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3 Dec

Migraine News and Tips

Did you know migraine sufferers have different brains from other people?

It’s true. The latest neuroscience reveals that those who experience migraines have marked differences in their brain structures. Migraine-prone individuals experience sensory input – including pain – differently from those who never get migraines. Their brain matter in the area that counts, the somatosensory cortex, is thicker. What scientists don’t know is if migraines cause brain matter changes, or if some folks are simply born with different brains and are therefore susceptible to migraines later in life. Folks with Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis have similar brain differences.

Unlike chronic tension headaches or reactive headaches (such as those brought on by consuming too much alcohol or caffeine withdrawal), migraine headaches are dangerous because they alter the brain permanently. That’s why it is essential for migraine sufferers to treat their migraines through both natural and medical avenues. Experts explain that it is imperative for migraine-prone individuals to limit the severity and frequency of their migraines; that is, it is actually safer for a migraine sufferer to take a limited amount of migraine medication in order to reduce the aggregate damage of ongoing migraines left untreated. This is a case where I don’t come down on the use of a pharmaceutical therapy (yes, you heard it from me). While migraine treatments can have side effects, the alternative – downing huge piles of pills in desperation when a migraine hits – is demonstrably worse for your health. Of course, there are often triggers for migraine, and it’s crucial to examine your lifestyle and eliminate any triggers – especially now that we know such violent headaches may alter your brain structure.

Common Triggers

– Refined carbohydrates

– Chocolate

– Overripe fruit

– Alcohol

– Sweets

– Caffeine

– Sleep deprivation

– Menstrual cycles

– Stress

– Smoke (cigarette/cigar smoke)

– Excess sun (or too little sun)

– Anxiety

Seeing a pattern here? Migraine rates have increased in recent years. While better diagnosis probably plays a significant role in this, I believe our standard American lifestyle is clearly implicated as well. Few folks eat fresh, chemical-free, sugar-free, unprocessed foods as a matter of course. Going further, our modern pace of living is incredibly stressful, both emotionally and hormonally. If you suffer from migraines, give my Primal Health lifestyle a try and see if that helps clear things up (link 1, link 2). If you’re a regular reader you know we focus on fresh, clean, wholesome foods, coupled with stress management (both physical and mental).

Migraine Myths

Curious about migraines? I’m lucky; I don’t get them. But I’ve got friends and family members and staff who have experienced these terrible, gut-wrenching, blinding headaches. For the record, a migraine is not simply a really bad headache. They are a true health condition, like inflammation or bipolar disorder. You can’t will them away and the pain is not an exaggeration.

– Migraines can’t be cured.

While this is generally true, they can often be controlled and even eliminated (if that’s not “cured”…). A staff member suffered migraines for years; after cutting out all carbohydrates from grain sources, the migraines cleared up permanently. Diet, lifestyle, and medical therapy can all help to keep migraines under control for good.

– Migraines are caused by allergies/toxins.

Conspiracy theorists wish it were true. Migraines are not caused by allergies or contaminants. While lifestyle plays a dramatic part in migraine treatment, it is unclear if lifestyle causes migraines, or if some folks are simply more susceptible to migraines due to brain differences. This recent study we discussed above seems to suggest the latter. While we all have a single genetic “blueprint” finished some 10,000 years ago, there are bound to be plenty of variations. Some of us are lactose-intolerant; others cannot metabolize alcohol; and others experience migraines. I believe migraines are likely due to a combination of slight genetic variation combined with modern lifestyle factors.

Auntie P Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Americans Popping Pills in Record Numbers

7 Tips to Beat Stress Right Now

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is an older thread but I thought I’d comment because I don’t see anyone with a similar experience and it may prove helpful to someone.

    I have been getting migraines since I was 27. They started at a time when other seemingly unrelated things were going haywire in my body (reflux, sinuses, chronic fatigue, back pain, hair loss, joint pain, bowel trouble.)

    Several years I happened into a chiropractor’s office. He was the first doc to listen and theorize on how and why all those crazy things happened at once: it was the end of my second pregnancy and all of the relaxed joints led to my hip tilting backward on one side and a little shock wave up my spine. After two weeks of adjustments I was like a new person. Within a few months I was almost 100 percent better. The only lingering problem is the migraines, sinus and fatigue, and they seem to all come together. I think some of it is due to diet too, but when I do have a migraine, one or two adjustments in the same day completely fixes me.

