A poor diet may be making your head hurt. “People with chronic headaches often have low nutrient scores,” says Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician in Flemington, New Jersey, and author of The End of Dieting. Here’s how to manage headaches with five pain-fighting superfoods.
Broccoli is a powerful headache fighter because it contains riboflavin (vitamin B2) and a potent antioxidant called coenzyme Q10. The Canadian Headache Society’s guidelines for migraine prophylaxis recommends both nutrients for migraine prevention.
Mitochondria produce energy in your cells. In migraine sufferers, mitochondria are often defective, leaving your neurons more sensitive to headache-triggering stimuli. “Riboflavin and CoQ10 help correct the mitochondrial dysfunction, thereby helping prevent migraines,” says Dr. Lisa Watson, a naturopath at the Integrative Health Institute in Toronto.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon can reduce inflammation, making people who consume them less likely to get migraine headaches. What’s more, omega-3s can help prevent platelets in your blood from clumping — something that can make your brain more sensitive to pain and headache triggers. “Platelet aggregation occurs during migraines, mitigating it decreases the severity and intensity of headaches,” says Watson. (Find salmon recipe ideas from the Chatelaine Kitchen here.)
Stock up on dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale or Swiss chard, and aim for at least one serving a day. Loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients, these dark greens also contain lots of magnesium — a calming mineral that can, like omega-3s, help relieve the severity of headaches by reducing platelet aggregation, says Watson. Other magnesium-rich foods (aim for four to five servings a day) include beans, soybeans, nuts, legumes and potatoes. (Here are easy ways to add more spinach to dinner.)
This water-rich veggie can help prevent dehydration. Lack of water causes blood vessels to constrict, making you more vulnerable to headaches, says Watson. Both water (about nine daily glasses) and water-rich foods are an essential part of keeping hydrated. Cucumber also offers magnesium and antioxidants that help fight off headaches.
These nuts are an excellent source of omega-3s. Snack on them daily, especially alongside veggies. “The healthy fats in walnuts facilitate the absorption of the fat-soluble compounds and antioxidants in green vegetables, so you absorb more of their brain-beneficial chemicals,” Fuhrman says.