The First Step in Healing Your Migraines: Heal Your Gut
I have discovered that one of the most powerful healing tools at my disposal is food and nutrition. It wasn’t until I started changing my diet that I realized how impacted I was by what I ate. I have used food to aid in healing my chronic migraines, controlling my blood sugar, detoxing my liver, balancing my hormones, healing my gut, and improving my moods.
As I mentioned in My Story, I grew up eating salty, fried, sugary foods in Texas. I reminisce about the days where I guiltlessly enjoyed margarine, cheese, dairy, cereal, pizza, sugary fruit snacks, Koolaid, McDonalds, candy, Pop tarts, donuts, fried chicken, corn dogs, and then some… never once realizing that most of that food had very little nutritional content and in fact was contributing to my developing food allergies such as dairy and gluten intolerance, gut imbalances, hypoglycemia, migraines, chronic inflammatory pain, stagnant liver, high estrogen levels, and severe mood swings.
At the age of 27, I started working with the first of three nutritionists/naturopaths during my journey – and she suggested I try going gluten free as well as doing what is commonly known as the “elimination diet”, in order to pinpoint my food sensitivities. Coming into this, I already had a list of migraine trigger foods, which I had eliminated from my current diet. The “elimination diet” involved removing all grains, dairy, processed foods, white sugar, preservatives, MSG, processed meats, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, nuts, beans, cruciferous vegetables, and more. I added healing bone broth soup and gelatin. I completely changed how, what, and when I ate my food – and learned how to have the correct amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep my blood sugar level and my cravings satiated. During this time, I also used castor oil packs (I will post about this healing treatment soon) on my liver and stomach 5-7 days a week for 1-2 hours per day. Castor oil is an ancient remedy that when used as a “pack” with heat can help detox and heal various organs and areas of the body that it is applied to.
The first month of eating this way was really challenging. I lost 25 pounds and remember weighing in at 104 pounds right around the time of my wedding. I went through gluten and sugar withdrawals, experiencing a combination of brain fog, stomach pain, heightened inflammatory pain, and emotional instability. I was still experiencing chronic daily migraines at the time. As Dr. William Davis explains, common withdrawal symptoms include “depression, nausea, headaches, lightheadedness, dehydration, emotional outbursts, intensive wheat cravings, bloating, constipation, even intensification of joint pain.” It’s interesting, because these are common symptoms that come from eating gluten, not just detoxing from it.
Dr. Davis explains, “Modern Wheat is an opiate…
Wheat is addictive in the sense that it comes to dominate thoughts and behaviors. Wheat is addictive in the sense that, if you don’t have any for several hours, you start to get nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another “hit” of crackers, bagels, or bread, even if it’s the few stale 3-month old crackers at the bottom of the box. Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental “fog,” inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks. Wheat is addictive in the sense that the withdrawal process can be provoked by administering an opiate-blocking drug such as naloxone or naltrexone. But the “high” of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry.
This is the effect exerted by gliadin, the protein in wheat that was inadvertently altered by geneticists in the 1970s during efforts to increase yield. Just a few shifts in amino acids and gliadin in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat became a potent appetite stimulant.”
Dr. Amy Myers can explain the link between gluten and leaky gut much better than me:
“How does gluten cause intestinal permeability, a.k.a leaky gut?
Regulating intestinal permeability is one of the basic functions of the cells that line the intestinal wall. In sensitive people, gluten can cause the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break apart the tight junctions holding your intestines together.
Once these tight junctions get broken apart, your gut is considered to be leaky. A leaky gut allows toxins, microbes, undigested food particles and antibodies to escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream. The antibodies that escape are the ones that your body produced to attack the gliadin in the first place.
What is the link between gluten, systemic inflammation and autoimmune disease? Unfortunately, these antibodies often confuse more than just tTG for gliadin, and end up attacking other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This is why gluten intolerance is frequently paired with autoimmune conditions and why those with celiac disease are at risk of developing a second autoimmune disease. I would suggest that if you have an autoimmune disease you get tested for gluten sensitivity, and if you’re gluten intolerant, you should get screened for autoimmunity.”
This being said, please consider whether or not your health issues are related to a gluten sensitivity – something that you may be able to determine by simply eliminating it for a few months. Some people suggest eliminating gluten for 3 weeks; I recommend 3 months, because it can take months for your gut to heal after years of leaky gut and inflammatory responses to gluten. Bone broth soup and gelatin are used to heal the gut, and adding fermented foods will help recolonize your gut with healthy flora. I also added probiotics during this time – at one point I was taking a high dosage of 100 billion live cultures per day. I am now on a maintenance dose of 25 million per day. I don’t mean to go on and on about gluten intolerance, but I have to stress how important this change to my diet was in healing my gut and eventually affecting my migraines. It’s a common issue among migraineurs that we are just more sensitive to everything in the world – sounds, smells, sights, tastes – and it’s important to consider those sensitivities in how food and nutrition affect your body as well.
Slowly, I added a new food back into my diet every week and waited a few days to determine how I responded to it. After digging so deeply into my diet and peeling all the layers back, it has become very obvious which foods I react to. Now that I’ve identified most of my food and lifestyle triggers, I can usually easily and quickly pinpoint what is making me sick. If you’d like to see the original document from my naturopath outlining her dietary suggestions, please see the slideshow below. I suggest doing your own research, asking questions, and discussing options with a naturopath or functional medicine practitioner regarding changes to your diet. I have only touched the surface of this complex topic – how food and nutrition affect migraines and disease. Feel free to contact me and I can serve as a Migraine Coach – guiding you along with your doctor(s) to answer your questions and help you with potential lifestyle and dietary changes, based on my own personal experience.