Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Jan

No Grains Equals No Migraines

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

The first time it happened I panicked. My vision was slowly filling up with shiny blobs of light. Instinctively I went to a dark room and, 15 minutes in, I couldn’t see. Eventually it ramped down just like it ramped up. And as soon as it cleared, the pain started. I was never one for much pain medication, so I just put a cold rag on my forehead and bore it. Then the nausea kicked in. The pain subsided after a few hours. But it happened again the next week. And the next.

The third time, I hyperventilated from the pain and my boyfriend drove me to the hospital at 2 a.m. A scan cleared me of any brain tumors and I was diagnosed with ocular migraines. The doctor gave me a prescription for a drug used to help cancer patients deal with nausea and told me to get a bottle of Excedrin.

People who have had ocular migraines know what I’m talking about. It fills your world with panic. What will trigger it next? Bright white snow? Car headlights? My mother tells me my aunt gets shots to stop them, so I figure it must run in the family. I became attached to my sunglasses. I’d wear them even at night sometimes to block building or street lights. I had to pull over in my car once because I couldn’t see through the “shinys,” as I called them. It’s not a good way to live. As a college sophomore, I was kept out of class and work with pain. I eventually learned to stop the pain by taking the Excedrin as soon as I saw the flashy lights. But that much medicine would leave me in a haze for the rest of the day.

Here’s what gets me. As a sophomore, I had put on the freshman 15 and wanted to start the year eating healthy. I cut out all white grain products and switched to whole-grain bread and pasta. I ate healthy lean meats but would binge on sugar on the weekends. Years passed and I accepted migraines as a part of my life. I carried a big bottle of meds everywhere. Here’s a look at my old diet:

Old Diet

I graduated college and married the boyfriend who drove me to the hospital. He was always overweight and I, being a journalist/graphic artist, was constantly bombarded with health information and the newest studies. So we tried a few of these popular trends to help him get his weight down (6-foot, 245). I wasn’t as worried about mine at the time (5′ 7″, 145), but I figured I could stand to lose a few. We did P90X, the Abs Diet, lots of whole grains and really boring food. I still had migraines. I still had IBS, acne – oh and regular headaches, too!

Here’s us:


In late 2011 my husband found your website on some message boards. He started Primal and two weeks later, he says he feels like Superman! Able to leap tall buildings! Inspired to run around and lift things! The weight came off fast with his fasting schedule. I looked at the catalog of research online and it just seemed right. I couldn’t be left out, and he needed my support like he always helped me through my migraines. I got the book and started in January 2012 with a meal plan that looked like this:

New Diet

And yes, I dropped down to 125 pounds (high school weight) and my husband lost 70. Yes, my IBS symptoms are gone. My skin is glowing and there are no more sugar crashes. But what makes me tear up in gratitude is that I haven’t had a single migraine since.

Looking back, I have to pinpoint those grains/gluten as the migraine trigger. I’ve had sugar since (I still love ice cream). I’ve had legumes a few times, but I’ve been gluten free. And I won’t go back. In July I stopped carrying around the industrial-sized bottle of pills. If Primal just cured the migraines alone, I’d still do it. It’d be worth it. The fear is finally gone.

Katie and Husband - After


You want comments? We got comments:

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. Your hub lost 70 lbs! WOOT! Congrats to both of you! Thanks for sharing your story.

    Siobhan wrote on January 25th, 2013
  2. This is so awesome! And I can completely relate. I also was diagnosed with ocular migraines, and for years, I was afraid to anywhere. Going on a trip was out of the question, especially if my migraine meds weren’t readily available. I felt like I was living in a bubble of fear. But as soon as a went Primal (kind of, I splurge every so often) and COMPLETELY gluten-free, my migraines magically went away. Who knew simply cutting out grains from my diet would change my life forever?
    Grok on!

    Melissa wrote on January 25th, 2013
  3. Awesome! Congratulations to you both! You both look great!

