Essential Diet & Lifestyle Changes for Natural Migraine Prevention

I’ve written before about My Migraine Toolkit – the drug-free tools I use to manage a migraine when it happens.  Today I want to share the lifestyle changes I’ve made for natural migraine prevention. I’ve divided them into three types of changes: Environment (personal care, household cleaning, lights, air quality), Lifestyle (sleep, exercise, fresh air, and meditation) and Diet (water, avoid sugar and alcohol, eating low-carb and keto).

I stopped all prescription drugs a couple of years ago and now I manage my migraines entirely with diet and lifestyle. I still get migraines, but the frequency and severity are hugely reduced. This is a dramatic change for me, as my migraine journey has included most of the prescription drugs available for preventing or aborting a migraine. I was driven to find another way after years of dealing with the combination of side effects, rebound headaches, and minimal overall improvement to my quality of life.

Perhaps some of these tips will help you too!

For me, preventing a migraine is centered around eating well and taking care of my body, but also addressing the sensory issues.  Even on a normal day, I feel as though my senses are working at 110%. Noises always sound louder to me, lights are brighter, smells are stronger. Feeling overheated can trigger a migraine and warm room feels stifling to me, but being cold causes me to hunch over, tensing up and causing neck and back pain, which can trigger a migraine. So addressing the little things to make my surroundings more comfortable has gone a long way to reducing migraines.

I’ve made changes in my diet and lifestyle that are not just helpful for avoiding migraines, but ultimately better for me and my family overall. While I wouldn’t say that migraines have benefited me, I’ve found some of the silver linings. I would like to think that I would have eventually found my way to a healthier lifestyle, but the migraines definitely encouraged me to make changes that might have felt drastic otherwise.

Here are the top changes I’ve made for natural migraine prevention, divided into three categories – home/environmental/surroundings, lifestyle and dietary.

Home & Environmental Changes for Natural Migraine Prevention

  1. Unscented personal care products – I stopped wearing perfume years ago and gradually switched over to unscented products for everything. I use the cleanest and most natural products I can find, and I’m very careful with new products since many use essential oils which are strongly scented and cause reactions even though they are natural. This can vary for everyone, but I am especially sensitive to strong floral fragrances (lavender for example which is lovely but is a trigger for me).
  2. Natural cleaning products – I switched away from all chemical cleaning products and use the most natural products I can find for household cleaning and laundry. Mint is the one scent that doesn’t bother me (provided it’s natural and not a chemically-created version), so I buy either unscented or mint-scented products.
  3. Indoor air quality – When the weather is nice enough, I try to open doors and windows at least once per day to bring in some fresh air. I also use high-quality air filters in my central air and heating system and change them on a regular basis. I use an essential oil diffuser to diffuse organic peppermint oil to keep the house smelling pleasant.
  4. Lights – I have dimmer switches on every light in my home. On the lamps, I use Philips Hue lights bulbs which allow them to be dimmed even though the lamp doesn’t have a built-in dimmer (they also work with Alexa if you’re into smart home features). I use a free program called f.lux to dim my computer screen and the Apple setting that automatically adjusts my iPhone screen as it gets later in the day. I have also recently started using these glasses if I’m using my computer for an extended period of time. When I go to see a film or performance, I try to remember to check in advance that there will be no strobe-lighting.

Lifestyle Changes for Natural Migraine Prevention

  1. Plenty of sleep – getting plenty of sleep is key. I feel best when I have around 8 hours, and I notice a drastic difference when I get less than 7. To ensure the best and most restorative sleep, I try to go to bed around the same time every night (10:30pm) and keep the room cool (around 67-69 degrees F). I also use a fan which doubles as a white noise machine (I also have this white noise machine for those rare situations when I don’t need a fan)
  2. Staying Active – I practice yoga regularly, which is my favorite way to exercise, but I also incorporate pilates, barre and tennis to keep my routine varied. I also walk as much as I can. For me, it’s important to stretch regularly – even on days when I don’t go to yoga, I try to do a few stretches in the mornings and evenings. I use a foam roller and an acupressure mat a couple of times per day, usually when I’m stretching. If I’m working at the computer, I try to take plenty of breaks and stretch out my neck and shoulders. I notice that strain or spasms in my shoulders and neck can trigger a migraine, so I’m extra careful about this.
  3. Fresh air – I try to get fresh air every day, by walking, sitting outside, and opening the doors and windows at my house. When I have the opportunity, I love to escape to the coast, even if only for an afternoon. I always sleep so well after a day spent breathing fresh sea air. I also enjoy the cooler weather in the mountains for the same reason, though high altitude can sometimes trigger a migraine.
  4. Meditation and Mindfulness – this has been really helpful for me in reducing my stress levels. I try to meditate every morning, and in the evening, I write in my gratitude journal.  Read here about my meditation practice and how you can create your own.

