Could This One Small Change in Your Diet Be the Key to Migraine Relief
Could This One Small Change in Your Diet Be the Key to Migraine Relief

By Sheramy Tsai

Millions of Americans—roughly 1 in 6—know all too well that the relentless grip of a migraine can bring life to a head-grinding halt. Dianna Teasdale, a holistic nutritionist from Michigan, is no stranger to this agony. A migraine sufferer for nearly a decade, she has been through the usual gamut of treatments—from diet adjustments to alternative therapies—but nothing eased her pain.

That was until she found a video on the therapeutic powers of salt. Skeptical, Ms. Teasdale sprinkled some into her water and—to her astonishment—her migraine retreated less than 30 minutes later, faster relief than any pharmaceutical had ever delivered.

The Controversial Debate on Salt and Migraines

Historical data has associated high salt consumption with various health issues, migraines among them. Research from the journal BMJ Open in 2014 linked high-sodium diets with elevated headache risk. A 2020 study highlighted that women strictly adhering to the low-salt DASH diet saw up to 46 percent drop in severe migraines.

Yet a growing contingent of health experts offer a divergent view. Recent research suggests that dietary shifts, notably increased salt intake, might be key to migraine treatment. These contradicting studies have ignited both debate and curiosity within medical circles and among migraine sufferers.

The Migraine Enigma

Migraines are more than just an amplified headache. This multifaceted neurological disease remains a medical enigma. According to the World Health Organization, migraines rank among the top 10 most debilitating medical conditions globally. In fact, this condition is so common that there’s even a name for people who suffer migraines: migraineurs.

Migraines, typically marked by severe head pain, often manifest in other ways, including light and sound sensitivity, nausea, brain fog, and dizziness. As migraineurs and medical professionals attest, the triggers for these episodes are as varied as the symptoms—ranging from dietary factors to fatigue and anxiety—with the root cause still largely uncertain.

The challenges, unfortunately, don’t end with the physical symptoms. Chronic migraine sufferers, who number up to 148 million globally, grapple daily with the unpredictability of their condition. This can limit social engagements, career opportunities, and everyday activities. Daily life becomes a delicate balance of avoiding potential triggers and managing unexpected flare-ups.

“I will never forget the day I pulled over on the side of the road a mile from my house, called a mom friend sobbing, asking her to pick up my kids for me. I couldn’t even explain why, but she was happy to help. I cried so hard that day realizing how much migraines were wrecking my life,” Ms. Teasdale said.

In the battle against migraines, the path to relief is paved with trials, errors, and, often, significant financial investment. Some find momentary reprieve in pharmaceutical solutions, from common pain relievers to specialized drugs and even botox injections. Others, such as Ms. Teasdale, lean into alternative treatments, exploring options from chiropractic sessions to acupuncture to essential oils. Yet, as remedies are sought and administered, the economic burden intensifies. In the United States alone, the cumulative cost of medical treatments and lost productivity surpasses $20 billion annually, according to a 2020 study in The American Journal of Managed Care.

A Saltier Perspective: Reevaluating Salt’s Role in Migraines

Although salt’s link to headaches is well-documented, a study published in Mental Health in Family Medicine suggests that there may be nuances to that connection and that the answer to treating migraines may hinge on diet.

Angela A. Stanton, a migraine and nutrition scientist, spearheaded a six-month study involving 650 migraineurs from a Facebook research group. The results were striking: Migraine frequency seemed to be heightened by diets that were high in carbohydrates and low in salt and water. Medications that block voltage-dependent calcium or sodium channels appeared to aggravate the condition.

Ms. Stanton found that by reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing salt, participants could prevent the glucose-induced electrolyte changes that often lead to migraines. Impressively, every participant who adopted these dietary changes was able to stop using migraine medications and remained free from the ailment.

The results mirrored Ms. Teasdale’s experience. After consuming salt in her water, her migraine symptoms subsided.

“I was taken aback when the pain started to dissipate. An hour later, it had completely vanished,” she told The Epoch Times. “Despite my initial skepticism given past failed remedies, this felt different. Eagerly, I awaited my next migraine to test the remedy once more—and yet again, it worked flawlessly.” Ms. Teasdale isn’t an outlier in her experience. Ms. Stanton has garnered a considerable following, with more than 15,000 members on her private Facebook page. Here, she offers a detailed protocol, drawing on her research and experiences, to help individuals combat their migraines using her specific dietary and hydration guidelines.

