Man’s severe migraines ‘completely eliminated’ on plant-based diet

Health experts are calling for more research into diet and migraines after doctors revealed a patient who had suffered severe and debilitating headaches for more than a decade completely eliminated them after adopting a plant-based diet.

He had tried prescribed medication, yoga and meditation, and cut out potential trigger foods in an effort to reduce the severity and frequency of his severe headaches – but nothing worked. The migraines made it almost impossible to perform his job, he said.

But within a month of starting a plant-based diet that included lots of dark-green leafy vegetables, his migraines disappeared. The man has not had a migraine in more than seven years, and cannot remember the last time he had a headache. The case was reported in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

Doctors in the US who treated the photographer suggested it might be worth adopting a plant-based diet to ease the symptoms of chronic migraine.

But other independent experts cautioned that because the report was a single case it was impossible to generalise the finding and should not be taken as a solution for all people with migraines.

More than a billion people worldwide experience migraines. While drugs can help prevent and treat them, a growing body of evidence suggests diet may also offer an effective alternative without any of the side effects associated with some of the drugs, the report’s authors said.

Writing in BMJ Case Reports, the 60-year-old patient, whose identity was not disclosed, said: “Before I changed my diet, I was suffering six to eight debilitating migraines a month, each lasting up to 72 hours. Most days, I was either having a migraine or recovering from one.”

After 12 years of migraines, nothing had made a difference. “I was desperate,” he said.

Six months before his referral to a lifestyle medicine clinic in New York, the man’s migraines had become chronic, occurring on between 18 and 24 days of every month.

“However, within one month of beginning a nutrient-dense plant-based diet that included primarily lots of dark-green leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, oatmeal, and a daily green smoothie, I was able to get off both medications.

“Now the migraine medications have expired, and I have not had a migraine in seven years. I can’t even remember the last time I had a headache. I am no longer a prisoner in my own body. I have my life back.”

The report’s authors advised the man to adopt the Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday (Life) diet, a nutrient-dense, whole food, plant-based diet.

It includes eating at least five ounces (142g) by weight of raw or cooked dark green leafy vegetables every day, drinking one 32-ounce (946ml) daily green smoothie, and limiting intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils, and animal protein, particularly dairy and red meat.

Within two months, the frequency of his migraine attacks had fallen to just one day a month. The length and severity of the attacks had also lessened. After three months his migraines stopped completely. They haven’t returned in over seven years.

Prof Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, who was not involved in the case, said: “This is a case report and therefore it is impossible to generalise the finding. Migraine is a debilitating condition and it is important to find ways to treat and manage it. Diet can play an important role in the management of many diseases, and some foods are known to trigger migraine.

“Bioactive compounds found in dark-green leafy vegetables and other foods might have an important role in the management of many diseases, but in order to make definitive statements and recommendations, considerably more research is needed.”

Dr Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston University’s medical school, said the report was “interesting” but “cannot be taken as a solution for all people with migraines”.

“The diet that was used was one which is largely in line with many countries’ dietary recommendations and included eating more vegetables – especially dark-green leafy vegetables.

“The problem with this type of report is that there is no control or comparison intervention, it could be an effect of the diet which was started, but also it could be a response to something they were no longer eating or even just the behavioural effect of a change in diet which may have led to the reduction in migraines.”

A separate analysis published in the journal BMJ Global Health on Thursday shows the global rise in the red and processed meat trade over the past 30 years is linked to a sharp increase in diet-related ill-health.