Migraines and diet are strongly linked. Since I was first diagnosed with migraines, choosing the right food has become an integral part of my daily routine.
I have tried every diet that has come across my path to improve my health and help stop the migraines. It's been a lot of work and I have spent a gazillion hours researching.
Have you heard of the ketogenic diet? When my new doctor said it is neuroprotective, my ears perked up. He also suggested I try a low histamine diet, an autoimmune diet... or a Paleo diet.
When I heard the ketogenic diet was neuroprotective I had to choose that one first to see if it would help reduce my attacks.
He recommended I look at Patricia Daly’s website which is packed full of fabulous information. She is a nutritionist who used the ketogenic diet to cure her own form of rare eye cancer and now helps others.
I want to say cure, but …. we all know there are no guarantees when it comes to an illness like cancer. Though I must say, she uses the word cure.
I bought her first e-book once I saw some of the delicious recipes. Plus she has a daily menu plan for two weeks: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Easy peasy!
I thought as far as migraines and diet goes, this would be simple compared to doing it all myself like I have done in the past.
Neuro-protective means "serving to protect neurons from injury or degeneration." merriam-webster.com
Kids Health.org defines Ketones as “glucose (a type of sugar) is the body's main energy source. But when the body can't use glucose for energy, it uses fat instead. When fats are broken down for energy, chemicals called ketones appear in the blood and urine.”
The ketogenic diet's main goal is to change your metabolism to burn fat instead of glucose (or sugar). You may be familiar with the term ketosis. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process where the body burns ketones to make energy instead of using sugar or glucose to make energy.
Ketosis helps us adapt to times when there is a food shortage. Fasting is one way to look at it. Many medical conditions are using this to diet to manage and treat Diabetes, Autism, Epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Cancer and others.
The key thing to remember here is that it is anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. As a migraine sufferer you need to protect your nerve cells as they get over stimulated or over excited and fire off.
I recently listened to a webinar where Ms. Daly talked about alternative cancer cells energy pathways and how the liver converts amino acids into glucose. A lot of it was over my head, but I found it incredibly interesting.
The main take away was that you want low carbohydrates, high fat (good fat), and moderate protein intake.
Here was her breakdown:
The standard western diet is more like:
and Fat 20-35%
So you can see the carbohydrate section alone in the ketogenic diet is extremely different from the standard diet. As an athlete Patricia ate high carbs. And western cultures eat high carbs. I know I sure did before I studied nutrition.
On a positive note, all these years of experimenting with migraines and diet have made me stay healthy.
My results - after three months of doing this diet my husband lost about four kilos (nine pounds) and I gained much more energy. My migraines have reduced in intensity but not frequency, yet! I will keep you posted.
In the 1920’s doctors observed that intractable epileptic seizures reduced during a fast. This was with just water!
So they were keen to develop a diet that mimicked fasting. So the Ketogenic diet was used primary as an effective tool with managing epilepsy until the 1930’s when drugs were developed.
Doctors that deal with neurological diseases like: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Polycystic ovary syndrome are now all looking at this diet to test its effectiveness.
Patricia used it to cure her own rare form of eye cancer. She says that reducing Carbohydrate intake to under 50 grams a day, reduces the hypoglycemic reaction. By lowering blood glucose to avoid spikes, you limit the fuel source for cancer cells.
Using high fat foods like organic coconut oil and avocado, provides an excellent energy source for healthy cells.
Migraines and diet is one thing we can control. We can control what we choose to eat. I think all of this is important for the additional health benefits as well.
Dr. Mercola says ketones are brain food.
“Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are fats that are not processed by your body in the same manner as long-chain triglycerides. Normally, a fat taken into your body must be mixed with bile released from your gallbladder before it can be broken down in your digestive system.
But medium-chain triglycerides go directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones, bypassing the bile entirely. Your liver then immediately releases the ketones into your bloodstream where they are transported to your brain to be used as fuel.”
The Ketogenic diet has predictable metabolic changes. It lowers glucose and insulin and oh my goodness so many other things, but most importantly for us ….. it reduces inflammation and provides neuroprotection.
Patricia Daly advocates that you can also: improve the quality of life, regain energy, get better sleep, have clearer skin, and improve your digestion. This is my first exploration with migraines and diet around nerve protection.
Look out for more posts on this one.
Let me just say that I bought her second e-book the minute it came out. There are many recipes I just would never, ever think to try that are not only easy but absolutely delicious.
Plus, as I already mentioned, hubby lost 9 pounds without even trying. He was just eating what I made!!!
