Preventing Migraines With…Salt?

August 25, 2016

salt“I should really cut back on my salt intake,” she says. Well, in general: she’s right. If you’re over 50 years old, a diet consisting of high sodium will, according to Harvard’s School of Public Health’s website increase the chances of high blood pressure, heart attack, and possibly stroke, “High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. It accounts for two-thirds of all strokes and half of heart disease.”

Salt and Migraine?
Though the risks involved with sodium intake are now common knowledge, a current survey throws a curveball on this idea for those suffering from migraine; there’s evidence to suggest sodium may actually help reduce those afflicted with chronic migraine.

Boy, it sure can be hard for the average person out there. How do you figure out what new medical “evidence” is valid, or just a “scoop” the local news station jumps on for programming!

The Survey & What It States
On the Migraine Research Foundation’s website’s reportage of the survey, they state, “During a migraine, levels of sodium have been found to rise in cerebrospinal fluid, the liquid that bathes the brain and central nervous system. And sodium levels in this liquid seem to peak in the early morning and late afternoon – times of day when people commonly report experiencing migraines.”

To investigate, Michael Harrington of Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena, California turned to the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey to take a look.  

The survey asked respondents to list everything they consumed over a 24-hour period, and whether they experienced a severe headaches or migraines. 8,819 adults were surveyed between 1999 and 2004, and the results of the survey showed those with the highest levels of sodium in their diets – meat, cheese, bread and table salt – reported the fewest severe headaches and migraines.

Does This Mean There’s a Conclusion?
But is there a connection or is it merely a coincidence? Well, we don’t know enough yet. More research needs to be conducted. The results certainly surprised the team of researchers.

Sodium ions are known to activate neurons.  The expectation was that the relationship between migraine sufferers and their sodium intake would actually be the reverse of what they found. High sodium levels generally make neurons more agitated,  so the theory that they in somehow inhibit or prevent migraine activity is a quandary.  

They, too, were stymied.

Harrington states, “I think people with migraine handle sodium differently.”  However, this may be categorized as a very intelligent guess, at this point. Meaning, this research is in its beginning stages. Dr. Harrington’s answer is by no means definitive, and more data needs to be collected in order to draw more conclusive hypotheses.  

Slight Reflection
But it’s compelling. Each person’s body – though sharing predictable – and therefore, treatable ailments – are still unique.  And if the body is going through a chronic ailment, like migraine, it is plausible certain “rules” out there are not the same for them.

An Anecdote
This reminds me of a story from an old friend of mine. Her parents, both University Professors, lived healthy lives, took care of themselves, and though aging, were in good shape.  

Her mother, however, read an article providing evidence that smoking may help diminish the contraction of Alzheimer’s disease. So, at age 70, she took up smoking as part of her “medication.”

To be fair, I have not gone back to look up this initial finding, and subsequent studies regarding this, but that a little besides my point. My friend’s mother’s tactic may sound a bit odd logically, but remember: it was only a few decades ago doctors were hired to promote a particular cigarette brand (or an actor posing as a doctor.  Regardless, this is not tolerated advertising today).  

Time Is Needed for Solid Evidence
Science and medicine are constantly learning. New research comes out that may contradict previous studies, so yes: it can be confusing. But before you make a run for all the salt you can, or start to take up smoking at an advanced age., it may be a good to take a step back.  Research needs time. The local news is not interested in time, mind you. They’re interested in a scoop. Best to know your source, and keep a healthy skepticism.

Things DO Change: Just Know Your Sources
But hey: along with that, it doesn’t hurt to be open to change, too. I mean, if past generations thought Velveeta was actually “cheese,” well: we learn daily.  

So next time for lunch, maybe try a nice gouda for that grilled cheese sandwich?  And oh,  yes: be sure to listen to the right people when dealing with chronic migraine issues.

I’m pretty sure Channel 5 doesn’t have your best interests in mind.


  1. ‘Health Risks and Disease Related to Salt and Sodium’. 2016. Accessed August 19, 2016.
  2. ‘Migraine in the News’. August 2016. Accessed August 17, 2016.
  3. Hamzelou, Jessica. ‘Does Eating More Salt Prevent Migraines and Severe Headaches?’. August 15, 2016. Accessed August 17, 2016.
  4. Blitshteyn MD, Svetlana. ‘Dietary Sodium Intake and Migraine: Is Salt the Answer?’.Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain56, no. 7 (July 19, 2016): 1210–11. doi:10.1111/head.12869.
  5. Rome, Tammy. ‘A Closer Look at “the Salt Cure”.’ April 20, 2015. Accessed August 17, 2016.

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