    The Crunchy Mama wrote on January 25th, 2013
  4. Katie, your story made my day! I’m so happy that you’re finally free from migraines, and reading all the comments of people who have also healed themselves is amazing! Thanks so much for sharing, and congratulations (:

    Alyssa wrote on January 25th, 2013
  5. For 25 years I had daily migraines, all on the continuum. No kidding. Landed in the ER a few times. Tried all the different meds, food diaries and even biofeedback. Had to stop taking meds at one point because of the rebound headaches/migraines they gave me. People would always pass me at work and say “Smile, it can’t be that bad”. I’m sure they thought I was a bitch and anti-social. Everything overstimulated me – lights, noise, commotion, tv, music, laughter, arguments… I just needed to be alone all.the.time. I was just trying to get through each day. Went Paleo 2 yrs ago and haven’t had one migraine since. I’ve challenged it with wine, chocolate, cafeeine, etc. It was the gluten. I’ve since had one really bad headache and a few regular headaches that rest and food took care. While I haven’t lost the weight, getting rid of the migraines is worth it. So glad you found Paleo too!

    Sandra Brigham wrote on January 25th, 2013
    • Good for you Sandra – what a relief!

      Vanessa wrote on January 25th, 2013
  6. This story is just what I needed today. I have been primal-ish for the past 5 months. When I follow it accurately it has been awesome. But for one reason or another I always fall back into bad habits.

    I get migraines about once a month. I started a paleo challenge with my gym and have been following it since this past Monday. Yesterday, I got a crazy migraine and still have it today. I know things won’t improve overnight and I have to follow the diet to see improvements, but I’m really hoping that this helps in the long run. Thanks for sharing this story!

    Lizaster wrote on January 25th, 2013
  7. Katie,
    Your post-primal macro ratios look just like mine!

    Susan Slattery wrote on January 25th, 2013
  8. I’m very happy for you. I’m immediately passing this on to my friend who just started getting migraines.

    Sarah wrote on January 25th, 2013
  9. I used to get optical migraines too. I find that I still get them sometimes on primal when I go out to dinner and have fancy salads. I think it’s the MSG or perhaps the preservatives in the salad dressings that causes them. It’s always the day after a dinner out that they happen. I get the annoying shinies and everything too. But yes, definite reduction in incidence since I’ve gone primal!!!

    Paleo Girl wrote on January 25th, 2013
  10. Reading these success stories every Friday is so inspiring! Congratulations Katie and thank you Mark for spreading the love.

    Diane wrote on January 25th, 2013
  11. I had basically the exact same experience. I started getting the debilitating ‘aura’ migraines about every 2 weeks or so and went through a plethora of doctors, with accompanying MRIs, meds (including anti-seizure meds), with marginal success. Finally after trying a few diets to try to lose weight for our wedding, my fiance talked me into going low-carb (which he had success with it in the past- lost 80 lbs on atkins) and I did and suddenly no more migraines, no more acne (at 30, still had acne) and looked and felt better. that was 3 years ago and I have the occasional pizza, but I know if I fall too far off the low-carb way, it will trigger another. When I was prego with my son and had the typical morning sickness and couldn’t eat anything more than nibbling on some saltines or english muffins (starch, starch and more stach)… one morning another migraine was triggered on the way to work. Fun! M/S with a migraine! I wanted to die a very quick death. Needless to say, I lived (and bore a healthy baby boy) and know to try to avoid those dastardly carbs.

    caree wrote on January 25th, 2013
  12. Congrats Katie,
    This and all the interesting comments is really interesting. I realize now that I used to get these ocular migraine as well, without the pain, just (!) a shimmering like looking through water on my peripheral vision. I didn’t know what they were, but found I could quieten them with pseodoephidren type anti histamines like a cold and flu tablet. Had them with me in my bag all the time. Haven’t had them since going gluten free. They used to make driving quite dangerous, and where I lived country roads were always a challenge. Another thing to notch up for cleaning my diet up. Thanks again

    Heather wrote on January 25th, 2013
  13. This is an awesome story. Love love love hearing about people who manage their own health & wellbeing so successfully. Well done to both of you for supporting each other so well. I will be forwarding this link to two good friends who are migraine sufferers – maybe, just maybe they will take it on board – sigh!