Dietary Changes for Natural Migraine Prevention

These were probably the most difficult to implement and sustain because I really do enjoy food, treats, and the social aspects of eating and going out for drinks with friends.

  1. Drink plenty of water – this is a pretty basic one, but it’s easy to lose track of how much water you’ve had (or haven’t had) when you get busy. I try to drink a glass of water right before bed and another one first thing in the morning, and I keep a glass of water next to me when I’m working. I try to be especially conscientious when it’s hot, when I’m traveling, and when I go to high-altitude places. For example, I often travel to Denver and the altitude gets me every time, so now I carry a large bottle of water on the plane which I finish before we land, and then I immediately get another large bottle in the airport and drink it in the car.
  2. Avoid sugar – I won’t say that I’ve eliminated sugar altogether, but I treat it like alcohol and enjoy it on limited occasions in moderation. My number one tip about sugar is to watch out for spikes in blood sugar – this can cause a migraine for many people. So I don’t have sugar first thing in the morning – that includes natural sugars such as fruit. If I’m having something sweet, I try to make it a sweet treat at the end of a meal, so that there’s not a sudden spike in blood sugar.
  3. Very little to no alcohol – I drink very little alcohol. I do enjoy a glass of very dry white wine or champagne (I like Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut), but I avoid red wine, dessert wines, and anything sweet. Cocktails are pretty, but most are filled with sugar and I know the combination would be dreadful for me. I try to choose organic and/or biodynamic wines produced without additives such as sulfites which are a known migraine trigger.
  4. Ketogenic and/or Low-Carb Diet – I avoid processed foods, eat a mainly organic whole food diet and try to limit the carbs. I’ve been eating this way for years, but it was only once I tried a ketogenic diet that I noticed a drastic change in the frequency of migraines. I started using a ketogenic diet under the guidance of my supportive doctor. I don’t eat this way all the time as I do feel it’s restrictive and being in ketosis isn’t necessarily good long-term. That said, when I feel borderline or if I have had just had a migraine, I switch over to eating a ketogenic diet for awhile until I feel better. Even when I’m feeling well, if I eat carbs, I try to keep the serving small and ensure I’ve had plenty of nutrient-dense foods that day as well. A ketogenic diet is very high in healthy fats, and this can make you feel full longer, so it’s often used for weight-management as well. I find it a challenge to get enough fat into my diet, so I came up with a smoothie recipe that does just that – and it’s filling enough to be a meal replacement. I’ve found Dr. Josh Turknet’s website My Migraine Miracle to be a good resource for using a ketogenic diet for migraine prevention – he’s a neurologist who specializes in headaches and he is also a lifelong migraine sufferer.

It’s worth noting that these changes have been gradual – I didn’t do all of this at once.  The environmental and lifestyle changes have been the easiest, while the dietary changes were more challenging to implement and maintain. Ultimately it’s been worthwhile as I no longer suffer the considerable side effects of prescription drugs and my migraines have dropped from 20+ migraine days per month to less than 3.

Now that I’ve learned to listen to my body, I don’t force myself into situations that I know could trigger a migraine. I’ve accepted that some things which sound fun for others (like indoor concerts) just aren’t enjoyable for me due to the risk of a migraine, and that’s ok because there are so many other ways I find pleasure in life.

As I mentioned, I wouldn’t say that migraines have been good for me, but the changes I’ve made for natural migraine prevention have ultimately benefited my family overall as we live a much healthier lifestyle that we might otherwise.

What’s your top tip for migraine prevention?

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