What to do to counteract headaches? You can follow the Mediterranean diet, ensuring a supply of extra virgin olive oil but also of foods rich in omega 3, which, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties, counteract migraines. But let's try to understand better by analyzing the results of a very recent scientific research published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology by an Italian team from the University of Rome Tor Vergata (Marchetti et al, Front Neurol, 2022).
The Mediterranean diet against headaches, the study
The research analyzed the effects of the Mediterranean diet, with some small variations, in the case of recurring headaches, especially in the morning. Scientists recruited 95 people, all with a diagnosis of recurrent migraine, with episodes even in the morning. All volunteers were asked to follow the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet, including extra virgin olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables and dried fruit in their diet, and limiting red and processed meat and sweets. However, small variations were made, attributable, in particular, to the intake of omega 3 fatty acids. The volunteers were in fact divided into two groups. The first group followed the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet with modifications such that the ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids was 4:1. The second group followed the Mediterranean diet with variations such that the ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 was 1.5:1. To better understand what we are talking about, it is sufficient to think that the Western-style diet, rich in refined foods, is based on a total imbalance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, with the former also present 15-17 times more than the latter. The greater intake of omega 3 in the volunteers was obtained by favoring foods containing them, such as oily fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Well, after 6 months those who belonged to the second group, the one characterized by an almost parity between omega 6 and omega 3, presented a significant reduction in the severity and frequency of migraine attacks, which now had a much lower impact on the volunteers' ability to lead daily life, work and have social contacts. Not only that, the diet rich in omega 3 has also made it possible to reduce the circulating pro-inflammatory substances.
In addition to this, omega 3s in high quantities have also led to a reduction in waist circumference.
Omega 6 and omega 3, food sources
The Western-style diet is rich in foods containing omega 6 fatty acids and low in foods containing omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 6s are beneficial for health but if in excess they stimulate inflammation. On the contrary, omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and, therefore, within a healthy and balanced diet, it is advisable to make sure not to introduce an excess of foods containing omega 6 to the detriment of those containing omega 3. For example, omega 6 are contained in seed oils, such as sunflower, soy, corn and peanut oils. Omega 3s are found in fish, such as sardines, herring, salmon, tuna, sea bream and sea bass, but also flax seeds, walnuts, legumes and green leafy vegetables.
Extra virgin olive oil, the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet
Extra virgin olive oil is the centerpiece of the Mediterranean diet. Much more than a condiment, this type of oil is considered a food if not a real medicine that is characterized by important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which act in the long term by protecting our health. Well, the antioxidant substances contained in extra virgin olive oil have been shown to counteract migraine attacks. Not only that, here is another very important reason to consume extra virgin olive oil. The research dates back to a few years ago and was published in the prestigious journal Nature (Beauchamp et al, Nature, 2005). Well, extra virgin olive oil contains a compound, called oleocanthal, which gives that touch of spiciness that tickles the throat but also capable of imitating the action of ibuprofen. As research indicates, 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil act as if you were taking ibuprofen at 10% of the recommended dose for pain relief in adults.
Therefore, extra virgin olive oil can help reduce headache attacks, with a mild pain-relieving but above all anti-inflammatory effect. Not only that, ibuprofen is considered an active ingredient that, if taken for long periods of time, can help prevent, or at least delay, Alzheimer's and tumors thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action, also able to counteract the formation of beta amyloid proteins. However, it is not possible to take ibuprofen for a long time due to its side effects but extra virgin olive oil is safe and, while showing an action similar to ibuprofen, it is not harmful to health. So, for these characteristics, extra virgin olive oil can help prevent dementia and cellular degeneration.