    To “Diane” and “HillardJoe” – someone wise once said to me “would you rather be right, or happy?” Perhaps your partners would rather be right?

    HillyM wrote on January 25th, 2013
  14. I’ve had chronic migraines for over 40 years! I’ve been to every doctor and used every medication you can think of. I would get them a couple times per week. So sick that I would throw up every 15 minutes for over 12 hours. Always went to the best specialist. I’ve been on 3 Nortriptylin 25mg. @ bedtime to prevent migraines. I used “Sumatriptan Succinate Injections,” 6 mg. when I woke up wit or got a migraine. Fast forward to March, 2012. Went Primal/Paleo! Guess what….not one migraine to date! Off ALL medications! My doctor is amazed! I credit it all to my diet! Not only are my migraines gone, I’ve lost weight, feel great and my grey hair is turning dark again! (go figure?) Primal has given me a new lease on life! Thank you, Mark! Ps….I’m 63 so it’s never to late to improve!

    Carla wrote on January 25th, 2013
  15. I too, cured my migraines with eliminating gluten from my diet. Doing so also helped me sleep better, increase my energy (which everyone knows…) and I actually became happier! I think because I was sleeping better with less migraines I was functioning like a normal human! I still occasionally get migraines from other stressors (loud noise, etc) but I went from 1-2/week to 1-2/month.

    I like your pie charts too. When I try to explain to people how I eat they cannot wrap their heads around it. Visuals are key!


    Andrea wrote on January 25th, 2013
  16. My best friend gets occular migraines and I’ve been telling her for years to give up grains and all the candy in her diet. Maybe now she’ll listen!

    Dani wrote on January 25th, 2013
  17. Cut your caffeine intake, it helped me to get rid of ocular migrains..

    lona wrote on January 25th, 2013
  18. Yeah! Good for you!

    I’m going to forward your testimony to my SIL who also suffers migraines. I’ve suggested that she consider Paleo, or at least gluten-free. It’s sad to see her suffer.

    Pamela wrote on January 25th, 2013
  19. Congrats, this is great! I had the ocular migraines, too, so scary and I would have trouble speaking/thinking a full thought…artificial sweeteners are also a trigger for me. My Mom’s side seems prone to them, and MS if there is ever a connection made, you saw it here first! My youngest daughter gets what we think are migraines from time to time..I would love to clean up her diet, but she has way too many outside influences at this point. Just have to lead by example! Thanks for setting a great one!

    Juliemama wrote on January 25th, 2013
  20. Why was the after photo changed from a few hours ago???? so strange…..

    k wrote on January 25th, 2013
    • The original “after” photo was sent in with this story a few months ago. When Katie heard the story was finally going to be published she sent in a more recent pic.

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 25th, 2013
  21. My migraines are gone too; and if I start eating grains again, within 1-2 days I get a new migraine. This is so, so true and I too am so glad to have found the cause!

    Ani wrote on January 25th, 2013
  22. Congrats and I whole heatedly agree. I have not had a migraine since I started going Primal and I old not be happier!

