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A Dietitian’s Role in Diet, Gut Health, and Migraine Management

We’ve all had a headache from time to time, but when the frequency, duration, or intensity of this common ailment impacts self-care and adequate nutrition, how can a Registered Dietitian help?  

Severe headaches and migraines can be episodic or chronic. They are diagnosed as experiencing at least five attacks, each lasting 4-72 hours. It is indicated that more than 15% of adults in the United States suffer from migraines, with women being twice as likely than men to have severe headaches. Research also suggests that people diagnosed with gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, Celiac Disease, GERD, and imbalances within the gut microbiome may also be at increased risk for severe headache and migraine.  

While not entirely understood, common triggers for migraines are stress, poor dietary habits, food allergies/sensitivities, neuroendocrine imbalances, and hormones. Recent research regarding GI changes due to inflammation, microbiota imbalance, and dysbiosis of the gut-brain axis may also play a role in the development of severe headache and migraine. Nutrition related triggers along with GI disorders may result in unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, slow gastric motility, bloating, and abdominal discomfort.  

Sufferers of severe headaches and migraines may often struggle with meeting nutrition and hydration needs due to not feeling well.  Working with a registered dietitian can help with building a plan to meet needs for fluids, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Probiotic supplements may also be suggested to help improve GI symptoms and the integrity of the gut microbiome (aka the bacteria living in the gut).  

While research has yet to prove if a particular diet or elimination protocols are effective in overall migraine management, the dietitian’s objective is to: 

  • Offer suggestions to meet nutritional needs for protein, carbs, and healthful fats based on review of current dietary intake 
  • Provide nutritionally equivalent substitutions when working with confirmed food allergies/sensitivities and diagnosed GI conditions 
  • Using elimination diets only as necessary 
  • Consider one’s ability to prepare foods while experiencing migraine symptoms, which helps to build realistic goals using foods from a variety of sources 
  • Bring awareness to patterns, such as eating and drinking enough over the day 
  • Increase the variety of fibers consumed using grains, fruits, and veggies to optimize gut health 

Overall, it is important to incorporate a balanced diet, reduce stress around foods and food preparation methods, and increase food variety to reduce inflammation, support gut health, and enhance the body’s immune system. These levels of support may help reduce pain associated with migraines.

A Registered Dietitian can be part of an integrated team in migraine management. To schedule an initial appointment with a Nourish RD, click here.

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