Home » 7 Ways a Ketogenic Diet Helps Squash Migraines
Ketones happen as a result of the body burning fat for energy versus glucose. A ketogenic diet refers to one that is low in carbohydrates, which will allow the body to break down fats faster in order to metabolize ketones.
Foods or ingredients that allow the body to make ketones are medium-chain triglycerides, including:
- MCT oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Coconut oil
The important factor about ketones is that they help rid you of migraines, which affect approximately 14% of the world’s population, or 1.04 billion people. In the United States alone, migraine causes an estimated $36 billion annually in lost productivity, including 113 million lost work days. Here are the top seven ways ketones squash migraines:
#1: Decreased Migraine Frequency
In recent studies, scientists have found that the ketogenic diet significantly reduced the frequency of migraines in 90% of patients. This completely dwarfs the effects of migraine drugs. In this study, for instance, Di Lorenzo and colleagues described the case of a pair of twins who obtained a transient improvement of their migraine during a ketogenic diet that was cyclically repeated as part of a weight loss dietary program. A previous report described a patient with MOH in whom a weight-loss ketogenic diet surprisingly led to disappearance of the headache. However, the real efficacy of ketogenesis on migraine frequency is still under scrutiny.
#2: Glutamate Inhibition
Glutamate is found in both epilepsy and migraine patients. Medications that work in epilepsy (anti-seizure drugs) also block glutamate production. These drugs have been used to treat migraines as well. Since about 500 BC, ketones have worked to help prevent seizures, but the ketogenic diet has only been popular for the last century. One mechanism of the anti-epileptic effect of the ketogenic diet is to alter brain handling of glutamate. According to this formulation, in ketotic brain astrocyte metabolism is more active, resulting in enhanced conversion of glutamate to glutamine. This allows for:
(a) more efficient removal of glutamate, the most important excitatory neurotransmitter; and
(b) more efficient conversion of glutamine to GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter.
The ketogenic diet is a valuable therapeutic approach for epilepsy, one in which most clinical experience has been with children. Although the mechanism by which the diet protects against seizures is unknown, there is evidence that it causes effects on intermediary metabolism that influence the dynamics of the major inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter systems in brain. The pattern of protection of the ketogenic diet in animal models of seizures is distinct from that of other anticonvulsants, suggesting that it has a unique mechanism of action. During consumption of the ketogenic diet, marked alterations in brain energy metabolism occur, with ketone bodies partly replacing glucose as fuel. Whether these metabolic changes contribute to acute seizure protection is unclear; however, the ketone body acetone has anticonvulsant activity and could play a role in the seizure protection afforded by the diet. In addition to acute seizure protection, the ketogenic diet provides protection against the development of spontaneous recurrent seizures in models of chronic epilepsy, and it has neuroprotective properties in diverse models of neurodegenerative disease.
#3: Processed Food
I have said many times that processed foods are bad for you, especially if you suffer with migraine. “Food-like products” are filled with preservatives, chemicals, and other triggers that could be affecting your migraine symptoms. Any diet that removes those processed foods, including the ketogenic diet, would be a good step to controlling migraine symptoms.
#4: Saturated Fats
Several studies have debunked the great saturated fat myth. There are plenty of saturated fats (and other healthy fats) in a ketogenic diet, which has been found to reduce bad cholesterol and help the body produce serotonin and vitamin D, both of which help prevent migraines. According to this study, migraine headaches are a common, debilitating syndrome that causes untold suffering and loss of productivity. A review of the literature indicates that high levels of blood lipids and high levels of free fatty acids are among the important factors involved in triggering migraine headaches. Under these conditions, platelet aggregability, which is associated with decreased serotonin and heightened prostaglandin levels, is increased. This leads to vasodilation, the immediate precursor of migraine headache. A high-fat diet is one factor that may directly affect this process
#5: Hunger vs. Weight Management
Hunger is a major migraine trigger, so is weight gain/obesity. Some studies have found that weight gain and/or obesity increases the risk of migraines by 81%. Ketones help reduce hunger, while controlling insulin problems, promoting weight loss, and regulating glucose levels in the blood. Weight loss and sugar control are well-known benefits to adding MCT or coconut oil to your diet. Now, as you can see, they will help control migraines by helping you feel nutritionally satisfied, more energetic, improve cognitive functioning, and lose fat.
#6: Oxidative Stress
A recent study found that oxidative stress is tied to migraine triggers. Previous research has suggested that individuals who experience migraines have higher levels of oxidative stress. Indeed, migraine triggers — including stress, sleep disruption, noise, air pollution, and diet–can increase brain oxidative stress, an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects. Oxidative stress is a useful signal of impending harm because a number of unfavorable conditions in the brain can give rise to it. It seems likely that migraine attacks are not simply triggered by oxidative stress, they actively protect and repair the brain from it. Therefore, targeting oxidative stress might help prevent or preempt migraines. In response to these findings, a new migraine medication has come out which blocks the peptide released during oxidative stress. This drug also prevents glutamate release, another migraine trigger. You don’t need to depend on medication, however. A ketogenic diet will do both for you, which indicates that ketones can not only treat migraine symptoms, but also determine the root cause.
#7: MCT Oil
Research has found that Alzheimer’s patients respond favorably to MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil, especially with regard to memory recall. Like Alzheimer’s, migraine patients have white-matter brain lesions on their scans. Research in both diseases has found that ketones may help increase metabolism in the brain, even when oxidative stress and glucose intolerance is present.
Our minds and bodies need glucose and/or ketones to function and survive. We store about 24 hours’ worth of sugar in our bodies, but we’d all die of hypoglycemia if not for the ketones. Metabolizing ketones from fat leaves our body in a healthy state of ketosis.
Migraines indicate that the brain is not metabolizing glucose into energy properly, so the logical response would be to add ketones. In addition to migraine pain symptoms, the ketogenic diet can help reduce:
- Brain fog
- Oxidative stress
- Brain lesions
A ketogenic diet can also help:
- Block glutamate (a major trigger)
- Eliminate processed foods (a major trigger)
- Add more saturated and healthy fats to your diet
- Control your weight
- Reduce oxidative stress
- Improve cognitive functioning