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Salt For Migraines: Good Or Not?

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Salt For Migraines

Salt and migraine may have a link after all. It has been seen that people who eat less salt have more migraines. But there's little evidence on whether salt can cure migraine pain except when it is triggered by dehydration. Salt may even inhibit the curative effect of serotonin in narrowing dilated blood vessels. Ayurveda claims that migraines are caused by a pitta dosha imbalance, which is made worse by salt. Don't rely on salt to cure your migraines.

We have come across anecdotes that suggest taking salt for migraines work wonders. Some even suggest dissolving the salt in lemon juice. We can right away say that lemon juice might be a bad idea if citrus fruits trigger your migraine. But is having salt for migraines effective? Let’s find out.

People With Migraine Eat Less Salt

We know that avoiding some foods can prevent migraines, but a new 2016 study finds that avoiding salt may increase migraine occurrences.

Already in 1951, a study had found that salt and water balance in the body has a role to play in migraines. More recent studies have found that during a migraine attack, the levels of sodium (salt) in the fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid or CSF) rise. Most migraines also occur in the morning or late afternoon when the sodium levels naturally peak.1 2 3

Migraine is associated with a rise in the sodium levels in the fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. But people with low sodium intake seem to suffer more from migraines.

This seems to indicate that reducing salt in your diet may keep the CSF sodium levels low and prevent migraines.

However, after checking the diets of 8,819 people from 1999 to 2004, a 2016 study found a relation between intake of dietary sodium and migraine occurrences. It found that migraineurs (migraine patients) had a low sodium intake than non-migraineurs.4 It is possible that the increase in sodium levels in the CSF is a symptom of migraine and not a cause.

This study, however, does not answer all our questions. For instance, it does not say how much sodium is required to keep migraines at bay but not raise the risk of other diseases like cardiovascular and kidney diseases. A normal healthy adult shouldn’t have more than 2,300 mg a day, that is 1 tsp salt.5

While it links a high-salt diet with fewer incidences of migraine, this study also does not answer whether salt can cure migraines.

Migraine Due To Dehydration Can Be Cured By Salt

One explanation for the relation between the lack of salt or sodium in diet and migraines is that lack of sodium can cause dehydration. Even if you are drinking enough water, low sodium levels can create an electrolyte imbalance and affect nerves. If dehydration is your migraine trigger, having salt can help bring the electrolyte balance back to normal.

Serotonin helps narrow blood vessels and reduce migraine pain. But salt may inhibit its availability.

But if your migraine is not related to dehydration, salt may not help reduce the headache. Migraine pain is associated with dilation of blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. These vessels can be narrowed by the neurotransmitter serotonin. In fact, low levels of serotonin are associated with migraine pain.6 This is why triptans, a type of drug that makes serotonin more available, are used to relieve migraine pain. Salt may, however, make serotonin less available and worsen the pain.

Ayurveda Blames Salt For Migraines

Salt disrupts the pitta dosha balance, which leads to migraine.

According to Ayurveda, migraines are caused because of an imbalance in our pitta dosha. This imbalance disrupts the flow of blood to the brain, resulting in throbbing. Imbalance in the pitta dosha causes a burning, severe, and sharp pain. These manifestations can be associated with light sensitivity and visual sensations.

Ayurveda suggests that migraines are triggered by digestive imbalances, accumulation of digestive toxins, exposure to environmental pollution, and excess stress. And too much salt is known to disrupt the pitta dosha balance.

Ayurvedic Tips To Prevent Migraine

  • To free yourself of migraines, follow a pitta-pacifying diet and lifestyle.
  • Add more sweet, bitter, and astringent foods to your diet.
  • Avoid acidic, pungent, and sour. Avoid tomatoes.
  • Avoid exposure to strong sunlight.
  • Meditate to eliminate stress.
  • Adopt lifestyle practices that will strengthen your digestion.

To sum up, salt may help reduce your migraine pain if it is caused by dehydration. While the 2016 study does link low salt intake with more migraine occurrences, don’t have too much salt either. It has other damaging and long-term side effects.

References   [ + ]

1. Campbell, Dorothy Adams, K. M. Hay, and Eva M. Tonks. “Salt and Water Balance in Migraine.” British medical journal 2, no. 4745 (1951): 1424.
2. Harrington, Michael G., Alfred N. Fonteh, Robert P. Cowan, Kathy Perrine, Janice M. Pogoda, Roger G. Biringer, and Andreas FR Hühmer. “Cerebrospinal fluid sodium increases in migraine.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 46, no. 7 (2006): 1128-1135.
3. Harrington, Michael G., Ronald M. Salomon, Janice M. Pogoda, Elena Oborina, Neil Okey, Benjamin Johnson, Dennis Schmidt, Alfred N. Fonteh, and Nathan F. Dalleska. “Cerebrospinal fluid sodium rhythms.” Cerebrospinal fluid research 7, no. 1 (2010): 3.
4. Pogoda, Janice M., Noah B. Gross, Xianghong Arakaki, Alfred N. Fonteh, Robert P. Cowan, and Michael G. Harrington. “Severe Headache or Migraine History Is Inversely Correlated With Dietary Sodium Intake: NHANES 1999–2004.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 56, no. 4 (2016): 688-698.
5. Sodium in diet. University of Maryland Medical Center.
6. Aggarwal, Milan, Veena Puri, and Sanjeev Puri. “Serotonin and CGRP in Migraine.” Annals of neurosciences 19, no. 2 (2012): 88.