Fiber for Migraine Prevention
This article discusses why natural fiber helps prevent migraines and how certain types of fiber can be a problem for migraine sufferers. It also offers solutions.
Six Reasons Why Fiber Helps Prevent Migraines
1. Higher Fiber and Low Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is the largest migraine trigger (full article).
2. Fiber is Needed for Gut Health
You’ve probably heard of probiotics, which are the “good bacteria” that are required for weight control and basic gut function (study). Prebiotics feed probiotics or that “good bacteria” in the gut (study). They keep your gut healthy.
New research from the University of Michigan found that mice bred with human gut flora suffered gut damage and infections after fed a diet that was missing natural fiber. According to one of the researchers, when you don’t feed your gut bacteria, “they can eat you.” Even after just a few days on a diet without fiber, the gut bacteria began to eat at the gut lining (study 1, 2).
Fun fact: The average adult has 40 trillion bacterial cells and 30 trillion human cells (study).
A healthy gut prevents migraines by producing hormones and detoxifying migraine triggers, while gut damage is associated with migraines (full article).
Get some fiber to prevent gut damage and migraines.
3. Fiber Prevents Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Dietary fiber has been a leading treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) since the 1970s (study). A survey of 100 doctors found that the majority of general practitioners believe that fiber deficiency is the main cause of IBS symptoms (study).
More than half of migraineurs have IBS and avoiding IBS can reduce the risk of migraines (full article).
Natural fiber is necessary for gut health, but supplements and certain types of fiber may not help IBS sufferers. More on this later.
4. Fiber Reduces Hunger and Blood Sugar Spikes
Fiber also increases satiety, which is the reduction of hunger (study).
Hunger and low blood sugar levels are common migraine triggers.
5. Fiber Prevents Obesity
Diets with large portions of fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber are associated with reduced rates of obesity (study).
Obesity significantly increases the risk of migraine (full article, #29).
6. Fiber from Whole Food Reduces Migraine Risk Factors
Epidemiological studies show that dietary fiber from real food lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and gastrointestinal problems (article).
A large study conducted in 2011 found that patients who lost weight reported a 20 percent increase in dietary fiber. However, “dietary fiber intake significantly increased most likely secondary to increases in fruit and vegetables” (study).
Increased fiber from other sources had no effect. The study concluded that dietary fiber itself was not associated with weight loss when independent of fruits and vegetables.
Research from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) also states that fiber should be consumed from natural plant foods because fiber supplementation has not been proven effective (study).
It is fiber in its whole-food form that shows health benefits, not supplements or processed foods with added fiber.
Four Reasons Why Fiber Can Trigger Migraines
1. Fiber Supplements May Have the Opposite Effect of Natural Fiber
It’s clear that people who eat more fibrous foods are more likely to be healthy, but the supplement form of fiber lacks evidence. For example, a review of 25 studies found that most fiber supplements did not have convincing evidence for weight loss and none could be recommended for over-the-counter use (study 1, 2).
A 2013 review of 44 fiber trials found that most fiber supplements did not reduce hunger or food intake. The fiber type and dose did not make a difference (study).
The recent University of Michigan study that found that gut lining deteriorates with a lack of fiber also found similar results from a prebiotic fiber found in many processed foods and supplements. The fiber supplement resulted in the same erosion of the gut lining that was observed from a lack of fiber (study 1, 2).
The lead researcher summed up the study by stating: “While this work was in mice, the take-home message from this work for humans amplifies everything that doctors and nutritionists have been telling us for decades: Eat a lot of fiber from diverse natural sources.”
2. Fiber for IBS and Migraine is Controversial
If you have migraines, it’s likely that it is affecting your gut. Diets for IBS are often useful for migraine. The two conditions also share many of the same food triggers (full article).
Ten studies on fiber supplements show that “there is no evidence that bulking agents (fiber) are effective at treating IBS” (study).
Even some natural sources of fiber can be a double-edged sword. Read on.
3. Beans, Fiber, Gas, Bloating, Migraines, and IBS
Oligosaccharides are the best-known prebiotics (study). Oligosaccharides are considered dietary fibers that feed your good gut bacteria (study). Technically, they are the carbohydrates found within fiber.