    Heath wrote on January 25th, 2013
  23. That’s wonderful! I’m truly so glad many of you were able to eliminate your migraines. Please, everybody, be compassionate to those who still suffer and don’t preach primal or gluten/grain elimination as the surefire migraine cure. I’ve been completely grain-free for 11 months and mostly primal (over 95%), and I still get migraines every week or two, sometimes 3 days in a row. Eliminating your grains has eliminated your migraines. It is a boon for many, but be aware it is not the cure for all migraines. Yes, I stay away from artificial sweeteners, flavor enhancers, and processed foods. While I welcome any suggestions you may have, I’ve already tried or still take butterbur, riboflavin, selenium, magnesium, feverfew, evening primrose, cod liver oil, various anticonvulsants, anti-anxiety meds, antidepressants, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and probably other things I’ve forgotten. I’ve been prescribed Lortab and Percocet too. I’ve been to neurologists, an allergist, and a chiropractor. I’ve had an MRI, EEG, and lots of TENS/e-stim sessions. Over-the-counter pain relievers like Excedrine and Motrin just give me a stomach ache. The only thing that relieves the pain for me is sumatriptan and time, lots of time, in a cool, dark, quiet room. The primal lifestyle has helped me lose weight, increased my energy, and increased my feeling of vitality…and for that I intend to stick with it. It has not cured or even diminished my migraines. Some of you sound a bit self-righteous when discussing people you know who have migraines. Primal living doesn’t cure everything for everyone.

    G wrote on January 25th, 2013
    • Hi G, I understand your frustration and I hope you find something that will finally work for you. I just wanted to let you know my experience with supplements. I cannot take any of them because they trigger migraines. Especially vitamin b and d. It may seem counterintuitive, but for some people supplements are a trigger. Best of luck to you!

      annie zannetti wrote on January 26th, 2013
    • Same here. Went gluten free and was STRICT for 2 years, 3 months. Interrogating waiters and chefs strict. Initially the migraines dropped off – I was THRILLED. Had a good initial year. But the 2nd year they steadily creeped right back to where they were post GF living. Now I’m just eating well but not GF. I think some people just get migraines and while we can try and manage them with whatever personally works…they might not ever be eliminated.

      Kelly wrote on January 26th, 2013
    • I hear you. I am by the book VLC which is more extreme than most people on this site and have tried every traditional and complementary therapy yet I have a headache every minute of every day. People don’t believe that, but believe it.

      The thing I like about this site is the sanity. Eat well, sleep, move around, play. I woke up at 4:30 am today and went from a 3/10 to 7/10 on the pain scale, and I thought well “Ron Paleo Burgundy would suggest some push ups.” Which I think is awesome. Distraction.

      I just live with the pain. Sometimes well, sometimes not so much. But I’m pretty sure our ancient ancestors either sucked it up or perished.

      Juli wrote on January 26th, 2013
      • has thyroid issues popped up on your radar when it comes to headaches?

        i’ve been getting slammed with daily headaches for the last month and a half. ow ow ow! these things suck. i’ve never had em before. so what gives, right?

        i’m thinking it’s thyroid-related because of an iodine increase in my diet due to the addition of Lite Salt (iodized potassium). i did it with the intention of supplementing low potassium levels associated with VLC. however, within days of using it i’ve been getting brittle hair, metallic mouth, and tension headaches.

        i’ve got thyroid labs on thursday to see what in the heck is happening. i do NOT want to live with this constant nagging pain.

        jordan wrote on January 26th, 2013
        • Yes and no. My headache started as a “thunderclap” one day in 2006 and hasn’t left. I went VLC in 4/12 — about 18 months after being diagnosed with thyroiditis (my immune system attacks my thyroid, thyroid fights back, lather, rinse, repeat).

          I wish I could say there was some obvious linear connection or that eliminating wheat made any of these nagging issues better, but I can’t.

          I will offer some unsolicited advice on the VLC front: I supplemented at first and had terrible night leg cramps (something I’ve had on and off my entire life). I followed the advice Mike Eades has on his blog, it’s quite detailed about how to avoid problems. In short, bone broth, drink a lot of water, and don’t be afraid of salt — but go read it for the details about supplementation.

          A few months ago, I got sick of all the monkeying around with supplements and stopped them and the broth (although it’s still great for cooking and warming up on a cold winter day). I have found that hydration before bedtime is critical and that my usual warm weather work shoe — the mule — probably had about 90% to do with the leg cramps.