    My chiro has offered some good advice that keeps me from having to come in as often: he thinks many migraines begin in the neck or upper back due to people looking down at books, computer keyboards, etc. He also thinks I worked the front of my neck muscles a lot with Pilates and crunches and neglected my back to create an imbalance that pulls my head forward and my vertebrae out of place.

    So, I am careful to take breaks and stretch my neck (with cobra type exercises.) But once I have one, I either take a pill, or see him and in a few seconds I feel so much better.

    I would suggest that anyone who feels the pain begin in their neck or at the base of the skull seek a chiropractor that they’ve heard lots of good things about. One who recognizes that it can address problems like reflux or allergies. I can only guess how many meds my family would be on right now if it weren’t for him. Btw, I don’t have to go in very often now either and he has shown my family many tricks we can do at home to help with migraines when they are just beginning.

    Michelle wrote on April 23rd, 2011
  2. Chocolate
    Caffeine
    Insufficient sleep
    Hormone changes
    Barometric pressure changes
    Wine (sulfites – so even when used for cooking)
    Processed meats (sodium nitrite – so all of the tastiest meats)

    Migraines are tricky. I can get them sometime swith no pain at all, just the visual disturbances, nausea and stiffness. On the other hand, when I get one with pain it’s a pretty easy guarantee that I’ll have it for 3 days. Really awful.

    I think the scariest was one I had about 15 years ago, when I was in my early 30s. It was a pretty bad one, and when it was gone I decided to make a run to the grocery store. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen… and I couldn’t remember how to write. It took about 10 minutes for it to finally kick in, but it was very frightening. Adds credence to the idea that migraines do some real damage each time.

    I’ve cut out the food triggers, switched up my hormones (yea for menopause!) and get enough sleep, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that stinkin’ weather.

    Amy wrote on May 7th, 2011
  3. Been Paleo/Primal (essentially Low Carb/High Fat with some dairy- cheese and Heavy Whipping Cream with berries and my coffee) for six to seven months. For 30 plus years I have suffered at least one to two debilitating migraines per month: blind spots/auras, etc. In fact, that picture on this post makes me want to have one.

    Although, I’m already suffering just my second migraine in those seven months. Don’t know what triggered it the first time, but guess what I ate yesterday? Pop Chips. What do they have in common with another known trigger of mine (Slim Fast shakes- used to eat them as a meal when on the road until about a year ago I know I got a migraine from drinking two real fast)? Maltodextrin.

    Nasty stuff. Horrible migraine today. Went to a party and for first 30 minutes I could barely remember the names of people I have known for 15 years. If this doesn’t (aside from the 25 lbs. I’ve lost) keep me High Fat/Low Carb Primal I don’t know what will.

    Believe me, I am never eating PopChips again. Cheers.

    Barry wrote on August 14th, 2011
  4. An interesting article and certainly a good read about migraines

    Kevin Thoroughgood wrote on September 15th, 2011
  5. This is what I was looking for. I started the Primal Blueprint about 2 1/2 months ago and noticed I haven’t had a migraine since. I was wondering if this was the cause of my happy news. So in addition to “curing” my arthritis, the Blueprint has “cured” my migraines. I don’t see how I can turn back. The 43 lbs I’ve lost so far don’t hurt either!

    Kevin wrote on November 13th, 2011
  6. I have to agree that I also used to have daily migraines which were stopped with a gluten free diet. I think your dismissal of food allergens is unproven by research. Do a quick search of gluten intolerance and migraine. There are quite a few studies backing this in reputable medical journals, though I don’t disagree with other things you said. Reduced insulin sensitivity is also a factor for me and I’m sure is related to success for others with eating gluten free. I now avoid anything that will spike my blood sugar levels and try to eat frequently and exercise. I have also found success with taking a magnesium pill nightly to reduce morning headaches but, diarrhea is a big side effect for me so I abandoned that. I think tension and migraine headaches are on more of a continuum at least for me, I get both (though very infrequent migraines with diet changes). With our modern lifestyle it’s hard to eliminate migraines but it’s possible for many people to lessen them if you change diet, exercise,drink plenty of fluids and learn to relax. Like others, I wish a doctor had suggested these things to me instead of doing research on my own. I hope others will be helped by your post.

