A man had severe, daylong migraines for 12 years, and nothing worked. His doctors say they vanished after they prescribed eating leafy greens and cutting out red meat.

·3 min read
A salmon with kale dish on a blue plate.
A case study described a man whose migraines vanished after doctors prescribed a diet high in leafy greens.The Washington Post / Contributor
  • A case study described a man who'd been plagued by migraines for years.

  • The 60-year-old stopped having the debilitating headaches after swapping his diet, it said.

  • He was then migraine-free for seven years, the paper said. Doctors have a theory about why.

A 60-year-old man who suffered severe migraines for 12 years stopped experiencing them within three months of switching to a diet rich in leafy greens, a case study published on Thursday in BMJ Case Reports said.

The man was then migraine-free for over seven years, the case study said.

The authors suggested that the man exhibited "the longest successful treatment of chronic migraine attained with only dietary intervention."

It's impossible to conclude based on one case study that a change in diet could cure chronic migraines. The authors acknowledged that other factors could have influenced the man's symptoms.

People sometimes track "trigger" foods to try to minimize headache intensity. But there is no conclusive link between migraines and particular foods, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.

The man, whom the case study did not name, had more frequent migraines in the six months leading up to a clinic visit, the case study said. He reported having six to eight migraines a month.

In a short testimonial included in the case study, he said the migraines were "debilitating," with some lasting up to 72 hours.

The migraines would get so bad that he "could end up in bed in the fetal position," he said. The migraines and the days he would spend in recovery made his job as a photographer "almost impossible," he said.

Then the migraines stopped. "I am no longer a prisoner in my own body," he said. "I have my life back."

He'd been advised to follow these recommendations:

  • Eat at least 5 ounces of raw or cooked dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and watercress every day.

  • Drink one 32-ounce green smoothie daily.

  • Limit intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils, and animal protein, particularly dairy and red meat.

Though the researchers couldn't control whether he followed the diet to the letter, the man kept a food diary.

After making the switch, he even stopped taking his migraine medication, the case study said.

The man had tried other medications and lifestyle interventions, including eliminating chocolate, cheese, nuts, caffeine, and dried fruit, which he had identified as potential triggers, the study said.

None of these interventions had worked, it said.

While studies have indicated that migraines are strongly linked with genetics, lifestyle, diet, and environmental cues can play a large part in how often a person gets a migraine, according to the American Migraine Foundation. But the foundation advises caution when trying extremely strict diets that could lead to nutrient deficiencies.

The authors of the case study described a theory for what might have caused the change. Leafy greens are rich in beta-carotene and other nutrients that can have anti-inflammatory properties. Though the man already ate a balanced diet, his serum level of beta-carotene increased after he started the new diet, they said.

It is unclear whether their theory is correct. Other factors could be involved; for instance, the man is HIV-positive, and HIV has been linked to a heightened risk of migraines, the authors said. The man's allergies also improved after he changed his diet, which could be related, they said.

David Dunaief, an author of the case study and an expert in nutritional medicine and lifestyle interventions, said "several" other people, whose names the study did not disclose, saw their migraines become less frequent within three months of changing their diet.

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