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Deborah Richards
Nutrition Educator
LCHF/KETO Advocate 
Vancouver, B.C.

Making of a Migraineur

This long entry is for those who want to know how I became a chronic migraine sufferer.

I Didn't Always Have Migraines

Before my 30's, I only experienced 2 migraines my whole life, likely related to heat stroke: I was exercising without proper hydration and electrolytes. 

By age 35, after my second child in two years, I was exhausted. I started to get menstrual migraines (2 days before my cycle began, through to day 5). After three hours of suffering, I would end up in bed in a dark room, vomiting, intolerant to noise, light and scents until the next day. 

By the time my kids were ages 1 and 3, I often felt like I was running on adrenaline. The two pregnancies, breast-feeding, interrupted sleep, incomplete nutrition, and not enough water, all took it’s toll. I wasn't training in the gym as before, but instead, hanging out at the sand box with toddlers. I lost metabolically active muscle. (Muscle is an important metabolic friend and staying strong with resistance exercise helps to lower blood glucose levels and makes you more sensitive to insulin. A migraine brain wants this.)

Because the migraines were initally around my period, I sought out natural remedies for hormonal balancing. Nothing helped.

A researcher at heart, I dove into all I could find at the time on migraines and hormones. Science pointed to the estrogen-

progesterone link without any consistent ‘fix’ as hormones fluctuate enormously over the month especially in a peri-menopausal woman. 

Even so, I was prescribed birth-control pills. The theory was to simply take the hormonal fluctuation out of the equation. As a 37-year-old woman and a husband who had had a vasectomy, PLEASE!  After twenty- some odd years of dealing with birth control, wasn't it my time to let my eggs run free?

I took the pills anyway and gave it several months.  My migraines remained on schedule as usual. I stopped taking them.

When I drank a single glass of wine I’d get a headache, so I had to cut red wine out of my diet. Not unusual for a migraineur. First it was wine, then as the months progressed, I couldn’t drink any alcohol without it triggering a migraine.

The rest of the literature mainly talked about the different classes of drugs to take. There were some natural suggestions too - of which I did all of them: chiropractic work, massage, supplements (like feverfew, butterbur, and magnesium), acupuncture, osteopathy and IgG food allergy testing. Sure, good for overall health but nothing stopped the endless wave of continuous migraines.

 

One thing was clear: the mechanics of a migraine was understood

yet no-one could tell me WHY my brain had changed.

Very reluctantly, I gave up coffee. Even the caffeine in a cup of tea would trigger a migraine mere hours later, sometimes for days. This was hard for me. Although I now drink ‘water processed’ decaf, I still miss the way the world felt with caffeine surging through my blood. Coffee, my drug of choice, made the world feel like a more optimistic place! Sigh. No coffee, no alcohol, no chocolate and raising two young kids! I remember thinking: At least I still have bread, pasta, and sugar.​

I also cut out all the other typical migraine trigger foods which beyond coffee and alcohol included: chocolate, aged cheeses, nitrates, sulfites, and many foods which later proved be helpful on a ketogenic diet: fatty foods, nuts and even dairy. 

Because my former way of eating was a healthy, whole-foods based diet, I never once thought my issue was the ENTIRE WAY I ate.

 

For a decade I attempted to reduce suspected ‘trigger’ foods, only to realize my problem was my brain's fuel dependence was an entire MACRONUTRIENT. 

 

This was a typical day of eating during my migraine days:

 

  • Breakfast: Protein smoothie made with frozen berries, banana, greens, whey, fish oil, OJ etc. With a slice or two of toast, or maybe oatmeal.

  • Lunch: Salads, sandwiches, or sushi.

  • Snacks of fruit, nuts, homemade muffins, fresh squeezed juice

  • Dinners were mostly lean chicken breasts, yams, greens, carrots, whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice and quinoa… etc.

 

And as an active, fit person with no weight issues, I didn’t have a problem saying yes to desert! (Without wine and coffee, I felt entitled to it)

 

Compared to the Standard American Diet, my diet was well above the S.A.D. norm. 

​It didn’t matter. My brain was sick. 

My first visit to the neurologist was disappointing but I didn’t know any better at that point.  

 

I was four years into having 3 to 6 migraines a month, and the specialist tells me I simply have a “migraine brain” and there's nothing I can do about it, outside of choosing from a bouquet of drugs, all with varying side effects. In fact the most disheartening comment the neurologist made to me that day was: “Well at least you only get several migraines every month. I have women in here that suffer daily.” I still have no idea how that was supposed to make me feel better. I started taking Triptans that week. They worked really well as long as I popped one the second I felt my prodrome symptoms. 

Within 4 years of taking both Relpax and Frovatriptan, my prescription had bumped up to 12 a month. My migraines doubled then tripled in frequency. Between ages 41 and 46, I was suffering 12-15 migraines a month, and some days, I felt like it never really went away. I had become a daily sufferer. 

 

In the summer of 2017 a friend took Frovatriptan for the first time,

and suffered a heart attack. I was the one who told her about Frova. 

 

Desperate for some new research to help me get off these damaging drugs, I returned to my neurologist. Unfortunately there was no mention of the metabolic connection, and instead I was prescribed a daily preventative: an anti-seizure medication given to epileptics. The list of side effects were literally ridiculous.

 

My Neurologist warned me that Topamax might make me ‘dumb’. 

 

One patient complained of forgetting her dinner guest's name and common nouns were reduced to “thingamajigs”.

Not cool. I left without filling the prescription. 

The moment I got home, I researched natural treatments for seizures and epilepsy and came across a diet given to epileptic children with excellent results! The research cited was almost 100 years old. It was called the Ketogenic diet. 

 

That was summer of 2017. It's been over a year I genuinely have my life back. In the early days I was not magically migraine free but they did lessen in the first WEEK! That was motivation enough. My brain actually felt different. If a migraine did ensue, I did everything I could to control it: water and salt, and then I'd either try to sleep it off without meds, or if I wasn't yet too sick, I would attempt to walk and 'fast' it away.

 

Worst case scenario if I was at work or if the migraine had come on in the night, and by morning I was too far gone to use my other tactics, I would cut the Frova in half, or in 1/4 and try to abort it with less and less medication. 

These days I follow a LCHF diet and I'm in nutritional ketosis most of the time. I can transition into ketosis easily. Some would call this metabolically flexible. I test my blood glucose and ketones less regularly than when I began, but am still fine tuning my own personal plan. I am still susceptible to migraine. I may always be, but as the months and years go by eating a LCHF diet, I see a day, where the migraine memories will have long faded, and all I'm left with is the excellent disease-preventing benefits of a LCHF diet. Back to Do