    Elaine wrote on January 1st, 2012
  7. Any one else get sleep paralysis with there migraines? The scariest thing that has ever happened to me! And it happens every time I have a migraine pretty much. Your awake and conscious but your body is cometely paralyzed, which is freaky enough without the visual and auditory hallucinations, sometimes it’s so real. And if you struggle it just makes it worse! Hopefully my migraines will completely clear up when I fully go primal after coming back from Cambodia and Thailand in two weeks.. Only problem then, if I don’t take me preventative meds, which are actually a small dose of anti depressants, I get chronic hayfever, and I mean 2-3 times per day.. Which isn’t good since I wear contacts.. Hopefully going primal will clear up all my allergies which are being constantly added to since I turned 15?!

    Kate wrote on January 4th, 2012
  8. I am also a chronic migraine sufferer–I get regular headaches about 2-3x/week and about 1-2 migraines/month if I medicate on time. I get 1-2 migraines/year that send me to hospital because after several hours of vomitting, I usually go into shock and suffer from convulsions. I usually deal with them by taking at least 3 advil and either a gravol or benadryl to make me stay very still and help me snooze while I wait for the next 8 hours to pass… I take magnesium and vitamin B. I knew that eating primal/paleo was helpful, and THOUGHT it was due to sugar stabilizing, but reading some of the posts on Robb Wolf’s blog, there is some suggestion that not just grain-free, but also nuts can trigger some blood-vessel-dilation-related migraines and fermented foods like cheese, yogurt and vinegar, can trigger other kinds. I will have to try to experiment with watching nut intake becuase I have definately gotten migraines after being hungry all day and wolfing down a few handfulls of nuts–I thought it was just becuase I made a poor protein choice but maybe there’s more to it. But I wonder–if I go ketogenic to control migraines, is a ketogenic diet really sustainable long-term?

    MyPrimalAdventures wrote on February 7th, 2012
  9. I suffered with migraines my whole life. Miserable, throwing up, bedridden, can’t move and inch, can’t stand light type of migraines.

    I drank Dr.Pepper out the wazoo, consumed mass amounts of sugar, breads,and pastas.
    I tried 3 different migraine prescriptions and had finally ended up just popping Excedrin when one came about.

    Then a year a go, I went primal and cut all of that out.

    My migraines stopped. Completely. I was getting them a minimum of twice a month and all of a sudden I wasn’t getting them anymore.
    It was a miracle, a relief, an act of God….but in reality, just a switch back to the natural ways of Grok.

    Roxanne wrote on August 5th, 2012
  10. I’ve had migraines consistently since I was 12. That is 20 years of migraines. I always get them, without fail, during my period or if I have alcohol. I have a few other triggers as well. My menstrual migraines effect me for anywhere from 2 – 5 days in a row a month. I also usually get 1 other 2-day migraine a month.

    Well, I’ve been primal now for about 60 days, and went off the birth control pill. Not only is my period much lighter with no cramping, but I haven’t had a migraine this period either.

    I’ve just started taking Mag-Tab SR (slow release and won’t cause diarrhea) as a prophylactic just in case. I’ve also ordered some Magonate tablets to keep on hand for an oncoming migraine. Regarding magnesium, I found http://barttersite.org/magnesium-supplementation/ to be very helpful. Scroll down to the bottom for migraine specific information.

    Hilary wrote on September 29th, 2012
  11. I have to disagree with toxins being a myth, because every time I use chlorine to clean, the fumes will give me a migraine (the really bad kind with vomiting and everything) later that day or even the next day, it happens every time.
    I stopped using it, but I tried it once in awhile and every time it triggered a migraine.
    On the plus side, that’s the only way I get a migraine ever since I’ve gone Primal.

    Remco wrote on October 4th, 2012
  12. There is a diet that restricts amines and salicylates which has helped some. The girl above mentioned chicken & apples – check it out to add in more foods – Failsafe. You can tweak it to make it paleo.

