Do you or a loved one suffer from migraines? Have the medications you’ve tried been ineffective? Are you ready for a solution, not a Band Aid?
I recently started working with a client who has been living with migraines most of her adult life. Jen came to me looking for answers after trying numerous other strategies. She’d been to the chiropractor, massage therapist, and started taking sumatriptan, but still suffered from massive headaches almost every day! And, as migraine sufferers know, these headaches were debilitating. Jen was ready for a change.
Jen is a musician here in Nashville who works late hours playing shows with her band. She loves being a musician because it gives her a chance to share her music with the world. She is a killer blues guitarist who takes the stage with an energetic presence. Between rehearsals and writing new songs, Jen is playing shows locally and on the road. She does NOT have time for migraines.
During our first meeting, I went through a detailed intake and collected as much information about her health history, current symptoms, diet, daily routine, stress level, and emotional state as possible. A good in-depth look at these aspects of Jen’s life helped me pull together some important findings…
Jen had been on birth control for 10 years and had taken antibiotics a decent amount as a child and teen. Now as an adult, she finds herself taking antibiotics 2-4 times a year. Her stress level was high and sleeping was a challenge. Some nights she wouldn’t fall asleep until 4:00 am, and then, being the motivated driven woman she is, would force herself to get up early even though her body resisted. Jen usually skipped breakfast, often skipped lunch, and had little energy to prepare nutritious meals for dinner. Her go-to dinner was pasta, and gluten, dairy, and red wine were common food items in her diet.
The key items I pulled for her intake were:
- A history of birth control use increases the risk of vitamin B deficiencies. B vitamins (particularly B-5) are required for the production of serotonin, and low serotonin levels are one of the main theories behind the cause of migraines and the premise for many migraine medications, including sumatriptan. Could the migraines be a sign from the body that birth control is causing a deficiency? Quite possibly yes, this could be a piece of the puzzle.
- A history of antibiotic and birth control use increases the risk for bacterial overgrowth in the gut. A lack of beneficial bacteria has also been shown to reduce serotonin production in lab studies. An overgrowth of bad bacteria also leads to a lack of the enzyme DAO, which breaks down histamine. Excessive histamine is another theory of the cause of migraines. (Histamine’s job is to promote inflammation by dilating blood vessels.)
- A history of antibiotic use increases the likelihood of leaky gut, which can lead to food intolerances and systemic inflammation. Food intolerances are thought to be yet another trigger for migraines, particularly gluten and diary.
- Stress, lack of sleep, and the go-go-go lifestyle tend to disrupt hormone balance. Jen’s migraines are noticeably worse around the time of her period.
- Skipping meals leads to blood sugar imbalance and malnourishment, also considered triggers for migraines.
Ok, wow. So… now what? Where do you start? Remember, I am not a doctor so I cannot diagnose or say for certain what exactly is going on on a chemical level. But from this, I have a fairly good idea of some of the imbalances that are presenting themselves. If I was a functional medicine doctor, I would run some lab work and confirm levels of hormones, vitamins, and minerals. But as a nutritionist, I skip those steps and offer practical, affordable diet and lifestyle solutions that will support the body to matter what. The nice thing about diet and lifestyle changes is that the they provide what's needed so the body can re-balance itself.
I always like to start simple with clients, because it’s usually the small things that make a big difference initially.
First, I told Jen to start eating breakfast, lunch, and a snack every day to help balance blood sugar and other critical hormones, like cortisol for stress and melatonin for sleep. Simply eating more (nutrient-dense) food would provide the building blocks the body needs to make the necessary hormones that support her body.
This led me to my second recommendation, which was to choose nutrient-dense foods over packaged and pre-prepared options. I offered Jen ideas and recipes for “Lesley-approved” breakfasts, lunches, and snacks and stressed the consumption of protein (again for building hormones and for the supply of key B-vitamins). I also recommended avoiding gluten and dairy for the first two weeks to see if any noticeable changes occur and to start taking a B-complex vitamin daily.
Thirdly, I recommended starting a gratitude practice every night before bed. Rather than scrolling social media when she couldn’t sleep (tablets and smart phones being a source of blue-light, which reduces the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone), I recommended Jen put herself in a positive state of mind by focusing on the things she was grateful for. This could be done in a journal, in prayer, in meditation, whatever works… luckily, there’s no right or wrong way to recognize gratitude!
About a week later, I met with Jen again for a follow up session. She was excited to tell me that her headaches were significantly reduced and she didn’t need to take her prescription migraine medication once since making these changes, which hadn’t happened in a really long time. Jen had more energy, was sleeping better, and was eating foods she felt good about, that were in tern making her feel great!
I’m so glad that Jen decided to pursue nutrition and lifestyle changes as a way to address her migraines because not only were these choices providing her REAL solutions, they were manageable, affordable, and completely a result of her own discussion and dedication to her body.
No one can heal your body except you. The body is self healing, but it needs the materials and environment to do its job. Your body’s purpose, its ultimate job is to keep you healthy and functioning optimally. It wants nothing more but to serve you. Slow down and listen to what your body is telling you. Your symptoms are a cry for help, that something isn’t right. Listen to those symptoms, don’t cover them up. Feed the body, nourish the body, and experience the divine healing power built into every cell. Your body won’t let you down.
Are you ready to take charge of your health? Are you ready to feel not just good, but great!?