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Exploring the Link Between Migraines and Depression

What we do and don't know about the relationship between migraine and depression.

Certain life experiences, including chronic stress, may increase one’s risk of experiencing both migraine and depression.

Updated on May 17, 2023

For most people who experience chronic migraines, the intense headaches, nausea, dizziness, and light sensitivity are difficult enough. But research shows that some people with migraine may also have depression and suicidal thoughts.

How migraine and depression may be linked

According to a 2019 review of studies published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, there’s a strong connection between migraines and depression. If you have depression, you’re two to three times more likely to have migraines.

Researchers are still working to determine the sources of that connection, but several studies have suggested that people with both migraine and depression have a different brain structure than people who have just one of these conditions. There’s also evidence that certain genes might influence both migraine and depression, so experiencing the two conditions together could be at least partially hereditary.

Certain life experiences may also increase one’s risk of experiencing both migraine and depression. These include chronic stress and a history of childhood abuse.

A higher risk of suicidal thoughts

Both suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning suicide) and suicide attempts may be more likely for people with migraines. A 2020 review of 15 studies published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that migraine patients experience a higher-than-average rate of both thinking about and attempting suicide.

In a 2018 study published in BMC Psychiatry, researchers looked at over 1,000 adults in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They found that people with migraines were 2.7 times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior than those who didn’t have migraines.

Whether or not you experience migraine with aura may also influence your risk. A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry looked at 562 medical students with migraine. They found that those who had migraine with aura were more likely than those without aura to experience suicidal ideation.

Managing your migraines, dealing with depression

The research suggests that routine screenings and intervention are important for people who experience migraine and who are also at the greatest risk for depression and suicidal thoughts. If you’ve been feeling sad or hopeless for more than two weeks or notice other symptoms of depression, talk to a healthcare provider (HCP).

And if you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988. If you’re actively considering suicide, call 911 right away or go to the nearest emergency room.

Lifestyle changes that may help

Getting the right treatment for your migraines and depression is essential. These may include a combination of medicines and talk therapy.

In the meantime, there are a few tweaks you can try making to your diet and lifestyle that may help ease your pounding head and depression symptoms.

Clean out the pantry. Changing the way you eat is one of the easiest ways to help improve the way you feel. Some people with migraines have certain triggers for their migraine attacks. These may include fasting—going for periods of time without eating—as well as certain foods and drinks, such as the following:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Milk and cheese
  • Citrus fruits
  • Alcohol
  • Processed meats
  • Monosodium glutamate (a flavor-enhancing chemical, also known as MSG)
  • Fatty foods
  • Aspartame (an artificial sweetener)

Although evidence is limited on the exact diet that may help people with migraines, certain diet interventions have reduced migraines for some people. These include:

  • High folate diet
  • Low-fat vegan diet
  • High omega-3 and low omega-6 fatty acids diet
  • Ketogenic diet
  • Atkins diet
  • Low sodium diet
  • Low glycemic-index diet (high-fiber diet)

There’s limited evidence as well for the benefits of weight loss for those who are obese, and for supplementing with probiotics and vitamin D to curb migraine attacks.

The bottom line: There is no single diet recommended for a person with migraines. Finding one that works for you may involve some trial and error. Consult with an HCP before making diet changes in the hopes of easing migraine symptoms to find the best strategy for you.

Try good-mood foods. According to researchers in a 2022 study published in the journal Nutrients, if you have depression, the most important dietary step to take is to eat a wide array of healthy foods. Certain foods and diets may be especially helpful for those with depression. These include:

  • Fish, especially fatty fishes high in DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) like salmon, mackerel, and sardines
  • Berries
  • Green leafy veggies
  • Yogurt with live active cultures (also known as probiotics)
  • Soy-based fermented foods like miso, soy sauce, and tempeh
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Low-carbohydrate diet
  • Plant-based diet

For those with depression or who are at risk of depression, it can be helpful to stay away from ultra-processed foods, sugar-sweetened drinks, alcohol, red meat, and processed meats.

Prioritize B vitamins. Some research has shown that vitamins B6 and B12 may help ease depression. Research has also shown that lower vitamin B12 levels are associated with chronic migraines, so getting those levels up might help ease both conditions. Check with an HCP to measure your levels and to find out if supplementation may be helpful for you.

Chill out. Stress is hard on our bodies or minds. To help reduce depression symptoms and stave off migraines, try reducing the stress in your daily life. That might mean taking daily walks, connecting with friends and family, writing in a journal, or setting up a daily practice of meditation.

Article sources open article sources

Zhang Q, Shao A, Jiang Z, et al. The exploration of mechanisms of comorbidity between migraine and depression. J Cell Mol Med. 2019;23(7):4505-4513.
Pei JH, Wang XL, Yu Y, et al. Prevalence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt in patients with migraine: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2020;277:253-259.
Berhane HY, Jamerson-Dowlen B, Friedman LE, et al. Association between migraine and suicidal behavior among Ethiopian adults. BMC Psychiatry. 2018;18(1):46. 
Luo JM, Liu EZ, Yang HD, et al. Prevalence and Factors Associated With Suicidal Ideation in Medical Students With Migraine. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:683342.
Hindiyeh NA, Zhang N, Farrar M, et al. The Role of Diet and Nutrition in Migraine Triggers and Treatment: A Systematic Literature Review. Headache. 2020;60(7):1300-1316. 
Arzani M, Jahromi SR, Ghorbani Z, et al. Gut-brain Axis and migraine headache: a comprehensive review. J Headache Pain. 2020;21(1):15.
Ortega MA, Fraile-Martínez Ó, García-Montero C, et al. Biological Role of Nutrients, Food and Dietary Patterns in the Prevention and Clinical Management of Major Depressive Disorder. Nutrients. 2022;14(15):3099. 
National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Consumers. Page last updated July 18, 2022.
Üstün Özek S. A study on the correlation between pain frequency and severity and vitamin B12 levels in episodic and chronic migraine. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2022;80(6):586-592.

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