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Vitamin B1 can be found in foods such as lentils. Karisssa/Getty Images
  • Migraine headaches can be debilitating and difficult to treat.
  • Researchers are still working to discover factors that influence migraine development and the best ways to treat and prevent these headaches.
  • A​ recent study found that diets high in the B vitamin thiamine were associated with a decreased risk of migraine.

Migraine headaches can be painful and difficult to manage.

The specific symptoms and timing are different for each person affected.

Experts are still working to understand why migraine headaches happen and what preventative steps people can take.

A​ recent study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain reports that dietary intake of the B vitamin thiamine may help prevent migraine in some people.

Experts say the information gained from this research indicates a protective factor that may help improve outcomes for people who experience migraine.

Migraine is a neurologic condition that causes severe headaches that are typically localized to one area of the head.

The pain can be intense and people sometimes can experience other symptoms such as nausea or vomiting. Migraine headaches can be related to specific triggers, such as stress or hormonal changes.

Diet is one area that can affect migraine headaches. However, the specifics are something that experts are still working to understand. Specific food triggers or preventative measures can be different for each person.

Dr. Clifford Segil, DO, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, noted a few examples of this to Medical News Today:

“Dietary triggers are common for migraine. Wines, cheeses, and caffeine can trigger a migraine headache. I ask patients on their first visit with me to keep a headache journal to see if there are any medications that trigger headaches. Caffeine can both cause and help headaches, so it is hard to generalize if something like this causes or helps headaches.”

People who experience migraine may work with their doctors and other specialists to identify headache triggers.

As more data emerges about the relationship between diet and migraine headaches, clinical recommendations for treatment may continue to change.

Researchers in the new particular study examined the association between two B vitamins, thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2), and the experience of severe headaches or migraine.

Researchers looked at data from participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999-2004 in their cross-sectional study.

Researchers included more than 13,000 participants in their analysis. Of these participants, 2,745 had experienced either a severe headache or migraine within the past three months. The researchers studied the 24-hour dietary intake of thiamine and riboflavin by looking at data collected from computer-assisted interviews of the participants.

T​hey accounted for several factors, including participants’ ages, lifestyles, demographics, and comorbidities.

Researchers reported that higher amounts of thiamine in the diet were associated with lower chances of migraine. This was particularly true among female participants. However, the researchers did not find a significant decrease in risk related to riboflavin.

Dr. James Giordano, a professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, noted the following to MNT:

“This study provides important data to support that nutritional factors can be influential upon the induction of migraine headache. Of particular note is that this study demonstrated a statistically significant role of thiamine (vitamin B-1) in mitigating migraine. Thiamine has been shown to be particularly important in regulating brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin; abnormalities in serotonin function have been directly implicated in the pathophysiology of migraine.”

The study did have some limitations.

First, the data relies on self-reporting from participants, which can be inaccurate. For example, when evaluating the incidence of migraine, there is some assumption that participants who reported a severe headache likely experienced a migraine. The 24-hour recall method also has the potential for errors in data collection.

In addition, the interviews did not include questions about all intestinal diseases and researchers did not look into dietary patterns.

Researchers also did not look at the intake of dietary supplements, which could have impacted the intake of thiamine and riboflavin.

Finally, there is the risk of errors based on the analysis techniques used and this type of study cannot prove that lack of thiamine causes migraine.

Overall, the study notes the impact thiamine may have on migraine headaches. It could open the door to further research in this area and later guide specific clinical recommendations.

Giordano noted the following:

“Taken together, it may be that thiamine could provide a useful dietary supplement for migraine-suffering individuals who may be mild to moderately magnesium deficient or who have metabolic disturbances of calcium and magnesium metabolism.

H​e also noted the following areas for continued research:

“While research is most certainly interesting and important, additional studies should be conducted to determine more specific roles for thiamine, as well as other vitamin co-factors that may be clinically useful in preventing or lessening migraine.”