About 4 to 5 percent of people worldwide suffer from chronic headaches.
The pain can have a severe impact on your performance, happiness, and quality of life. While many resorts to popping the pill, a few look for safer alternatives.
Regular intake of pain relievers for headaches has serious side effects. From damaging the liver to kidney disease. As such, recent research claiming that diets higher in Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches in people suffering from migraines has created quite a buzz. It further stated that the types of fatty acids in our diet can play a crucial role in promoting or preventing migraines.
Ayurveda has always advocated the use of natural alternatives. As such, finding a cure in our food comes as no surprise. Let us take a deeper look at the association between fatty acid and headache.
Also Read: Omega 3 fatty acids – Fish oil supplement
Let’s talk nutritional science
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are the two fatty acids that our body doesn’t produce by itself. So, the source of these two fatty acids is the foods we intake from external sources. Modern diets tend to be low in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which are essentially found in seafood; and higher in omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils. These fatty acids are converted into oxylipins in the body. Studies show the compound oxylipin can influence headaches. The oxylipins in Omega-3 have a pain soothing effect while that in Omega-6 has a pain-inflicting effect.
Thus, omega-3 has a significant effect in minimizing inflammation and pain inflictions. On the other hand, omega-6 if consumed in increased amounts inflicts pain. Hence, people suffering from migraines or frequent headaches should steer clear of omega-6 and rather include more omega-3 in their diet.
Fatty acid and headache – A scientific experiment
A clinical experiment examined 182 patients (diagnosed with chronic pain) for 16 weeks. The patients were provided with 2/3 of their daily ratio containing higher levels of omega-3 and controlled as well as lower levels of omega-6. The patients were instructed to record their headaches.
The results were promising, as the patients recorded fewer total hours of headaches. Many had also reported significant improvement in their severity of headaches and lessened their doses of medication for the headaches.
The study concluded that increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. Further, controlling the intake of omega-6 fatty acids can result in additional improvement.
The modern lifestyle compels us to give in to easy ways of living. Canned and processed foods have significantly influenced our lifestyle. These canned foods contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids which can contribute to our deteriorating health conditions when consumed regularly or in higher amounts. This is particularly bad for patients suffering from chronic headaches or migraines.
Contrary to the increase of omega-6 fatty acids, the intake of omega 3 fatty acids remains limited. While some resort to supplements, getting your nutrition directly from your food is always a better idea.
So, if you are experiencing frequent headaches or you have been diagnosed with migraine then keep an eye on your daily intake of fatty acids.
Fatty acid and headache – Foods to be friends with
Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in fish with high-fat content. Cod-liver oil, salmon, oysters, sardines, mackerels, eggs, shrimps, etc. are well-known expert recommendations when it comes to the inclusion of omega-3 in one’s diet.
But are you aware of plant-based foods which are high in omega-3?
Don’t be surprised! Plant foods with high amounts of omega-3 are easily available. They include spinach, soybeans, chia seeds, walnuts, flax seeds, etc. So, if you are a vegetarian, you have a good list of foods that you can include in your diet.
Fatty acid and headache: Foods to avoid
You might be surprised to know that oils that are used in cooking commonly are high in omega-6. This should be kept in mind while maintaining the omega-3 and omega-6 balance. Vegetable oils such as cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, etc. contain high amounts of omega-6. Whereas, in comparison, oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and butter have lower amounts of omega-6.
So, if you are suffering from severe headaches, always remember to avoid foods primarily cooked in vegetable oil in your diet.
Most of the health conditions that we are suffering from today have boiled down to our dietary choices. So, it is very important to understand your health condition and then your nutritional requirement. Food shall not be treated as fun, as it is the real fuel of life. When you stray away from the right diet, your body starts raising different alarms.
If your body is sending a signal with frequent episodes of headaches then increase your natural intake of omega-3 fatty acids and cut down on processed foods to curb the omega-6 fatty acids. In addition to that, make sure to keep your stress under control, limit your screen time, use proper glasses, practice meditation and take a walk out every day!