    Etta wrote on January 9th, 2013
  13. Also check out the low carb migraine site in German, use Google Chrome to translate it. miginfo.de. It recommends a paleo type HFLC ketogenic diet for migraines. The diet is laid out in Life Without Bread, by Allan and Lutz, with a slow transition to low carb.

    Etta wrote on January 10th, 2013
  14. Love all the info.
    But I was hopeing to hear more about sugar and migraines?
    Also if I take an anahistime I avoid migraines? I would like to know why?
    I have a gluten intolerance as well.

    Babyanne wrote on May 23rd, 2013
  15. I love all the info.

    But would like to know more about sugar and migraines and what it’s doing to me to cause me to have one?

    Also antihistamines keeps me from having migraines, why??

    I am also intolerant of wheat and gluten.

    Babyanne wrote on May 23rd, 2013
  16. I have migraines my whole life but with varying frequency. there were times I had them once in 18 months, twice in 12 months and some times 3-4 times in 6 months. I haven’t gone completely paleo but I swithced my food to better in the last 2 years. I used to eat a lot of bread and now I don’t eat any but in the last year and a half ma migraines have become more frequent, like 1-2 a month. so I’m kind of disappionted that I’m eating “healthier” and my migraines got worse. can anybody suggest anything?

    Matija wrote on August 8th, 2013
  17. I have suffered from migraines for several years. I don’t get them on a regular basis, more likely to be once a month sometimes more frequently. I found that learning my triggers was the best way to prevent or essentially treat them. I’ve always been fairly in tune with my body so I just had to figure out what it was trying to tell me. I started researching possible triggers so I had some ideas what to look out for, keeping a journal of what I was doing or ate shortly before the migraine came on also was a big help. Also, I evaluated what was going on in my life at the time, was I getting enough sleep or under too much stress?

    I’ve noticed a lot of posts complaining about the side effects of the medications, I had that problem with one of the medications I was taking several years ago. My throat was swelling making it hard to swallow and the medication was leaving me feeling doped out, so to speak. I realized the meds were just a bandaid and prevention was the key. So I don’t go out of my way to completely avoid potential triggers, but I take steps so I can still enjoy those things. Like taking a periodic break from a loud concert by finding a quiet spot or I make sure I can find shade, bring sunglasses, and avoid overheating at the beach. I avoid mixing my trigger foods, like putting 2 strong flavor foods such as salmon and sharp cheddar together, but learned I can eat them separately without a problem. A nagging migraine means I need to go in to see my chiropractor for an adjustment to my neck.

    I used trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t to prevent and/or treat. It took a long time to figure it all out, but as a result I get significantly less migraines maybe 1-2 per month and the ones I do get are usually hormone related. Unfortunately I have not found a way to prevent those. Finding ways to prevent and treat naturally may seem like a lot of work when you can just take a pill, but compared to suffering through a migraine or dealing with nasty side effects from the medications, to me it is well worth it.

    kara wrote on November 25th, 2013
  18. I also have had success with ketogenic diets (just 3 migraines per month on that diet), but as soon as I eat a certain number of carbs (including in health-promoting smoothies), they come back with a vengeance, so I don’t consider this diet a “cure”.

    I disagree with you that migraines are not because of toxins, at least for some people. I think there could be a direct connection, you just have to find your problem toxin. Mine might be either mercury or lead. Each detox I have tried has improved my health in many ways as well as changed my migraines (frequency, severity, how they start), but never “cured” the migraines.

    I have tried juicing for initial overall detox (it cleans your liver and helped me restore energy levels after a black mold infestation in my apartment), parasite detox (didn’t really do anything for me), iodine to detox bromide/flouride(resolved my 15-year hypothyroid condition), and I am now using DMSA and ALA to detox mercury and lead hoping to target migraine prevention). I am currently eating 100 gms carbs/day (as a test), but on chelation for just 1 month, my migraines are conspicuously absent. I should be having them every other day on this many carbs.

    It is too early to tell if this is “the cure”, but I am very excited about the early results, which is why I am sharing the thought for others to explore.

    I am just saying that maybe we all have different abilities to detox some of the more dangerous toxins, and maybe for some of us, mercury and/or lead could be a root cause of some neurological issues (migraine included). I hope I have found the “root cause” of my migraines – I guess I will know in the coming months.

    CTHealthJourney wrote on April 16th, 2015

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