People who are prone to migraine headaches and people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a number of characteristics in common, including an enhanced sensitivity to pain. Clinical observations have long acknowledged an association between migraine headaches and functional digestive disorders, and many epidemiological studies have confirmed this link.
A migraine headache is a vascular headache that can cause severe throbbing pain, usually on just one side of the head. It's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. It can cause severe pain around the eye or temple area, face, sinuses, jaw, or neck, along with other symptoms. For many migraine sufferers, the pain that accompanies these headaches can be debilitating.
A study published in BMC Gastroenterology reported that people with IBS were 40 to 80 percent more likely to also have migraines, fibromyalgia, and/or depression than people without IBS. A study published in the Polish Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgery found that 23 to 53 percent of people with IBS experience frequent headaches, and that 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from both migraine headaches and IBS. Another study released by the American Academy of Neurology explores a possible genetic link between migraine headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.
For some people, the symptoms of IBS and migraine headaches may strike simultaneously. For example, during a migraine attack, a person may experience associated gastrointestinal disturbances, including nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Some migraine sufferers report IBS symptoms between headache attacks as well. So if you suffer from both migraine headaches and IBS, take heart in knowing that you're not alone.
As with IBS, research has demonstrated a link between migraines and certain foods. A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that a low-fat vegan diet can help reduce migraine pain. Neal Barnard, M.D., founding president of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, was one of the coauthors of this study. He created the Migraine Diet to help pinpoint common migraine food triggers in susceptible individuals.
Because of the close connection between IBS and migraine headaches, it follows that the Migraine Diet might also be of benefit to people with IBS. As with the low-FODMAP diet, the objective is to eliminate common food-related triggers and then gradually reintroduce those foods to determine how well they are tolerated.
On the Migraine Diet, the following foods are considered to be "pain-safe" and therefore should never contribute to headaches or other painful conditions:
Common Migraine Trigger Foods
Common migraine triggers include certain beverages, especially red wine and caffeinated drinks (such as coffee, tea, and colas); additives and flavor enhancers, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG); artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame (NutraSweet); and nitrites.
According to the Migraine Diet, the following are the most common plant-based food triggers. Note that dairy products, eggs, and meat are top triggers as well, but I didn't include them in this list because vegans already avoid these foods by default:
To give the Migraine Diet for Vegans with IBS a try, eat an abundance of foods from the pain-safe list and avoid the common trigger foods completely for two weeks. Vegan foods that aren't included on either list may be consumed freely.
If your headaches and IBS pain are diminished or less frequent over the two-week trial period, the next step is to gradually reintroduce the foods you've eliminated so you can isolate the ones that are problematic for you. To do that, add back one food at a time every two days and observe whether your symptoms recur.
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