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Most of us are familiar with the benefits of eating fish fats for heart health. However, what might not be as well publicized is that fatty fish can also help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. According to a new study, fatty fish in hand with vegetable-based fats and oils can reduce migraine intensity and frequency. (1)

Fish and Migraines Study

The study was conducted by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), parts of the National Institutes of Health; and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill included 182 adults who suffer from frequent migraines. The research was the next step in previous studies that looked at the impact of the polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid and its effects on chronic pain. The acid occurs naturally in corn, soybean, and some nuts and seeds. They concluded that diets lower in linoleic acid and higher in levels of omega-3 fatty acids could help alleviate pain. (1)

What Is Migraine?

Migraine is a neurological disease causing severe ongoing headaches. It is ranked as one of the most common causes of chronic pain, leading to time off work and negatively impacting migraine sufferers’ quality of life. With over 4 million people in the world suffering from chronic migraine, studies surrounding migraine relief are very important. (1)

Fish and Migraines Participants

Participants averaged 16 headaches each month that lasted five hours and had a severe impact on their lives. They also suffered despite using various headache medications. During the study, participants were fed one of three healthy diet plans: (1)

  1. High levels of fatty fish or oils from fatty fish and lowered linoleic acid
  2. High levels of fatty fish and higher linoleic acid
  3. High linoleic acid and lower levels of fatty fish more common in the average U.S. diet

Researchers monitored migraine frequency, duration, and intensity, and how participants functioned at work, school, and in social situations. They also noted when pain medication was required. (1)

Fish and Migraines Findings

When comparing results, diets with less vegetable oil and more fatty fish reduced “headache hours” per day, “severe headache” hours per day, and “overall headaches” per month by 30% to 40% compared to the control group. These participants’ blood also showed lower levels of pain-related lipids. However, they also reported minor improvements in migraine-related overall quality of life. “This research found intriguing evidence that dietary changes have the potential for improving a very debilitating chronic pain condition like migraine without the related downsides of often prescribed medications,” says Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., scientific director of NIA. (1)

Fish and Migraines

Changes in diet could offer some relief for the millions of Americans who suffer from migraine pain,” says Chris Ramsden, a clinical investigator in the NIA and NIAAA intramural research programs, and UNC adjunct faculty member. “It’s further evidence that the foods we eat can influence pain pathways.” The research shows that increasing omega-3 fats and reducing linoleic acid sources is more promising than fish-oil-based supplements to reduce pain and the need for pain medications. (1)

Read Dr. Nandi’s Superfoods Cookbook for more information on how to incorporate healthy foods into your diet. 


  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/06/210630213035.htm 

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