Omega 3 and Migraine

I’ve been reviewing some information about omega 3 and migraine, hoping to give you a little more information about taking an omega-3 supplement for prevention of migraine.  My initial conclusion is that the research on this one is still in its infancy.

Studies on omega 3 and migraine have generally been infrequent and small, and they leave us with a lot of questions.

Take for example the 2001 study, done in France.  196 patients took 6g per day for 16 weeks.  Though the migraine attacks themselves didn’t change a lot, frequency did, with 7.05 attacks in the placebo group and 5.95 attacks in the omega-3 group.  That meant a 55% reduction in attacks – but wait!  The placebo group also had a 45% reduction in attacks.

Take as another example this study from the USA of 27 adolescents.  This one compared fish oil with olive oil (which is, by the way, also high in omega-3 fatty acid, but a different kind).

Fish oil Olive Oil
74% had shorter attacks 70% had shorter attacks
83% had less intense attacks 65% had less intense attacks
87% had fewer attacks 78% had fewer attacks

It would seem that there is a strong placebo effect again – but remember, olive oil also has omega-3.  Still, there was a significant difference between the fish oil and olive oil.

Why do these studies leave us with a lot of questions?  For one thing, I would like to see improvement over time – a longer period of time.  Unlike a drug that you take once and see your pain go down, omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to give improvement over time.

Also, we could go a long way trying different types of omega-3 supplements, and trying different dosages.  Or, just eating more foods high in omega-3, such as certain types of fish, and flax oil.

Why Omega-3 is a good idea

Salmon - a great source of Omega 3

There is still a lot of controversy over omega-3.  Part of this is because the research is so new – it’s the "new super-food" and everyone is rushing to prove it or disprove it.

So for a while yet you can expect to see regular studies proving that omega-3 is great, or not so great.

But the general consensus seems to be that omega 3 is a good thing.  And even though the omega 3 and migraine field is still largely unexplored, I suggest you talk to your doctor about an omega 3 supplement, or, better yet, try to get more omega 3 in your diet.  Why?

  • Taken in moderation, there are rarely downsides
  • There is evidence in omega 3 and migraine studies that there is a benefit
  • There are other likely benefits of interest to migraineurs.  Migraine often comes along with heart disease and depression, for example.  Some omega-3s have strong anti-inflammatory properties.  Omega 3 seems to be great for your heart health and also for mood disorders.

So go ahead – add some more fatty fish to your diet (such as salmon), flaxseed oil and olive oil.  If you want to try a supplement, fish oil seems to be best, with about 1-3 grams of DHA and EPA combined.  Often 1g is recommended, but always talk to your doctor about taking a new supplement.  One good brand is Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, which uses fish oil and carefully filters out impurities.

Remember, don’t expect instant results.  But taking fish oil for several months has helped many people, and seems to have health benefits beyond just cutting back on migraine attacks.

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16 comments… add one
  • John Robinson May 7, 2009

    This is a an useful post. Most people affected with migraine think that there is no solution to it. But if omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil has a positive effect on migraine, then that is food for thought. Migraine is affecting many people worldwide, mainly due to the stress and indiscipline in our lives. It will be a great relief if omega-3 can somewhat cure migraine. Fish oil is also very advantageous in treating arthritis and gout. Depression also can be controlled and doctors are now advising pregnant women to take omega-3 as it will help the unborn child.

  • James May 11, 2009

    I agree with you, in spite of the shameless plug of your site. 😉 Fish oil is one of the most widely recommended supplements out there, even by people that don’t generally recommend any supplements. It seems to have a wide variety of benefits over the long term.

  • Gyan May 11, 2009

    I HATE fish oil. It’s gross no matter how you take it. Instead, I get as much Omega-3 by using flax seeds (not the oil as it goes rancid too soon and you get the benefit of the whole flax not just the oil). I grind the seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle them in my morning smoothie. There’s just no reason to be belching fish oil all night long.

