Blood sugar and migraine by Dr Jane Horti

It is known that the most important dietary trigger for migraine is lack of food. It is thought a relative fall in blood sugar (or glucose) is the culprit. One of the most beneficial lifestyle changes we migraineurs can make is to ensure we follow a way of eating that maintains blood sugar levels and avoids sudden dips. So how is this possible? All foods that we eat get absorbed into the blood stream and cause our blood sugar to rise. Refined (or processed) foods cause a sudden rise in sugar levels and then a quick fall. These foods include white bread, sugary biscuits and white pasta. Unrefined (or natural) foods take much longer for the body to break them down into sugar and so cause a slow rise in sugar levels. These foods are also called low glycaemic index foods and include brown rice, oat cakes and fruit. Another factor is that meals that include protein mixed with carbohydrates tend to maintain sugar levels more evenly.

So how can we apply this practically? I advise my patients to always eat their breakfast within an hour of getting up, not after a long commute, the school run or a visit to the gym. Having a mixture of protein and a good carbohydrate is the ideal, for example muesli with nuts and yoghurt, or protein (baked beans, eggs or peanut butter) on wholemeal toast. A small snack mid morning will maintain your sugar levels and a piece of fruit fits the bill. Try to have lunch on time, a late lunch may mean a migraine later on in the day. A bowl of vegetable soup or a jacket potato with tuna and salad are good examples. For many of us the gap between lunch and our evening meal is long, bridge this gap with a snack of a handful of unsalted nuts, some dried fruit or hummus with vegetables.

Choose your carbohydrates wisely in the evening, opt for wholemeal pasta, lentils or brown rice. I also advise that you have a small snack just before bedtime. Remember overnight is the longest you go without eating and the reason why many migraines start early morning. An ideal snack would be a yoghurt or small bowl of an oat based cereal.

Maintaining blood sugar levels is particularly important for children and teenagers. Their busy school and social schedules often result in skipped meals, inadequate food intake and a reliance on fast foods which can trigger a migraine. Encourage frequent snacking (good quality cereal bars and dried fruit are perfect since it does not matter if they get squashed in the depths of the school bag!) , this is particularly important before and after games and PE.

The good news is that sticking to this type of eating has other benefits, it maintains your energy levels, combats fatigue and might even help you shed a few pounds. There is also evidence that a low glycaemic index diet will reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. So follow the well know sayings; eat little and often and eat naturally and you won’t be going too far wrong!

9 Replies

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  • a very good article!!

  • Great article. I have a friend who reacts really badly to sugar and also hormones... and came to The National Migraine Clinic years ago... she is fully intending to come back. M x

  • Brilliant, thank you. I never leave the house without snacks and a bottle of water. Rather embarrassingly, I had migraines for several years before I learnt about the importance of blood sugar levels from wonderful Doctors at the National Migraine Centre, so thank you!

  • Thank you, that is extremely helpful. As a coeliac I have to be very organised with my food and try to make sure I have safe food with me at all times. I have often been caught out in the past and ended up very hungry and with a migraine. I can recommend a company called Graze who deliver boxes of healthy, balanced foods to work places as well as home. My husband and I get one each per week and use the snacks to keep us going at busy times. There is an excellent range of foods. We stay within the dried fruit/nuts and seeds range but they do very nice chocolate and dip/cracker based snacks. It is worth checking it out. Often my graze box has been a life saver.

  • I have a slightly different challenge to this. I have long known that I feel lousy when I don't eat regularly. However on my milder migraine days the slightly nauseous, spacy feeling I get is very similar to how I feel if I haven't eaten enough - so if I'm not very aware I will feel the need to snack continuously even though that isn't the problem. It's actually better for me to get out into the fresh air for a walk if I can.

  • I have change my diet I dont eat chocolate, sweets, cheese or drink wine. I now eat fresh friut and veg ,brown bread. I eat regular which I did not before by cutting up fruit ready to eat in fridge has helped alot and walking at least 20 minute a day .I have lost a stone and a half one dress size down and my hemipligic migraines are less often . so changing your life style can make a difference I still getting bad days but not so often and I am coping better .

  • Thank you for your remarks on how nutrition can affect migraines: your post is the most useful I have seen and I shall follow it through.

  • I eat like this and know it helps! I have become a bit obsessed with for instance making sure I have at least one egg every

    Morning! However I still get my regular fortnightly migraines associated with hormone imbalance so it's not a panacea for me. I also take supplements such as a high grade omega 3 fish oil and magnesium It's an ongoing battle that we all pray will be resolved one day !!

  • Good article, this works for me.

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