Oligosaccharides are also the reason why beans give you gas. They are similar to many other types of fiber and are the catch-22 of fiber and gut health. While they feed your good gut bacteria, they may also come with gas and abdominal symptoms.
The gut naturally ferments fiber during digestion and this process creates gas. This distension is a problem for many migraineurs and is one reason why beans are in the “dangerous in excess” category of my diet (Free Food Map).
The low FODMAP diet is the most successful IBS diet found in research (study). Up to 86 percent of patients find relief by eliminating oligosaccharides as well as other migraine triggers such as wheat and milk products.
An evaluation of 12 studies on fiber supplements and IBS found that fiber does improve constipation in IBS (study). However, none of the studies demonstrated improvement in abdominal pain. Up to 50 percent of patients had a significant increase in gas, bloating, and abdominal distention.
“Patients need to be told that fiber products [supplements] will not solve their abdominal pain and may worsen symptoms of gas and bloating,” warned the authors of the study. Natural fiber is healthy and necessary for gut health, but we can’t expect fiber to fix IBS on its own.
Fiber supplements should be avoided. Natural sources of fiber may also need to be reduced in some IBS sufferers until gas and tension is no longer a problem.
4. Processed Food with Fiber is Not the Real Thing
The food industry invests a lot of money in promoting fiber. We all know that fiber is good for us because of industry-sponsored studies, education, and a whole lot of marketing.
However, the “fiber” listed on the side of that cereal box or found in any other processed food was probably added as a supplement. And fiber supplements don’t have research to back up their health claims. They may even be harmful.
The food industry is very misleading. For example, whole wheat bread marketed as “rich in fiber” seems healthy. But we know that the fiber was probably added in as a supplement and fiber supplements are not proven to be effective.
Furthermore, processed food only needs to contain 51 percent whole wheat to meet the FDA requirement for a whole-wheat food. The rest is likely more sugar, bleached flour, and food additives (Harvard article).
Avoid fiber supplements and processed foods with fiber.
Should I Eat Natural Foods with Fiber?
If possible, yes. Vegetables have fiber and are essential to health and migraine prevention (Diet).
Here are a few healthy and high fiber foods: avocados, nuts, beans, artichokes, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, greens, cabbage, celery, and eggplant. Some of the highest fiber foods are perfect for preventing migraines (full article).
What Should I Do If High-Fiber Foods are Causing Problems?
Fibrous foods are not the underlying problem. Fibrous foods just create gas and can irritate gut inflammation that already exists. The long-term goal should be to eliminate the foods and triggers that are causing the inflammation.
My diet was developed to eliminate the major triggers of IBS and migraines. It also discusses how to eliminate suspect foods (diet). You could also try the low-FODMAP diet that was designed specifically for IBS.
In the meantime, you can do several things to reduce the discomfort of fibrous foods:
Temporarily reduce or eliminate some of the highest fiber foods (C. Kresser).
Learn more about the different types of fiber, such as soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, and viscous fiber (Authority Nutrition).
Cook your vegetables to break down some of the fiber for easier digestion. Soups are a great option to keep all of those migraine-fighting nutrients.
Eat smaller portions of high-fiber foods and eat slower. Give your body time to break down fiber. Drink water before eating to improve digestion.
Peppermint tea or oil can greatly reduce IBS and migraine symptoms (full article).
Try giving your stomach a break in the morning with gut-healing bone broth (full article).
Stress is a major contributor to migraines and IBS (article).
Sum it Up
Fiber from natural sources such as vegetables helps to prevent migraine triggers such as oxidative stress, IBS, obesity, and low-blood sugar.
Fiber supplements do not have the scientific evidence to back them up and may even be harmful.
Fiber is healthy, but it naturally produces gas during digestion. This can irritate the gut of those who already have gut inflammation.
If fiber is causing distension, there are several ways to reduce this problem, such as eating smaller portions, temporarily limiting fibrous foods, cooking vegetables, making soup, consuming peppermint, and more.
The goal is to find and eliminate migraine triggers, so that you can continue to eat fibrous foods.
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