Eating to Reduce Migraine Pain?
I am 31 years old and have been suffering from migraines since I was 12 years old. This means I have been suffering from migraines for about two-thirds of my life. When I put it into a numerical context, it astounds me that for most of my life I have suffered from chronic pain.
I have been on a variety of different medications over the past 19 years. I am still on a handful of medications. I see my family doctor, a neurologist, a chiropractor, and a massage therapist. Still, my migraines do not seem to get better.
About two months ago, I was literally crying in my family doctor’s office. “I don’t know what else to do. I can’t keep doing this.”
“Well, there’s a new integrative medicine doctor in the area. Let’s try sending you there.”
Oh joy. Another doctor.
So off I went. But this time, she actually had something new for me to try.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
After the doctor took a full health history, she looked me square in the eye.
“Look, I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. Migraines are multifactorial and there’s probably any number of things causing them in you right now, but there’s something big I can see that is probably contributing. Your diet sucks. You are a tiny ball of inflammation.”
She went on to explain that this inflammation is not the external type of inflammation that you see, such as when you sprain and ankle or burn yourself on a hot stove, but the internal kind that you cannot see that can cause disease.
According to the creator of the anti-inflammatory diet, Dr. Weil, “Whole-body inflammation refers to chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation. Mounting evidence suggests that, over time, this kind of inflammation sets the foundation for many serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
"Diet has a huge impact, so much so that I believe that most people in our part of the world go through life in a pro-inflammatory state as a result of what they eat. I’m convinced that the single most important thing you can do to counter chronic inflammation is to stop eating refined, processed, and manufactured foods.”
So where does the “anti-inflammatory diet” come in?
According to the doctor, the way I had been eating was causing internal inflammation. This internal inflammation was most likely contributing to my migraines. Changing the way I eat could decrease the severity and the number of migraines I endured, possibly even the amount of medication required to treat my migraines.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Guidelines
Dr. Weil is quick to point out that the word “diet” is used, but it is not necessarily a weight loss gimmick. However, people can and do lose weight following the guidelines.
As a chronic dieter, I read this and thought, “bummer.” But then I remembered, “I have bigger goals at hand. If I lose weight, great, if not, at least my migraines will get better.”
Then I read the guidelines of this diet (like what to eat and what not to eat) and thought, “Hey, I can handle this!”
Dr. Weil does give specific guidelines regarding the amount of calories and grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. I try not to bog myself down with specifics because that takes a mathematical genius, or someone who is a calorie counter, of which I am neither.
However, general guidelines are as follows (and they are tasty):
- Minimize processed foods and include mostly fresh foods.
- Increase whole grain products and decrease whole wheat flour products.
- Eat a plentiful amount of beans, squash, and sweet potatoes.
- Choose extra virgin olive oil or canola oil instead of other cooking oils.
- Include avocados and quality nuts, including nut butters.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are important, so include fish in the diet, as well as eggs. Include a supplement if this is not possible.
- Decrease animal proteins and increase cheese, yogurt, and vegetable protein.
- Fiber intake is important – if choosing cereals, pick a cereal with 4 to 5 grams per serving.
- Fruits and vegetables should be selected from all parts of the color spectrum to protect against age-related diseases.
- Choose tea instead of coffee.
- Drink red wine moderately.
- Drink water throughout the day.
I’d be lying if I said I follow this beautiful diet all of the time. I have a three-year-old at home who is very picky. I have a 35-year-old husband who eats like a three-year-old. We have pizza every Thursday night and we get donuts and croissants every Saturday morning.
That being said, I try to adopt an “80/20” mentality. I try to follow these guidelines 80 percent of the time, while eating what I want (the pizza and croissants) 20 percent of the time. Sometimes these percentages are flip-flopped.
I can tell you this – this food is good. When I am eating this “diet,” I also feel good. I have not followed it strictly enough to say if it reduces my headaches significantly. I will report back in a month to let you know my progress! Until next time, fellow migraineurs!
The Anti-inflammatory Diet and Migraines: Follow-Up
Last month, I wrote about the anti-inflammatory diet and its benefit for migraines.
At that time, I had been “prescribed” this diet by an integrative medicine doctor.
I had since adopted an “80/20” mentality when it came to this diet – meaning that I attempted to follow the diet guidelines at least 80% of the time while eating what I wanted the remaining 20% of the time (mainly pizza on Thursdays and croissants on Saturday mornings with my family.)
So, how am I doing?
Happily, I have great news to report!
As you may recall, I am 31 years old and have been getting migraines and tension headaches since I was 12 years old – almost 20 years.
I have tried nearly every type of medication available for migraines, as well as massage with craniosacral therapy, yoga, and chiropractic care. I even recently started acupuncture.
Most of these things work – to some degree. I find that medication works, but eventually, the effectiveness wears off. Massage works – but I need to get a massage at least monthly. Yoga works – to reduce my anxiety. You get the picture.
Which is why, after about 20 years, I am still suffering from chronic headaches.
So you can bet when this doctor asked me to readjust my diet to “fix” my problems, I was skeptical. What could changing my diet do that taking a medication couldn’t.
As it turns out – a lot.
I swapped out my morning bagel and cream cheese for a couple of eggs topped with half a mashed avocado and salsa and a side of berries.
Lunch is often a salad or a sandwich on sprouted grain bread, topped with tuna and hummus, paired with a banana or an apple.
Dinner is frequently a chicken breast with some type of vegetable and perhaps some brown rice or sweet potatoes.
Snacks (because let’s get real – I’m a snacker) are Greek yogurt with honey and berries, fruit and peanut butter, and occasionally cheese sticks.
My vice? Coffee.
I have not been unable to swap out coffee for tea (although I may have a cup of tea mid-afternoon instead of the third cup of joe). I have cut out the sugar that I add to my coffee though! Baby steps.
This isn’t that hard – because the food is good. And I don’t restrict myself. The important thing that I keep in mind is that this isn’t something that I need to do all the time – in fact, I eat cake on birthdays.
If I want dessert at a restaurant, I order it. And beer? Yes, I still drink it because I don’t love red wine (in fact, I am likely to have an anaphylactic reaction if I drink it!)
Before I started this so-called “diet,” we adopted “pizza Thursdays” and “donut Saturdays” at our house. And I still partake in these family traditions. I just don’t go so far off of my plan that I end up with a migraine.
How do I know it works for me? After all, if you’re like me, your headaches probably ebb and flow – sometimes they’re awful, and sometimes, well, you may not have a headache for a while.
Here’s how I now that the anti-inflammatory diet works.
Last week we went camping. To save money on our trip, I bought bread that I don’t usually eat, lunch meat that is full of nitrates, and hot dogs. I drank beer daily. I ate the best scone of my life at a local bakery. I did not drink enough water so I could avoid the outhouse.
All of these little things that may not be a big issue, except they culminated together into one weekend. And I ended up with one of the worst headaches I’ve had in months.
And now, I’m in damage control mode, picking up the pieces of that one little weekend.
I can’t vouch for everyone, but if you suffer from migraines (or any chronic pain disorder), I strongly advocate that you try the anti-inflammatory diet.
Speak to your physician, and if they give you the go-ahead, you’ve got nothing to lose – except maybe, your pain.