Using salt for instant migraine relief?

Has the migraine relief you’ve been looking for been hiding in plain sight on your kitchen table all this time? There’s a growing number of people who swear that by eating salt they can stop a migraine within minutes and that if they eat more salt on a daily basis they can prevent migraines. Seems pretty amazing, right? Almost too good to be true…

A migraine is not just a “bad headache”. Migraines have been studied for decades and research has figured out migraines tend to run in families because there’s a strong genetic component to them. Migraines tend to cause nausea, light sensitivity, and they usually last a whole day or more. Most people that get migraines have “triggers”, or things that cause a migraine to start (like lack of sleep, caffeine, alcohol, or nitrates in processed lunch meat just to name a few). There are several different types of migraines and at the root of all them is a neurological problem in the area of the brain stem.  


So where did salt come into the migraine conversation?

The idea that salt can be used to both stop a migraine and prevent migraines was first introduced by Dr Angela Stanton, a neuroscientist from Southern California, who had herself suffered from migraines since the age of ten. Based on her research she claims that the 15 per cent or so of the population who get migraines need extra salt because they have highly sensitive, ‘super alert’ brains. She says the ‘super alert’ brains use more energy and therefore need more electrolytes like sodium, chloride, and potassium. 

Everyone needs the right balance of electrolytes to function normally. Electrolytes help nerves and muscles work properly and if they get out of balance (excessive sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting are common ways to get them out of balance) then nerves begin to misfire and muscles begin to cramp. Ever get a cramp in your leg when stretching in the morning? That’s almost always because you’re dehydrated and low on certain electrolytes. 


Before you start reaching for the salt shaker at your next meal you should know there’s no research that supports the idea of adding salt to your diet to stop migraines. In fact, there is loads of research that claims getting too much salt can be dangerous because of what it does to your blood pressure and how it leads to more heart disease and strokes. Even Dr. Angela Stanton admits there isn’t any proper research to support her salt-chloride-potassium theory, but she said there’s been over 4,000 people who have followed her ‘protocol’ and claim they get less migraines. Can 4,000 people be wrong?

Interestingly, in 2016 there was a study by the Huntington Medical Research Institute in California that followed the diet and salt intake of 8,819 adults between 1999 and 2004. The study has a surprising finding… those that ate a lot of salt had the fewest headaches and migraines. And Dr. Svetlana Blitshteyn, MD who works with patients that suffer from autonomic nervous system issues has also noticed that when she puts a patient on a high salt diet for other reasons they report less migraines. 


So… more salt or less salt, that is the question?

There’s some compelling testimonials and anecdotal evidence about eating more salt to get less headaches and migraines, but no actual research. The only research when it comes to consuming more salt tells us it’s not a good idea due to the effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Keeping your electrolytes in balance with a great diet and proper hydration is a great idea, but eating more salt everyday… not so much. 


Looking at all the research available about what causes migraines and how to prevent them, there are some common threads. Eating a well balanced, whole foods diet that avoids any pre-packaged foods loaded with chemicals. Getting lots of sleep on a regular basis. And making sure your nervous system function isn’t being messed up by a problem in your upper neck. 


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