Insulin Resistance and Migraine Headaches

Give your brain a break by eating smarter.

More common than most other neurological disorders, migraine headaches affect roughly 18% of adults in the US.

A study of middle-aged women found that insulin resistance was associated with a two-fold greater likelihood of regularly experiencing a migraine [1]. A separate study in men and women found that insulin levels were significantly higher in people that experience migraines compared with non-migraine controls [2].

Despite its association with insulin resistance, very few researchers have sought to determine whether carbohydrate restriction is effective in the treatment of migraine headaches and the limited evidence that supports the role of ketogenic diets in migraine therapy is almost an afterthought. For example, one study reports that two sisters, who, in an effort to lose weight, adopted a carbohydrate-restricted, high-fat diet [3]. However, both sisters reported often suffering from severe migraines (5-7 per month, over 72 hours, often accompanied with vomiting) and, with adherence to the diet, the migraines resolved. However, the migraines returned when the diet was stopped.

Importantly, this diet-migraine connection occurred independently of weight loss, which by itself is known to help reduce migraine severity [4]. Furthermore, an interesting case study reported the experience of the wife of a physician who’d experienced migraines since childhood. For reasons unrelated to her headaches, she began a high-fat, carbohydrate-controlled diet and noticed almost immediate resolution of her migraines [5].

Does this seem like new information? It must be. That’s why you’ve never heard it, right? Remarkably, there are published reports from 1928 [6] and another larger report from 1930 [7] of improvements in migraines headaches with carb-restricted, high-fat diets.

Regardless of your strict adherence to a low-car, high-fat diet, there still may be validity in scrutinizing carbohydrate consumption. People with insulin resistance who experience migraine headaches (remember—you may not know you’re insulin resistant) have a 75% improvement in migraine frequency and severity simply by restricting sugar in their diet [8].

Citations:

1.         Fava A, Pirritano D, Consoli D, Plastino M, Casalinuovo F, Cristofaro S, Colica C, Ermio C, De Bartolo M, Opipari C, et al: Chronic migraine in women is associated with insulin resistance: a cross-sectional study. European journal of neurology : the official journal of the European Federation of Neurological Societies 2014, 21:267-272.

2.         Cavestro C, Rosatello A, Micca G, Ravotto M, Marino MP, Asteggiano G, Beghi E: Insulin metabolism is altered in migraineurs: a new pathogenic mechanism for migraine? Headache 2007, 47:1436-1442.

3.         Di Lorenzo C, Curra A, Sirianni G, Coppola G, Bracaglia M, Cardillo A, De Nardis L, Pierelli F: Diet transiently improves migraine in two twin sisters: possible role of ketogenesis? Funct Neurol 2013, 28:305-308.

4.         Bond DS, O'Leary KC, Thomas JG, Lipton RB, Papandonatos GD, Roth J, Rathier L, Daniello R, Wing RR: Can weight loss improve migraine headaches in obese women? Rationale and design of the Women's Health and Migraine (WHAM) randomized controlled trial. Contemp Clin Trials 2013, 35:133-144.

5.         Strahlman RS: Can ketosis help migraine sufferers? A case report. Headache 2006, 46:182.

6.         Schnabel TG: An Experience with a Ketogenic Dietary in Migraine. Annals of internal medicine 1928, 2:341-347.

7.         Barborka CJ: Migraine: Results of Treatments by Ketogenic Diet in Fifty Cases. Journal of the American Medical Association 1930, 95:1825-1828.

8.         Dexter JD, Roberts J, Byer JA: The five hour glucose tolerance test and effect of low sucrose diet in migraine. Headache 1978, 18:91-94.


About The Author - Dr. Benjamin Bikman is among the world’s foremost scientists on metabolic health and insulin resistance. He has a PhD in Bioenergetics and a postdoctoral fellowship with the Duke-National University of Singapore in metabolic disorders. He currently explores the contrasting roles of insulin and ketones as key drivers of metabolic function. Ben frequently publishes his research in peer-reviewed journals, presents at science meetings, and is internationally recognized as a leading scientist based on his expertise in insulin resistance and metabolic disorders.


The information on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.