          The metallic mouth is a sign you are in ketosis. There are coping strategies for that too, but generally I think you just get used to it. I have to guess the tension headaches may be similar to what causes classic VLC cramping, so see free advice above (not the part about the shoes). My hair also changed and fell out in scary amounts. My doc said that is a common thing with weight loss or gain (I lost 30 pounds). She said the thyroid generally causes actual bald patches (!) so unlikely to be the culprit. My hair is now growing back.

          This is all back to my point above about the MDA philosophy of taking awesome care of yourself whatever else you have going on. I have really tried to stop driving myself nuts looking for solutions to my little assortment of chronic health issues and just tend to the whole self with an annual check up to make sure something hasn’t gone completely off the rails.

          However, as is obvious in these comments many people have discovered direct connections between diet and chronic health problems, so investigating those connections certainly makes sense. And the thyroid is a crazy little thing that can cause all sorts of wild problems: you are wise to take good care of it.

          Good luck. I hope your headaches resolve quickly.

          Juli wrote on January 27th, 2013
    • Heya,

      Yeah a lot of people think of grains as an “enemy” they are eliminating because they are allergic to it. What some people don’t realize is that there are specific side effects of allergies one of which is sneezing, difficulty breathing, cramps and vomiting. Please note that migraines are not an “classic” allergy symptom.
      What I have come to suspect is: its not so much that people are eliminating carbs, its what people are eating instead of carbs. They have effectively swapped a nutritionally deficient food (pasta) for a nutritionally dense food (salad). I think migraines are more of a symptom of MALABSORPTION. Some people only absorb 80% of the vitamins they consume, some people 20% and some people 0%. If you’re one of the 80% or 20% absorption rate, a nutritionally dense diet will help. If you’re one of the 0% sufferers then no amount of good nutrition will “cure” you. Hope this helps.

      Smurf wrote on November 26th, 2013
  24. My daughter is 21 and has had migraines since she was four yrs old, they cause her eye to even paralyze. I sent this story to her in hopes she will finally believe me and give up the crap – i mean gluten. Hope she believes me now. Good job guys!!

    Michele wrote on January 25th, 2013
  25. Happy for you both, good people.

    Txomin wrote on January 25th, 2013
  26. You both look so much younger(especially hubby) and more vibrant! Amazing and bravo!

    Helen wrote on January 25th, 2013
  27. Loved your story Katie! I also suffered migraines with the aura or “shinys” as you very accurately refer to them! It’s amazing to be free of it isn’t it! So happy for you and your husband. I can’t believe the difference in your photos! You both look fantastic and it shows!

    Monique wrote on January 25th, 2013
  28. Well done to you both, being a migraine sufferer, I can relate and share your pain. Thankfully, I can also echo your experience, as I have had no migraines since I started my paleo/primal approach. I’m new to this way of life, but can honestly say I feel better, have more energy, and have 21lb off so far.

    Keith wrote on January 26th, 2013
  29. My sister & I both had similar experiences! I would get a migraine every couple months, my sister was worse and got them several times a month. After I switched to a primal diet, I realized I hadn’t had any migraines in a long time! I gave my sister a copy of PB, her migraines went away too. And when she has gone non-primal for a week or two here and there, migraines come back.

    Abby wrote on January 26th, 2013
  30. So awesome success story and so many posts in validation of diet-related success related to headaches.

    A few observations:
    -There is positive feedback loop from good inputs that come this lifestyle that can slowly reset the pain cycle: Sleep, play etc. It’s not just food.

    -It is sad to hear so many stories where the doc involved didn’t start with an elimination diet. I have daily migraines and everyone I every talked to recommended this strongly. It’s best practice.

    -If barometric pressure is a trigger, FYI, my allergist suggested a nasal anti-histamine. When I told my neurologist this after years of treatment, he was like “oh yeah that works great.” Yes it does. Evidence-based, look it up.