A notable discovery from Ms. Stanton’s research was that migraine sufferers excreted 50 percent more sodium in their urine than nonmigraineurs.

“Migraine-brain has different brain anatomy with more connections among the sensory neurons,” she said. “Their sensory neurons are more active, communicate more, and thus use more sodium.”

But why is this important? It all boils down to sodium’s role in brain activity.

“The implications of this finding mean that testing whether increased sodium helps prevent migraines by simply consuming more salt is a good idea. I found that adding salt to water—not food—helped tremendously,” Ms. Stanton said.

She further elaborated on the potential causes of this sodium excretion.

“When glucose enters the cells, sodium efflux from the cell follows,” she said. “A reduced carbohydrate diet can thus reduce sodium loss, possibly explaining the excess sodium in the urine when carbs are consumed.”

Ms. Stanton’s findings align with additional research on the topic. A 2016 study published in the journal Headache delved into a similar inquiry using data from the 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Analyzing data from 8,819 adults, researchers discovered that those with a history of severe headaches or migraines consumed less dietary sodium. The data indicate that as sodium intake rose, the likelihood of migraines dropped, underscoring a potential inverse relationship between salt consumption and migraines.

Exploring the Sodium–Blood Pressure Link

Ms. Stanton contended that while conventional wisdom warns against high salt intake, drastically cutting salt could inadvertently trigger the body’s renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, causing blood volume to drop and blood pressure to rise. Conversely, she posited that increased salt intake might boost blood volume and potentially reduce blood pressure in individuals with healthy arteries, suggesting that blanket recommendations on salt reduction could be counterproductive for many.

Ms. Stanton isn’t alone in challenging conventional thinking on salt intake. In a recent interview with The Epoch Times, James DiNicolantonio, a doctor of pharmacy and a cardiovascular research scientist, echoed similar sentiments.

“Don’t blame the salt for what the processed food diet (refined sugar) did,” he said.

Mr. DiNicolantonio emphasized that many studies demonstrate that improved insulin sensitivity, whether through a healthier diet or medications such as metformin, can nullify “salt sensitivity.” He suggested that the real culprit behind salt and water retention and subsequent high blood pressure is poor metabolic health driven by diets high in refined carbs and sugar, coupled with a lack of exercise. He also pointed out that those sensitive to salt often have deficiencies in both potassium and magnesium. Correcting these deficiencies can normalize blood pressure, even with regular salt consumption.

A Simpler Approach for Migraineurs

In a society often quick to medicate, utilizing something as simple and natural as salt to counter migraines seems revolutionary. When asked about introducing salt as a mainstream solution, Ms. Stanton was pragmatic, highlighting societal misconceptions.

“The problem with salt is that it’s seen as ‘evil,’ said to increase blood pressure, despite evidence to the contrary,” she said.

Yet the takeaway is clear. For migraine sufferers willing to try, a reduction in carbs and an increase in salt might be the path to relief.

Expanding on this, Mr. DiNicolantonio said, “While I no longer see patients, I have had many people state that their migraines are dramatically improved when they take more salt. It’s the No. 1 or No. 2 benefit that’s reported to me.”

While many experts champion the benefits of salt, particularly for migraine sufferers, there are different opinions on which kind is best. Ms. Stanton favors purified salts, such as Morton’s pickling or canning varieties, citing concerns over contaminants in evaporated sea salts and arguing that their trace minerals become negligible once consumed.

In contrast, Mr. DiNicolantonio believes that any salt can address sodium deficiency, but if magnesium or iodine shortages are also in play, specific salts might be advantageous. Other experts recommend Himalayan salt.

As Ms. Stanton candidly put it: “Just try it. Once it’s tried and it works, it must work. If they’re still interested after this, then I can explain how sodium is needed to create electricity in the brain and that migraineurs need more of it.”

For many, understanding the complex dynamics of migraines might remain elusive, but the potential solution may be at our fingertips—or on our dinner tables. Ms. Teasdale, among others, has found that sometimes, the best remedies are the simplest.

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