Thursday, May 12, 2011

Nutrition for Headache Relief

Each semester, I require my Nutrition students at Boise State University to pick a diet of their choice and follow it for 4 weeks.  They follow several parameters that might change as a result of what they are eating, for example blood pressure or weight.  They participate in an on-line discussion board to give each other help and advice the weeks they are on the diet, and then write a paper with the results of a computer based nutrient analysis.  At the end of the semester, we hold a panel discussion to ask questions and learn more about what everyone did.  This semester, I was amazed with the outcomes for students who chose to track headache frequency or severity as their outcome measure.  

One student used the Food Guide Pyramid.  She went to the website to get a personalized plan.  The printout provides the servings and portion sizes of each food group to eat daily.  She reported that her intake of most vitamins and minerals improved (though didn't get to the "recommended" amounts) and she had a dramatic decrease in the frequency of headaches. 

Another student used the Plate Method.  This approach to portion control aims for 1/2 plate vegetables, 1/4 plate starchy/grains, 1/4 plate meat/protein, plus a small serving of fruit and dairy.  This approach gained popularity as an approach to manage diabetes, but it is also useful for balanced nutrition and weight loss.  The student following this approach had lower intakes of sodium, lost 3 pounds, reported fewer headaches and felt like she was more alert and had more energy.  Focusing on more produce cost her about $20 per month more than usual, which she felt was a good trade for how she felt.  

Two students followed the Fruits and Veggies More Matters (formerly known as 5-a-day).  Instead of looking at all the food groups, these students concentrated on eating more fruits and vegetables.  One student lost 4 pounds, had fewer headaches and saved money since produce costs were less than the more processed foods she'd been buying.  The most dramatic change was a student who had frequent migraine headaches (3-4 per week) and claims that after 2 weeks of eating 4-7 servings of fruits or veggies daily hadn't had a headache in over a month.  Wow. She also notes that she feels less fatigued and saw improvements to her asthma symptoms too.   Although her food costs went up slightly, she's saving many times more than that on medication.  

Maybe mom was right after your veggies.


  1. What a great exercise! I'd love to hear more about the results. Makes me want to take a nutrition class :)

  2. Hi! I popped over here after reading about your new blog on your quilting blog. Great information...I'm going to try this! I worked for Weight Watchers until about a year ago and since I left I've seen my weight creep up and my veggie intake drop. Ironically, I've had 2 migraines in the last week after having about 2 a year since I started WW a few years ago. Now...any tips for those of us with Interstitial Cystitis?