    -Pain is not a one-size fits all thing but there are certainly self-care best practices that 100% fit with MDA

    -My daily headache / chronic migraine is tiling to an 8/10 so I’m going to do some squats, push ups and meditate. Wish me luck. There is no less to do today just because I’m less able to do it.

    Godspeed to everyone dealing with pain.

    Juli wrote on January 26th, 2013
  31. I used to suffer migraines (without aura, thankfully) but my mother had them with auras and they were completely debilitating.
    Bright light does make me feel worse and I avoid it but I admit I have had no real migraines in years and only a handful of headaches. I also used to have acne from the age of 11 until I was well into my thirties. I figured I didn’t have it much now because I’m 45 and hormones are on the wane but you know, diet could be a huge factor as well.

    Indiscreet wrote on January 26th, 2013
  32. Thanks for a great story. I was the ocular migraine queen and have been hospitalized because of it. I get the light flashes so bad that I’m completely blinded. I have to shut myself in a dark room and even with a pillow over my ears, a dog barking in the distance hurts. I went Paleo last year and it didn’t occur to me for about six months that I wasn’t getting migraines anymore. I tell people this and they don’t believe me. My eczema is gone and I feel great all around. I always know when wheat sneaks it’s way into what I’m eating because I immediately get a tight bloat and I’m uncomfortable for the rest of the day. Thank goodness it’s never enough to trigger another migraine.

    Tessie wrote on January 26th, 2013
  33. I just read this article and it made me tear up to see the difference in the photos. You two look great and I’m ready to get over my own migraine paranoia! Thanks!

    Alex wrote on January 26th, 2013
  34. Congratulations! I love reading these stories. I particularly love hearing about people who were trying to be “healthy” (i.e. whole grains, low fat, etc.) realizing that Paleo is so much easier and more effective.

    Michael Corayer wrote on January 26th, 2013
  35. Yup, same here. Have gotten migraines since I was twelve. I’ve been Paleo for about a year and a half and haven’t had a migraine since. Except once. I usually drink red wine, but was at a friend’s house and had one glass of white wine. By the time I got home I had a migraine that lasted three days. I read somewhere that white wine has more sulfites in it than red so that’s all I can think of for a trigger. I won’t be having any more white wine, that’s for sure!

    Island Girl wrote on January 26th, 2013
    • I get bad migraines from white wine too – as well as IBS type symptoms. Sad, cos I love a glass of the bubbly stuff!

      Grokesque wrote on January 28th, 2013
  36. I can relate to migraines. My triggers are varied but having sinusitis is a common denominator. I used to get sinus headaches fairly regularly as a kid but sometimes the pressure would get so bad that it would morph into full-on migraine mode and all my mother could do was give me the maximum dose of children’s Motrin, put me in a dark room, and let me wait it out, sobbing and clawing at my bedsheets and hanging my head over the edge of the matress over a bin, just in case the nausea got bad. I’d get them 3-4 times a month when I was a child, but as I got older they dropped off for various reasons (the A/C ductwork in our house was replaced, my diet improved, and I was on top of taking ibuprofen at the first sign of head pain.) I had one yesterday after about 2 years without one. I have had sinusitis for almost four weeks running, and combined with a chocolate binge (I was sick and wanted chocolate, dammit) it brought me ridiculously low, and once again, my mother and fiance were stuck just waiting me out while the pain and nausea took over.

    It’s funny that your story about your migraines was here this morning. I’m so, SO glad that you were able to stop yours, and I’m so happy when ANYONE finds ANY way to reduce their triggers for whatever kind of migraine they have.

    Kristina wrote on January 27th, 2013
  37. I suffer from migraines as well but am very well regulated with my Elavil. I am not quite ready to cut out all the grains in my diet but will cut out the carbs by half and see how I feel. Thanks for this information.

    Lily Scarrett wrote on January 27th, 2013

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