at what the research says about the keto diet for migraines.


What Are Migraines?

A migraine is a neurological syndrome, often characterized by a sudden pulsating pain on one side of the head. It’s not the same as a normal headache and can severely impact the quality of life for those who suffer from it.

Migraines can also be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and sound, and irritability. If left untreated, migraine symptoms can last for a few hours to three days. Migraines are more common in women, and research states that 14 out of 100 women have recurring migraines [2].


Woman-having-a-migraine-at-the-office_keto-for-migraines

There are three main types of migraines:

Migraine with aura

This is when you experience specific warning signs such as flashing lights before the migraine begins [3].


Migraine without aura

This is the most common type of migraine that occurs without any warning signs.


Migraine aura without headache

This is known as a silent migraine, and it’s when you experience the migraine aura and other related symptoms without the headache.


The exact cause of migraines is unknown. However, some sources say that it inflamed blood vessels and pain signals in the brain might have a part to play. Some emotional, physical, dietary, and environmental factors, known as ‘triggers’ can contribute to migraines.

Emotional triggers that can stimulate migraines in some people include stress, anxiety, shock, depression, and tension. Physical triggers can include poor quality sleep, shift work, jet lag, and tiredness.

Dietary triggers that can contribute to migraine include poor eating patterns, dehydration, alcohol, and caffeine. One study investigated the effect of dietary patterns with migraine frequency in 285 women. Results showed that those who had a healthy eating pattern had a lower attack frequency [4].


Environmental factors that can trigger migraines include bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells. Some medications such as contraceptive pills and sleeping tablets can also cause migraines in some people.

There is no single diagnostic test for migraines. Your doctor may ask several questions about the pain, frequency, time, and about other symptoms to determine if it might be a migraine. Your doctor may also carry out a physical examination to rule out any other medical causes of your headache and symptoms.

Keeping a migraine diary can help you get an accurate understanding of your triggers so you’ll be more careful to avoid them. Some important things to note down in your diary include:

  • Time and date
  • What you were doing when it occurred
  • How long it lasted
  • Other symptoms (if any)

Some people have the habit of taking painkillers every time they have a headache, but it’s important to avoid that habit. Ask your doctor how often you should take your painkillers and stick to their recommendation to avoid medication-induced headaches [5].

There’s no cure for migraines yet, but there are several types of medications and treatments you can try to treat the pain, frequency, and also prevent future attacks. A lot of people find that they’re able to tolerate the pain better when they sleep or lie down in a dark room during an attack.


keto-diet-and-migraines_Couple-taking-keto-meal-together

How the Keto Diet Helps with Migraines

A 2013 study investigated the effectiveness of the keto diet on migraines in sufferers. The participants were assigned to follow either the ketogenic diet or the standard diet for one month.

Results illustrated that those in the keto diet group had a reduction in headache frequency and drug consumption during the observation period whereas, in the standard diet group, there was no improvement noted. This study concluded that the improvement shown might be due to of the inhibitory effects of the keto diet on neural inflammation, cortical spreading depression, and the positive impact it has on brain mitochondrial metabolism [6].

Another study reported the case of two twin sisters whose migraine frequency improved after following the keto diet. The 47-year-old twin sisters suffered from an average of 5-6 migraine without aura attacks per month. The throbbing headache would last up to 72 hours, and they also experienced other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. After consulting a nutritionist about weight loss tips, the sisters went on a medically supervised ketogenic diet.

Their results showed that their migraine headaches disappeared from day three on the keto diet and returned during transitional diet periods with reduced frequency, intensity, and duration. They were not taking any preventative medication during the observation period.


This study concluded that the therapeutic effect of keto for migraines might be linked to the following factors [7]:

  • modulation of cortical excitability
  • dampening of inflammation and neuroinflammatory phenomena
  • inhibition of oxidative stress and the cortical spreading depression phenomenon
  • Improvement in brain mitochondrial metabolism

In a 2015 study, 96 overweight female migraine sufferers were enrolled in a diet clinic and blindly received a ketogenic diet or a standard diet for six months. Significant reduction in headache frequency was observed in the keto diet group and they credited that to the keto diet’s ability to enhance mitochondrial energy metabolism and counteract neural inflammation [8].

Another recent study investigated the effectiveness of Modified Atkins Ketogenic Diet (MAKD) in 18 drug-resistant chronic cluster headache (CCH) patients. Their results revealed that three months on the ketogenic diet significantly improved the CCH symptoms and frequency. Three participants who decided to stop the diet at the end of the study had a recurrence of CCH, and two of them went back on keto with positive responses [9].

This study hypothesized that the positive effects of the keto diet on CCH might be due to the following factors:

  • The Keto diet can increase brain dopaminergic activity [10].
  • Ketone bodies can increase GABAnergic activity, which is positively associated with CH and epilepsy.

Conclusion

According to the studies discussed above, the ketogenic diet may have a positive impact on migraine intensity and frequency. However, you will want to discuss with your doctor first if you wish to try the keto diet for migraines to ensure it is right for you.


Takeaways

  • The latest research supports the wide-spreading claim that the ketogenic diet may help treat migraines.
  • Some mechanisms that may be responsible for the therapeutic effect of keto for migraines include its ability to inhibit neural inflammation, cortical spreading depression, and its positive impact on brain mitochondrial metabolism.
  • Some studies have also illustrated the return of migraines when participants stopped the keto diet.

References

  1. Burch R, Rizzoli P, Loder E. The Prevalence and Impact of Migraine and Severe Headache in the United States: Figures and Trends From Government Health Studies. 2018 March 12 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29527677
  2. org. Migraine: Overview. 2012 June 20 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279373/
  3. DeLange JM, Cutrer FM. Our evolving understanding of migraine with aura. 2014 October - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25230799
  4. Hajjarzadeh S et al. The association of dietary patterns with migraine attack frequency in migrainous women. 2018 November 29 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30489231
  5. org. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Medication for migraines. 2009 January 21 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279371/
  6. Di Lorenzo C et al. Short term improvement of migraine headaches during ketogenic diet: a prospective observational study in a dietician clinical setting. 2013 February 21 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3620251/
  7. Di Lorenzo C et al. Diet transiently improves migraine in two twin sisters: possible role of ketogenesis? 2014 March 5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951260/
  8. Di Lorenzo C et al. Migraine improvement during short lasting ketogenesis: a proof-of-concept study. 2014 August 25 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25156013
  9. Di Lorenzo C et al. Efficacy of Modified Atkins Ketogenic Diet in Chronic Cluster Headache: An Open-Label, Single-Arm, Clinical Trial. 2018 February 12 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816269/
  10. Church WH, Adams RE, Wyss LS. Ketogenic diet alters dopaminergic activity in the mouse cortex. 2014 April 24 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24769322/

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