Skip Navigation

Ten Things

10 Ways to Mitigate Migraines

By Lee Peterlin
Lee Peterlin
Lee Peterlin, director of Johns Hopkins headache research, is a neurologist who specializes in the medicine of headaches.
As headache sufferers know, migraines are often severely debilitating and can significantly interfere with daily life. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S get them. Medications help, but they aren’t the only solution. The right medicine, combined with behavioral and lifestyle changes, can help reduce the severity and frequency of these headaches, according to Lee Peterlin, a neurologist whose research focuses on the role of obesity and stress-related disorders in people with migraines. “There are many tools in the arsenal to combat migraines,” Peterlin says. “But each person’s migraine treatment needs to be individualized. No one plan works for everyone. You need to consider all the treatment modalities available.” 

1 / Aerobic exercise

Three to four days per week, roughly 40-minute sessions; you should exercise just hard enough to reach a light sweat or be mildly out of breath.

2 / Eat Regular Meals

Don't skip. Fasting triggers migraines, so try to space meals evenly.

3 / Late night snack

These can reduce risk of a migraine attack by about 4 percent, but keep the snack healthy: a few nuts or a piece of fruit to maintain blood sugar.

4 / Maintain healthy weight

Keep your BMI under 25. Obese people are at a much higher risk for episodic and chronic migraines.

5 / Sleep

Get seven to eight hours of shut-eye, and try to wake and go to sleep at the same time each day—even on weekends.

6 / Curb caffeine

Don't drink more than 8 to 10 ounces of caffeinated beverages per day. Too much can cause withdrawal head-aches. If kept to 10 ounces per day, a little extra caffeine can help decrease the pain of an acute migraine attack.

7 / Say no to red wine and nitrates/nitrites

Avoid red wine and processed meats like bacon and hot dogs, which are well-described triggers.

8 / More Omega-3's, please

Studies suggest you might want to include fish oil and flaxseed, which have natural anti-inflammatory properties, in your diet.

9 / Timing is everything

Treat an acute migraine attack as quickly as possible. If you wait, medicine might not work as well.

10 / Be alert to lightning strikes

Keep meds handy during lightning or high-pressure storms, when migraine attacks are more likely.
Illustration of shoes, wine glass, plate, apple, flax seed and other items
Illustration by Zoe More O'Ferrall

Other Departments

  • Expert Advice
    How do I help my picky kids pick good food?
  • Survey
    New findings in health, including the benefits of mentoring, treating the terrible twos, and what to do about those sell by dates.
  • Just Curious
    Why has Lyme disease become so prevalent?
  • Book Report
    What you should be reading.
  • Viewpoint
    Benjamin Ginsberg on the potential value of violence.
  • MedTech
    Apps, gadgets, and other innovations that are advancing health and health science.
  • Experience
    Cancer survivor Elizabeth Edsall Kromm’s journey to motherhood.
  • Breakthroughs
    News from the cutting edge of research: How babies learn, vaccinating mosquitoes, and predicting autoimmune disorders.
  • Conversation
    Pianist and composer Michael Hersch is on the composition faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. His music has premiered in concert halls around the globe.