If you suffer from migraine, you agree that it is something you don’t wish on anyone. You also welcome anything that reduces attacks or their severity.
Research suggests that because of the reduction of inflammation in the brain, a keto lifestyle can be beneficial. In my own practice, I also notice that clients suffering from migraines achieve very positive results. So how can that be?
What is migraine?
In most cases, migraines cause severe pounding pain in the front, side or back of your head. An attack usually lasts between 4 and 72 hours. Apart from pain, a migraine attack is often accompanied by other severe symptoms such as:
- nausea and vomiting
- blurred vision
- extreme sensitivity to light, sounds and smells
About a third of all migraine attacks are accompanied by aura symptoms:
- seeing spots, flashing lights or other visual distortions in both eyes
- tingling or a numb feeling in the limbs, face or lips, usually on one side of the body
- difficulty speaking just before the attack
It is estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide have migraines. About twice as many women as men suffer from these headaches: fluctuating oestrogen levels during puberty, the menstrual cycle and menopause are known triggers of migraines. And does migraine run in the family? Then you are more likely to get it too.
Some other things can also trigger migraines:
- certain foods such as chocolate, cheese, alcohol, sweeteners and food additives
- too sudden withdrawal from caffeine
- eating too little or fasting
- lack of good sleep
- changes in weather and air pressure
The frequency of migraines varies from person to person. Some get an attack a few times a year, others once or twice a month. People with chronic migraines may even experience headaches for 15 or more days a month.
Painkillers, triptans and other medications can help reduce symptoms in acute attacks, anti-epileptics and other types of drugs can help prevent migraines. The downside is that you do have to deal with possible side effects. Moreover, some people develop drug-resistant migraines.
In a nutshell
Migraine is a severe headache usually accompanied by nausea, dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines are more common in women and can be triggered by hormonal changes, certain foods, stress and other factors. Medications offer relief for some people, but often have side effects.
How keto can help
The exact mechanisms behind migraines, despite many studies, are not yet known. It is generally thought that inflammation, chemical imbalance and disturbed energy metabolism in the brain play a role. Some research suggests that in response to an energy deficiency or chemical imbalance in the brain, the migraine attack itself may be an attempt by the brain to restore balance.
Interesting to note: epilepsy is another neurological condition that appears to be related to migraines and may have similar mechanisms. The keto diet has long been used to treat epilepsy and is also an approved therapy for people who do not respond to anti-epileptic drugs.
So a keto lifestyle may work similarly for migraines. Besides acting as an alternative energy source for the brain, ketones can also reduce inflammation and favourably influence other factors involved in migraines.
Small studies show that a keto lifestyle reduced the frequency and severity of migraines which led to reduced use of medication in some participants. However, this improvement did not occur in everyone. So more research remains necessary. Would you like to take a look at the research yourself? You can do so here
Migraines seem to involve inflammation, chemical imbalances and disrupted energy metabolism in the brain. Some researchers think that a keto diet may relieve migraines by reducing inflammation and having other beneficial effects on the brain.
What I see in practice
In recent years, more and more people reported to my practice with migraines. These are always women. The vast majority of them indicate that their reason for starting a keto lifestyle was not the migraine per se: obesity, menopause symptoms and lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure were usually the deciding factor to take this step.
A comprehensive intake form is always completed before starting a programme and discussed during the intake. If I see migraine on this form, I take my time discussing it: it is important for me to know the nature of the migraine and what possible triggers exist. During the course of the programme I can then keep a close eye on the influence of the keto lifestyle on the attacks.
In the vast majority of cases, the results were exceptionally positive and included:
- less frequent migraines
- reduced severity of migraines
- improvement in symptom management
- disappearance of migraines
These kinds of results obviously pay off tremendously in everyday life:
- less off-time in your social life and in the workplace
- increased productivity
- reduced mood swings and feelings of a depressive nature
- less or no use of medication
About to start with keto?
- make sure you maintain a properly formulated basic keto diet with 25 grams of net carbohydrates or less; do not make the mistake of thinking that a carbohydrate-restricted diet with, for instance, 50 grams of net carbohydrates is also sufficient, the aim is to get and stay in ketosis
- be well prepared; read all the information on this website and do not get distracted by what a neighbour or colleague tells you about keto
- make sure you avoid keto flu and pay special attention to magnesium; research shows that magnesium supplementation can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
- avoid all sweeteners for at least the first three months, including natural ones; these can trigger attacks. After that, you can try using them but in general caution is advised with them, even if you don’t suffer from migraines. Read here why that is
- don’t go on a deliberate fast and make sure you eat three satiating meals in a time frame that is acceptable to you
- are you on medication? If so, always discuss the switch to keto with the prescribing doctor first
- give it time; although improvement is sometimes fast, I regularly see that it can take longer. So be patient and make sure you strictly follow the keto lifestyle for at least three months