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Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce headache pain

August 23, 2013

According to a new US study patients with the syndrome chronic daily headache may benefit from higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids and lower consumption of omega-6 fatty acids.

In the clinical trial, the extent of pain was measured in 56 patients with chronic daily headache who received diets with different amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for 12 weeks: food with either high omega-3 (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid) plus low omega-6 (arachidonic acid) content or simply with low omega-6 content (1). The study results showed that participants with the high omega-3 plus low omega-6 diet reported a significantly smaller impact of headache on their lives as well as less days with headache per month and less hours with headache per day, compared to the patients with the low omega-6 only diet.

The researchers concluded that nutrition with increased omega-3 and reduced omega-6 fatty acid content may reinforce standard treatment of chronic daily headache with painkillers, improving patients' quality of life. As recurring headaches can be caused by chronic inflammatory processes, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce pain (2). In addition, omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be precursors to lipid mediators which can reduce the activity of specific neurons (nociceptors) that sense pain and send nerve signals to the brain.

Chronic daily headache (CDH), defined as presence of headaches lasting 4 hours or more for 15 or more days per month over at least 3 months, is a debilitating pain syndrome that affects 4 to 5% of the adult population in the US. Losses in missed work days and medical expenses add up to billions of dollars per year.

References

1. Ramsden C. E. et al. Targeted alteration of dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for the treatment of chronic headaches: a randomized trial. Pain. Published online July 2013.

2. Ramsden C. E. et al. Low omega-6 vs. low omega-6 plus high omega-3 dietary intervention for Chronic Daily Headache: Protocol for a randomized clinical trial. Trials. 2011; 12:97.