Migraines & Food Triggers: Is There Any Hope???
I have an exhausting list of migraine food triggers. It took me years of suffering to discover them. I’ve had to peel back all of the layers contributing to my chronic migraines – hormonal, nutritional, toxicities, lifestyle, emotional, spiritual – to truly nail down how my body responds to food. I avoid my food triggers at all cost and always ask questions when eating out to make sure I am safe. You will find a list of common migraine food triggers at the top and bottom of this post.
One of the best dietary changes I’ve made for migraines was going gluten free six years ago. I tend to eat mostly Paleo at this point, since it helps me control my blood sugar. I will explain how blood sugar regulation is important for migraine management in a future post.
Gluten is a common migraine trigger and can wreak havoc on the gut if you have a sensitivity to it. It can also lead to leaky gut or dysbiosis. I think Dr. Mark Hyman can describe the gut-brain connection better than me:
“The health of your gut determines what nutrients are absorbed and what toxins, allergens, and microbes are kept out. It is directly linked to the health of your whole body. Intestinal health could be defined as the optimal digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food. But that is a big job that depends on many other factors. Let’s look at a few of them …
First, there are bugs in your gut that form a diverse and interdependent ecosystem like a rainforest. In fact, there are 500 species and 3 pounds of bacteria in your gut which form a HUGE chemical factory that help you digest your food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that keep your gut and your body healthy.
This ecosystem of friendly bacteria must be in balance for you to be healthy. Too many of the wrong bacteria, like parasites and yeasts, or not enough of the good ones, like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria, can seriously damage your health.
So keeping a healthy balance of bugs in your intestines is one factor to good gut health.
It’s important to understand that many diseases that seem to be totally unrelated to the gut – such as eczema, psoriasis, or arthritis – are actually CAUSED by gut problems.
Second, there is your gut-immune system. Your entire immune system, and the rest of your body, is protected from the toxic environment in your gut by a lining that is only ONE cell-thick layer. If spread out, this lining would take up a surface area the size of a tennis court, and the entire thing is covered by a sewer!
If that barrier is damaged, you can become allergic to foods you may normally be able to digest perfectly well, you will get sick, your immune system will become overactive, and it will begin producing inflammation throughout your body. Filtering out the good from the bad molecules and protecting your immune system is yet another important factor in gut health.
Third, there is your second brain – your gut’s nervous system. Did you know your gut, actually contains MORE neurotransmitters than your brain? In fact, the gut has a brain of its own. It is called the “enteric nervous system” and it is a very sophisticated piece of your biology that is wired to your brain in intricate ways.
Messages constantly travel back and forth between your gut-brain and your head-brain, and when those messages are interfered with in any way your health will suffer.
Fourth, your gut also has to get rid of all the toxins produced as byproducts of your metabolism, which your liver dumps into bile. If things get backed up when you are constipated, you will become toxic and your health will suffer.
And last but not least, your gut must break down all the food you eat into its individual components, separate out the vitamins and minerals, and shuttle everything across the one cell-thick layer mentioned above so it can get into your bloodstream and nourish your body and brain.
Your gut has quite a lot to manage. Even in a perfect world it is hard to keep all of this in balance. But in our modern world there are endless insults that can knock our digestive systems off balance making it much more difficult to maintain excellent digestive health.”
This helps explain why healing your gut is a component to healing your migraines, healing your food sensitivities and triggers, and to your overall homeostasis.
I did the elimination diet 5 years ago, and although it was a huge challenge to eliminate most foods, it allowed me to find out which foods I have a reaction to. Otherwise, it is difficult to accurately track which foods you are reacting to, especially if the response is not as severe as a migraine, but instead lethargy, irritability, or digestive upset. My food sensitivity varies from food to food – I’m extremely sensitive to gluten, citrus, preservatives (nitrates), artificial sweeteners, and MSG. I’m moderately sensitive to chocolate, alcohol, bananas, processed sugar, cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, and wine. I have discovered that I also have a migraine threshold with my triggers. What I mean by this is that if I have had a good month with no migraines and have little other physical, lifestyle, or emotional triggers present, my body seems to be strong enough to consume a trigger food. I’ve done some trial and error to discover how much I can tolerate of a trigger food when I have a high migraine threshold. But, if I’m craving chocolate and have had a headache for a few days, am hormonal, and stressed out, then giving in to my craving has a high likelihood of triggering a migraine. My migraine threshold would be considered low in that instance.
If you eat a food that triggers a migraine, you can use activated charcoal powder to absorb it and help stop the reaction. The charcoal also absorbs other foods and medications – anything in the gut – so keep that in mind. I always keep activated charcoal powder on hand – everywhere I go, just in case.
I’ve been working on healing my gut for a few years now, with the help of my naturopath. This has involved supplemental probiotics, fermented foods such as kefir, non-soy miso, bone broth soup, and ridding my gut of parasites. Dietary changes such as avoiding sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, & caffeine are also important for keeping the good flora present. I have even been able to eat some of my trigger foods again, in small amounts. So, don’t lose faith – you can identify your food triggers and it will be one of the most helpful things in your journey.
The best thing you can do is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Especially your gut. I know you’ve heard it before… “What’s your gut feeling?” Research shows that the gut is now being called our “second brain” – so maybe you should listen to it every once and awhile.
What foods trigger your migraines? Would you like help identifying your triggers? Please contact me and I can help guide you.