    • Linda Sep 1, 2012

      About time!!! I read a book about the miraculous benefits of Omega 3 in 1988! I quickly learned that two of the many benefits ( doctors don’t seem to know) is that taking Omega 3 daily PREVENTS Migraines.

      Get Krill Oil, or research Green Lipped Mussels. Stronger than fish oil, but ABSOLUTELY NO AFTERTASTE OR FISHY BELCHES!!! I promise!!!

      I also took the challenge about skin problems. For a year, I had been treating my son’s ugly excema patches on his hands and arms with Cortezone cream prescription. USELESS!!! In just two weeks on Omega 3, they completely disappeared!!!

      And they are gone to this day!!!

      I haven’t jag a Migraine for years!!!!

  • Gyan May 11, 2009

    Oh, and, P.S. migraine is NOT “mainly due to the stress and indiscipline in our lives” these are merely triggers than bring on migraine. There are more important causal factors to consider, like genetics, for example. So, to suggest that I get migraines because I’m “indisciplined” (actually, it’s ” undisciplined”) is both ignorant and insulting.

  • James May 21, 2009

    Thanks for your comments, Gyan. Taking the fish oil in the morning with food may make things easier. We do know that flax is also beneficial, but we still don’t know if it’s as good as the fish oil. Still, I personally like having flax oil in my diet as well as the fish oil.

    Thanks for the reminder about “stress and indiscipline” – no, migraine is a disease, not just a bad attitude. I can’t believe some people still think that way, with all the new science we now have!

  • chrissy May 26, 2009

    Every time I eat Olive Oil I get a Very Bad Migraine and very sick to my stomach. Need to get a Morphie shot that is how bad I get…

  • James Jun 3, 2009

    Thanks, Chrissy. That certainly sounds like something you need to stay away from!

  • Susan Nov 22, 2009

    Fish oil Omega-3’s actually give me migraines. I’ve tried both the capsules and the liquid. I seem to be very chemically sensitive, most medications give me migraines. Does anyone else have this issue?

  • Liz Jun 24, 2010

    Susan, I get the same thing. When I take omega 3 or supplements/drugs that contain magnesium sterate, or steric acid, I get really blood shot eyes and a horrible migraine that can last a couple days. I don’t know if steric acid is directly related to omega 3 and that’s why they both set that reaction off, but if all medications are causing that watch out for a magnesium sterate intolerance (intolerance not an allergy – totally different) 90% of all drugs and supplements have magnesium sterate in it. i have to get my drugs specially made from a compounding pharmacy.

  • Susan Jun 26, 2010

    Liz –

    Thank you, this is really helpful. The magnesium sterate connection may explain why I have an intolerance to so many medications. I checked the last two Omega-e fish oils that I’ve purchased and I don’t see magnesium-sterate listed as an ingredient but it’s certainly something to look out for. I’ve gotten a lot of help from the book, “Heal Your Headache” by Dr. David Buchholz, I’ve greatly decreased the number of migraines that I get. (I have no connection to Dr. Buchholz.)

  • Linda Feb 22, 2012

    I first learned about the connection between grating/preventing migraines with Omega 3 in 1988, when I read a large book about it (can’t remember the author anymore). I had occasion to test TWO concepts about it right away. My migraine within a week of finishing it, and my son’s ugly excema patches. It whupped my headache I’m short order, and in two weeks, my son’s skin was clear—after a year of applying cortisone cream for A YEAR with NO results! And now, you can get Krill Oil capsules and Green-lipped mussel oil. Both superior to mere fish oil, and NO FISH BURPS after the fact!!!

  • Jessie Aug 31, 2012

    I’ve been diagnosed with chronic migraines. My Senior year of college was really bad. Throughout the whole year I had high levels of pain always saying around (7-10 pain level). After i graduated from college (which was a miracle in itself that year) My mom pulled out tuna instead of steak/ We needed up eating tuna for a week. That week i noticed there was no outbreak in my migraines. It turned out i went to fish oil (Omega 3) and my migraine pain level went down and I have a outbreak every once in awhile. When i do i pop another fish oil or make fish and it seems to help. I am so thankful for fish oil.

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