Fish Oil & Migraines

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Migraines are painful and debilitating, and they impair your ability to function normally. Fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acids, may help to alleviate some effects of this condition. Including fish oil in your diet may lead to decreased frequency, severity and duration of migraine headaches.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients obtained from food sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are centralized in the brain and are important to brain development and cognitive functioning. These fatty acids also reduce inflammation and blood-clotting, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.


The National Headache Foundation (NHF) reports that 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Symptoms of migraines include pain, usually on one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, changes in mood including depression and irritability, problems with vision and sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Migraines may be preceded by an aura, characterized by visual disturbances, dizziness and/or tingling sensations.


Migraines begin as the result of inflammation of blood vessels in the brain, triggered by the release of certain chemicals. The University of Maryland Medical Center considers several factors to play a part in the development of migraine headaches. Among these are the release of peptides, which can irritate and dilate blood vessels along the trigeminal nerve in the brain, abnormalities in calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium channels, low levels of serotonin and magnesium and changes in estrogen levels during menstrual cycles.

Effects of Fish Oil on Migraines

Omega-3 fatty acids may have a positive effect on the incidence and severity of migraine headaches. For example, a study conducted at the University of Cincinnati found that nine out of 15 migraine sufferers who took fish oil supplements experienced a decrease in the number and intensity of headaches. In a similar 2002 study reported in the "Journal of Adolescent Health," researchers found that olive oil and fish oil supplementation lead to decreased frequency, duration and severity of migraine headaches.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oil can be obtained from food sources and supplements. Food sources include coldwater fish, such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, halibut, herring and salmon. Other sources include walnuts, soybean, flaxseed and canola oils, and dark green vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts and salad greens. Omega-3 can also be found in fish oil and flaxseed oil supplements.


The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends adults consume 1,250mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per day, the equivalent of two to three servings of fish per week. Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding and children should not take fish oil supplements, unless they are directed to do so by their health care provider.