I'm no stranger to migraines. My first severe migraine occurred when I was in my mid-twenties. I was in school to become a teacher and working two jobs. I definitely wasn't prioritizing my health. Sadly, I wasn't alone.
It's estimated that nearly 1 in 7 people have experienced a migraine - the majority of these people being women. In fact, one study reported that 25% of the women polled had experienced at least one migraine headache in the last 3 months.
Migraines can be debilitating. They can include throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and the inability to think clearly. There have been several incidences where I had to cancel social plans due to migraine pain and crawl into bed at 7:00pm on a Friday night instead.
I was shocked to find out that those who suffer from migraines are more likely to be diagnosed with depression. They're also at greater risk for diabetes, miocardial infarction, and stroke. Yikes! These stats had me wondering if anything could be done besides the obvious ingestion of an opiate painkiller that so many who suffer from migraines are prescribed. Surely there had to be a safer alternative to migraine treatment - one that uses food as medicine. So I set out to figure out a solution to my chronic migraine problem.
What Causes Migraines?
The medical community isn't entirely sure what causes migraines. They list several triggers such as genetic variations and mutations, stress, certain foods and food additives, artificial sweeteners, changes in the weather, hormonal imbalances, oral contraceptives, caffeine, alcohol, nutrient deficiencies, side effects from prescription drugs, and heavy metal toxicity. Avoiding or eliminating certain triggers is one of the best ways to manage migraines.
As far as food and food additives go, gluten and dairy are reported to be some of the most common triggers. The food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) is also a huge trigger, as is aspartame - an artificial sweetener. Other common foods, drinks, and food additives linked to migraines are citrus fruits, red wine, chocolate, bananas, coffee, tea, pork, processed meats, nuts, beans, and cola drinks. A migraine could potentially be an allergic (IgG) response to one or several of these items.
Studies are being done to determine if the MTHFR gene mutation is also a cause of migraines. And it's looking like yes, having the MTHFR gene mutation puts you at greater migraine risk. The reason is a potential defect in the body's methylation cycle. You can learn more about the methylation cycle and its effect on health here.
Can Migraines Be Managed with Food?
I believe that avoiding foods that are potential migraine triggers can help manage the frequency and duration of migraines in most individuals. I usually recommend that my clients dealing with migraine issues try an elimination diet. This means eliminating all potential migraine triggering foods for a minimum of three weeks and then add each food in one by one to see if there's a reaction.
I tried this on myself and found that gluten was definitely contributing to my migraines. Alcohol and MSG are other things I need to avoid if I want to remain migraine free. I encourage you to try an elimination diet as well if you are looking for migraine relief. Remember, migraines are not a painkiller deficiency. They are a symptom of something bigger and can and should be managed without harmful medications as much as possible.