So there are other benefits to my experimenting with migraines and diet.
In your desperation for pain relief, you might be tempted to try things that may not be in your best interest. So please run new experiments past your doctor or primary care physician.
The Ketogenic Diet does have contraindications with some pre-existing health conditions. Especially kidney or heart conditions. And for me, a disfunctional gallbladder.
The other confusing thing is that most doctors might think you are entering the ketosis danger zone, meaning ketoacidosis, which is not the same as nutritional ketosis.
Ketoacidosis is a huge problem for individuals with diabetes, or anyone unable to make or process insulin correctly. These are two different things. So gather your information and ...
Check with your doctor first if you have other health conditions that may contraindicate this method.
My doctor warned me about Keto flu! You might feel a bit worse before you get better. I never did actually, just a little more tired than usual. Luckily I could just cook, rest and eat for my first month. I was very keen to test the potential for migraine reduction.
I would really only do this under medical supervision, that’s me. I have a device that measures my ketones. It’s the same one that measures blood sugar for diabetics, so check with your physician should you wish to start on this food journey.
75-85% of fat sounds like a mountain of fat! But it's not really.
Coconut oil blends into anything plus it has a higher heat limit for cooking.
Intermittent fasting is another way to help the body go into deeper ketosis – Patricia fasts for 18 hours.
She just has two meals and eats at brunch and then 6 pm.
This is not where you start.
In fact I have never eaten so much food in my life.
She also provides morning and afternoon snack recipes. It’s all there. Here are some examples:
Egg frittata mixed with leftover vegetables – or just scrambled all together.
Kale shake – (steamed) mixed with coconut cream, apple cider vinegar and the other nutritious things she adds.
Chia pudding – you can make up in a blender.
Homemade bread with butter (she has lots of bread and cracker recipes).
Keto granola bars.
Bulletproof coffee (MCT oil, and butter into the coffee). This has become my favorite winter drink using almond milk. I don't use coffee, just three drops of stevia to sweeten it up. NICE!
And as I said mid-morning snacks. Smaller meals and not too much fat in one go will give your system time to adapt to this new way of eating.
Keep it simple.
You can use leftovers from dinner last night in bone broth. Just put it all into your bone broth with spices and herbs to make a nice soup or casserole type meal.
In the summer have green leafy salads with sardines and homemade mayo. You can create a m a z i n g salad dressings that make the meal.
Keto friendly soups in winter.
Sandwich with keto bread, lettuce and gherkins, pate, etc.
She does a Mason jar lunch and just puts the dressing at the bottom and then the ingredients in layers at the top. When you are ready to eat shake it and turn it upside down. Voilà!
Patricia Daly says that the best time to eat is at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Start your mini-fast of 12 hours from dinner to breakfast (and slowly increase the gap if you choose to).
The benefits of fasting: lowers growth factors, switches on DNA repairs genes and regenerates immune cells.
Some food ideas are:
Courgette spaghetti with pesto or carbonara sauce – Yummo!
Duck legs (in oven for 15-20 minutes) good fat content and not so much protein as chicken.
Pizza – yes pizza with cauliflower crust. With oily fish like salmon or sardines for topping.
Portobello mushrooms, big ones, you can top them like a mini pizza!
If you like and tolerate dairy, you can put a little on top of pizza's or veggies.
Salmon and avocado. Are you drooling yet?
This is not just about food, it is about choosing a healthy lifestyle to stop migraines before they start. Reducing stress, relaxing and enjoying life is really important. So never beat yourself up for not getting it quite right.
Migraines and diet have been, and continue to be a very big challenge for me. But at the same time fun. I love finding yummy new things I can eat that are really healthy and migraine safe. Here are a few more tips.
I don’t eat dairy, if I can help it, but some is also a good source of fat and calcium.
Fermenting beetroot and carrot significantly reduces the carbohydrate content.
Celeriac is low in carbohydrates. I never cooked with it until Patricia's amazing recipe for Shepherd’s pie in her e-book came up. I love it.
So my personal experimenting with migraines and diet continues in the pursuit of migraine elimination.
Name one thing you learned about migraines and diet that helped stop or reduce your attacks?
Let me know in the comments below. And stay in touch by joining the mailing list so you'll be up to date with migraines and diet experiments and other pain management strategies.
Resources for Migraines and Diet:
1. KidsHealth.Org Definition of Ketones.
2. Dr. Mercola (2010) Can this natural food cure or prevent Alzheimer's?
Food & Recipes
Migraines And Diet - A Neuroprotective Answer