Many migraine sufferers have found that both the frequency and intensity of their migraines are reduced with a low carb diet. For this reason it’s worth delving into the link between keto and migraines.
The keto diet has many amazing health benefits, including its ability to help prevent migraine headaches.
The keto diet has already proved it’s use for many neurological conditions. The best known is it’s ability to reduce or treat drug resistant epilepsy in children.
There is evidence that both epilepsy and migraine follow some of the same pathways, and there appears to be an overlap in the causes of both of these conditions.
Due to these findings, it has turned the attention of many scientists towards the use of the keto diet in the prevention and treatment of migraines.
Given that the keto diet is able to calm inflammation in the brain, it’s reasonable to consider that the consumption of a low carb diet could play a part in the management of migraines.
Migraine is a complex, common and debilitating neurological disorder and affects 17% of women and 8% of men in Europe (1)
In the US 18% of women and 8% of men are affected. Migraine is the 7th leading cause of disability in the world.
That’s a huge amount of suffering and loss of work. There is also evidence that the prevalence of migraine is increasing.
Medication for migraine very often brings little or no relief and can have numerous side effects.
Many of the millions of sufferers around the world have had to live with the condition for most of their lives, with little benefit from medication of any sort.
For this reason, there have now been several studies which have sought to discover the link between the keto diet and migraine.
Keto and migraine
There is evidence that migraines are a response to cerebral energy deficiency.
Making ketones available for metabolism instead of glucose has shown promise in the prevention of migraines.
All the cells of the brain are able to metabolize ketones for energy, and will do so in the absence of sufficient glucose. (2)
A one-month observational study of the keto diet in 96 migraine patients as part of a weight loss program found a reduction of up to 80% in migraine frequency, severity and acute medication use (3)
In this study 18 episodic migraineurs followed a keto diet. They induced a huge 62.5% reduction in their average amount of migraine days.
In this study there were mixed results ranging from a reduction to a total absence of attacks in the subjects.
The authors concluded that ketosis might offer a long-needed relatively side effect free remedy for at least a proportion of migraine sufferers.
It has been known for a long time that hypoglycemia can trigger a migraine.
The brain is a major user of glucose, and is very vulnerable when there is insufficient glucose, or when it becomes difficult to use the glucose that is available.
A recent study showed that people that suffered migraines were more likely than others to have a lower rate of glucose uptake in the cells of the brain. (4)
This agrees with the idea that migraines will occur when the brain is unable to metabolize sufficient glucose for its energy needs.
When following the keto diet, the resulting ketones are able to cross the blood/brain barrier and be used as an alternative source of fuel by the brain.
Dr. Di Lorenzo of the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation found that the low-carb diet could influence migraine episodes.
The study, published in the journal Nutrients, observed 35 subjects who were all overweight and migraine sufferers.
They were split into two groups – The first group followed the keto diet and the other ate normal, non keto meals.
Meals were prepared for the participants that had the same amount of fat and calories, but different ratios of protein and carbohydrates.
Both groups lost more or less the same amount of weight but the keto group had an extra benefit.
Nearly 75 per cent of those who had followed the ketogenic diet found that their migraines had greatly reduced.
Only nine per cent on the high-carb diet experienced the same.
Di Lorenzo concluded that the ketogenic lifestyle may prevent migraines.
Again, this appeared to be due to the brain being able to metabolize ketones for energy, instead of the more usual glycose.
The keto diet is well-known for its ability to reduce inflammation.
This leads to numerous health benefits, and is known to reduce the risk of developing several neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
This study looked at the evidence that keto diets could be used to reduce pain and inflammation.
It’s already well-known the keto diet can manage epilepsy, and excitability of neurons is involved in not just epilepsy, but also in pain.
For this reason, anti convulsant drugs can sometimes be used with a positive outcome for chronic pain.
As ketosis helps reduce epilepsy, it was suggested that the same may be true for pain.
This study had already demonstrated the usefulness of fasting for the reduction of pain.
Obviously, as the keto diet and fasting both produce ketones, this is more evidence for the usefulness of the keto diet in the management of migraine.
Although poorly understood at this time, there is evidence that an imbalance of gut microbes plays a part in the development of migraine.
The keto diet with is restriction on carbohydrates, especially simple carbs such as sugar, is known to positively affect the balance of microbes in the gut.
There is some evidence that by balancing the gut microbes, there is less risk of suffering a migraine.
For more information about the keto diet and gut microbes see this article.
Excitability in the brain has two main causes:
- CABA -The calming neurotransmitter
- Glutamate -The exciting neurotrasmitter
When there is an imbalance, excitability will occur, and this can lead to migraines. This is one of the same pathways in the development of epilepsy.
There seems to be an overlap between the two conditions, and both are often influenced by genetics.
When the body is producing ketones, there is an increase in the GABA/Glutamate balance. This leads to a general calming of the brain, and a reduction in the frequency of migraine.
Many have been surprised and pleased by an unexpected side effect of being in ketosis: a reduction in severity or frequency of their migraine attacks.
This anecdotal evidence has been around for some time, but there are now some serious scientific studies that have shown that being in ketosis can have a positive impact on the amount of migraines someone may experience.
The keto diet is well-known as a method of dealing with drug resistant epilepsy, and there appears to be an overlap in the conditions of epilepsy and migraine. They share some of the same neurological pathways.
Studies have shown that in migraine sufferers, there is a lowered ability to utilize glucose of immediate energy needs.
This low availability of glucose is associated with migraine.
Once someone following the keto diet enters ketosis, the brain is able to make up for this by switching to its second metabolic pathway which is to use ketones for energy in place of glucose.
This appears to be of benefit to the suffers of migraine.
Ketosis also stabilizes blood/glucose levels, and in doing so, minimized the times that someone may experience hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a common trigger for migraine.
Many sufferers have long noticed that they will have a migraine if they miss a meal, even if only by a few hours.
The keto diet can also have a beneficial effect on the balance of healthy gut microbes, and again, this can reduce the amount of migraines in some individuals.
Together with the evidence of calming the brain, it would seem that there is some solid science behind the idea that the keto diet is beneficial for the sufferers of migraine.
Migraine is a complicated disease, and it’s possible that there is more than one cause and possibly more than one remedy for the condition.
However, with the evidence that is already here, it would seem that on the balance of probability, it would be well worth your time to experiment with the keto diet and see if you are helped.
Migraine is both debilitating and chronic, and the keto diet could make a dramatic difference to your health and your life.
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