Nibbling a handful of almonds may do more than take the edge off your hunger pangs. This crunchy snack may also help prevent blinding migraine headaches.
Migraine headaches affect 39 million men, women and children in the U.S. according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Symptoms like throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light can take a major toll on quality of life. While migraine medications can be highly effective, they do have their share of side effects, and taking them too frequently can result in rebound headaches, the American Migraine Foundation points out.
Almonds for Headache — It’s the Magnesium
Almonds, however, may help some people prevent migraine headaches naturally without any side effects, says Brian M. Grosberg, MD, director of the Headache Center at Hartford HealthCare's Ayer Neuroscience Institute in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Besides being rich in healthy fats and vitamin E, almonds are also high in magnesium, notes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What's so special about magnesium? A lot, Dr. Grosberg says. For starters, research shows that people who experience migraines tend to have lower blood levels of this mineral than their counterparts who don't get these debilitating headaches.
This is why the American Migraine Foundation suggests taking a 400 to 500 milligram supplement of magnesium oxide every day for prevention. So how do almonds stack up in terms of magnesium? A 1-ounce serving of almonds has about 80 milligrams of magnesium, according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements.
Magnesium provides many other health benefits, including better sleep, Dr. Grosberg says, adding that, "for some people, sleep loss or trouble sleeping can be a migraine trigger."
Almonds Have Other Benefits
Almonds can also help protect your heart, studies show. In one study, people who ate 50 grams of almonds every day for one month had higher levels of heart-healthy antioxidants in their blood, improved blood flow and lower blood pressure, potentially reducing their risk for heart disease. This study was published in Free Radical Research in March 2014.
What's more, a study published in June 2019 in Advances in Nutrition, which reviewed data from 15 trials, found that eating almonds led to lower body weight and decreased levels of total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as the "bad cholesterol." Having high total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, along with being overweight or obese, can lead to heart disease.
Almonds also contain vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Some evidence suggests that this B vitamin may decrease the frequency of migraine headaches, although it is too early to say for sure, according to a review of studies published in January 2016 in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Other good sources of B2 include cheese, yogurt, lean meats, eggs and leafy green vegetables, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Know Your Migraine Headache Triggers
So should you eat almonds for headache relief? Not necessarily, Dr. Grosberg says. Not everyone with migraines will have fewer headaches if they eat more almonds. For some, almonds can have the opposite effect and cause migraines. The only way to know for sure is to keep a diary of your triggers and take steps to avoid them whenever possible.
"It's also important to drink enough water, not skip meals and reduce your stress levels to lower your chances of having a migraine headache," Dr. Grosberg says. Talk to your doctor about any potential triggers and work with your doctor to develop a personalized migraine prevention plan that may include medication as well as non-medication approaches. Magnesium supplements may be a part of this plan, he adds.
Read More: 8 Surprising Things Giving You a Headache
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- Migraine Research Foundation: "Migraine Facts"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Magnesium"
- American Migraine Foundation: "Medication Overuse Headache"
- American Migraine Foundation: "Magnesium"
- American Migraine Foundation: "Migraine, Stroke and Heart Disease"
- Free Radical Research: “An Almond-Enriched Diet Increases Plasma α-Tocopherol and Improves Vascular Function But Does Not Affect Oxidative Stress Markers or Lipid Levels”
- Advances In Nutrition: "Almond Consumption and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research: "Supplementation with Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) for Migraine Prophylaxis in Adults and Children: A Review"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “What Are B-Vitamins?”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Magnesium”