Migraines Part 2: Autoimmunity- Consistency is Key

If you’re here, then you or someone you know is struggling with migraines or daily headaches.  If you haven’t read the first part, go back and read Migraines Part 1 before you continue here.  There’s some helpful info on diet, medicine and the first part of my journey.

Last September (2017) I began dealing with auto-immune symptoms.  I had some testing done to rule out major things like MS but the tests didn’t point to anything conclusive. Because of this my neurologist suggested that I go on an autoimmune reset diet also known as the autoimmune protocol or AIP.  The plan was to see if the diet took care of the symptoms.  If the diet didn’t touch the symptoms then more testing would be done but since it can take 5 to 10 years to diagnose an autoimmune condition the diet seemed to be the best place to start.  Some of the AIP diet overlaps with the migraine diet . So it really wasn’t that big of a change or that difficult to do.  That’s not to say it isn’t difficult, because it is, but if you are committed and consistent it can work for you.  Healing is worth it.  I will definitely talk more about AIP diet in a later post.

With all the family birthdays and holidays I didn’t actually start the autoimmune reset fully until right around Christmas.  I would say I did it about half way until then. Within 2 months I lost about 13 lbs – which felt amazing.  The autoimmune symptoms slowly started to fade. Around this same time my husband bought us some kettle bells and we started working out at home. Nothing elaborate just purposeful everyday movement.

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Over this past spring (2018) I began having less and less migraines and very few autoimmune symptoms.  In the past 5 years, April- September seemed to be the worst migraine months for me because we live in the south where major storm systems, heat and humidity are the norm.  I know for a fact they are the worst months because I’ve been tracking my migraines every day/month for the last 5 years.  This year is different. Even with the storms etc I have had very few migraines.  The main difference between this year and previous years: consistently eating AIP compliant foods and consistent exercise. 

My neurologist has told me for a while that movement is like medicine.  The truth for most chronic pain people is that it can be very hard to move consistently when you are dealing with chronic everyday pain.  We know that exercise has so many benefits for the entire body but there is fear that movement will cause more pain.  I had that fear. When I get really hot I get migraines. So for a while I had fear and stress dealing with the thought of working out. Eventually I got over it. And I’m so glad I did. When I combined purposeful everyday movement with AIP compliant foods I began to find healing.

I now realize that when I eat rice, flour, sugar, soy, eggplants, too many white potatoes, corn in any form, or fried food  I end up in pain. My arms burn like someone is holding a lighter under them, my joints hurt, my head hurts more than normal and my digestion is all screwed up. When I consistently say no to these foods and say yes to anti-inflammatory foods I feel better. I can think more clearly. I have more energy. I don’t feel like I’m dying.  A bit dramatic, I know, but when you have chronic pain you can feel as though you’re dying a slow death.

Healing is a process and the journey for everyone is different. What works for me may not work for you but it’s worth a try. Start with a walk everyday or gentle yoga.  Cut out inflammatory foods like grains and sugar.  It can be hard to make that first step into healing. Do it anyway.  I promise you won’t regret it.

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Migraines Part 1: The Migraine Diet

A Life with Migraines

One of my first memories is having dye put in my veins for an MRI because I had headaches all. the. time.  I continued having headaches and migraines throughout my childhood and young adult life. As I entered my mid to late 20’s they got worse.  After having my 2nd and youngest baby, the frequency and severity became unbearable.  I was having migraines like clockwork and daily headaches.  I couldn’t function when a migraine hit,  I would literally just have to sleep, sometimes for a couple of days.

Paleo and Migraines

During this time my family and I started a strict paleo diet.  I researched the paleo lifestyle for a while.  I read testimony after testimony of people who had frequent migraines then went paleo and quit having them altogether.  I was eager to begin my headache-free life. Unfortunately for me it was the exact opposite.  I had the worst migraines of my life after going strict paleo.  Something had to change.

Medicated Migraines

May of 2012 my neurologist put me on Maxalt. I had taken a drug like it before that didn’t work so I was very hesitant, not to mention that I hate the way meds make me feel.  I used Maxalt as a way to stop the migraine pain after it started and it worked…I would have to sleep for a little while but at least I was functioning.  Maxalt worked at stopping the migraine once it started but the medicine didn’t prevent or change the frequency of the migraines.

Food is the best Medicine

October 2012 changed my life. I had a 3 week-long span of daily headaches with migraines every 5 days. I was so discouraged and desperate.  I felt low and just sad.  What happened next changed my life.  I went to my neurologist, Dr. P, and said I’m willing to do anything I couldn’t function.  Dr. P left the room and when he came back he said “I don’t normally give this to my clients because its overwhelming but I think you can actually do it.”  With that he handed me a stack of papers.  Enter the Migraine and Headache Diet!

The Migraine and Headache Diet

The migraine diet is laid out into foods that are permissible and foods to avoid. He told me to take the foods in the avoid column and keep them out for a month and then add them in one by one to see if any of them were triggers. Bananas, avocados, olives, eggs, yogurt and so many more.  What the heck?!  I was eating these foods ALL the time.  A good number of the avoid foods were my favorite “paleo” foods and were a daily part of my diet. But again I was desperate.  I took all of the foods in the avoid column out immediately. Dr. P also put me on 400 mg of magnesium a day.

One week later I stopped having daily headaches. 

I have been on the diet over a year and the migraines are getting better.  I still get migraines once a month, but the pain and frequency are changing. Instead of 5 migraines a month with awful daily headaches, I have 1 or 2 at the most and the pain is much less.

Below is a list of foods (potential migraine triggers) that I avoid:

  • more than 2 cups of caffeine per day
  • energy drinks
  • any and all fake sweeteners
  • all processed meat
  • all nut butters
  • soy sauce
  • yeast extracts
  • cultured dairy products (buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt)
  • aged cheeses
  • fresh made bread
  • yeast breads
  • eggs
  • chocolate
  • all beans
  • onions
  • olives
  • pickles
  • bananas
  • figs
  • raisins
  • papaya
  • red plums
  • sauerkraut
  • sunflower and sesame seeds
  • canned and processed foods
  • pizza
  • msg
  • anything that has natural flavorings, msg, or yeast extract in ingredient list
  • Chinese food
  • any fermented or pickled foods
  • seasoned salts
  • most store-bought salad dressings
  • aged meat
  • game meat
  • organ meat
  • fish except salmon and tuna
  • food with nitrites and nitrates
  • alcohol
  • red food coloring

This is a long list and I understand why people would find it overwhelming. For me its been life changing.  When people comment on what I can’t eat and how sad it is, I think of how good I feel compared to how I used to feel. If you have ever suffered from migraines you know how hopeless it can be and most people don’t understand, they’re like, “Take a goody powder.”

Ridiculous.

I do have other migraine triggers like strong smells (perfumes, candles, air fresheners..I mean just open a window, no one needs 35 plug-ins! it’s poison…I could go on and on here but I will stop) and weather- yes weather! It’s a real trigger.

There is no one cure for migraines.  Every migraine is different just like every person is different. This is just what’s helping me.  It was hard at first to wrap my mind around the fact that these healthy foods cause me to have migraines. Then my awesome husband said “Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you.”  That has helped me so much!

For an update check out Migraines part 2