What I Know About Migraine

Because my experience with migraine has led me to become somewhat of an expert on my own migraines, I wanted to share what I know here. Obviously, this is not medical advice, but I will tell you that I had to learn far more on my own than my doctor has been able to tell me. More than anything, if you are a migraine sufferer, I encourage you to do your own homework and research and discover your own solutions, rather than assume that a health care professional will do it for you. 

Most of the information that worked FOR ME I got from this book:
Author Bucholz has, just as the title suggests, a 3-step program to virtually eliminating migraines. I am writing this only two weeks past my last migraine, but I am confident I am on the right track. You can find MANY books out there on migraines -- I bought another while I was at it -- and you will probably get conflicting advice. This one worked for me and made logical sense to me.

Step 1: Eliminate Quick Fixes.
This means (to me, especially) wean yourself off of all caffeine and all (can you believe it) prescription migraine pills. Did you know that prescription migraine pills have a rebounding effect, and can cause migraines? Lovely. I didn't know, and my doctor didn't tell me (he may not know, for that matter...). We all know that caffeine does that which is why we get headaches when we go too long without, etc. To eliminate caffeine headaches, Bucholz says it's okay to 'wean', but make it quick, 'lest you spend your life in a 'really, I'm drinking less today than yesterday, so I'm weaning' pattern. He says make it where you are completely off  caffeine in 10 days or less. Also, he says take no more than two prescription migraine pills a month (I was taking 12-15) to avoid rebounding. For all other headaches, use ibuprofen or acetaminophen (there is much about acetaminophen being VERY hard on the liver, and as much as I need, I try to stick with ibuprofen) and use an ice pack on your head. 

This is a ROUGH two-week de-tox (longer for some folks), but well worth it.

Step 2: Eliminate Potential Food Triggers

Bucholz has a list of common food triggers and says you should get off of ALL of them and here's why (even if you don't think they are a trigger):
There are so many triggers that we can't avoid (weather changes, hormones, environmental factors, stress, etc.) that we should take extra precaution to know and avoid the triggers that we CAN avoid. Also, many people are unaware that a food is a trigger because for instance, let's say that a storm is coming in (classic migraine trigger), hormones are raging (classic migraine trigger), and you had a horribly stressful day at work (classic migraine trigger). You get home from work without a migraine and eat a slab of chocolate (classic migraine trigger). The chocolate is the 'straw that broke the camel's back' and sends you to bed for the night with a migraine. Three days later, when the storm has passed, hormones have leveled off, and it's your day off, you finish off the chocolate and... nothing. So, you think, "Whew! So glad chocolate isn't a trigger!" 

So, Bucholz says to get off of all of these and stay off. He said for 4 months. I confess I started 'cheating' after about 2 weeks, thinking, "I really miss this, and I really don't think THIS is one of MY triggers." Guess what? Found a trigger! Almonds! 

Without any further ado, la list (in order of how frequently they are a trigger for people according to Bucholz): (a copy of the list)
  • caffeine (he includes decaffeinated drinks due to the chemicals used to take the caffeine out as well as the amount of caffeine left in)
  • chocolate
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) -- no bacon, sausage, and few prepared meats
  • processed meats and fish
  • cheese and other dairy, including yogurt and sour cream
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Alcohol and vinegar, especially red wine, even condiments made with vinegar (ketchup)
  • a vague array of fruits and juices (mentioning citrus)
  • a vague array of vegetables
  • fresh bread (less than one day old)
  • Aspartame/ Nutrasweet
  • anything that YOU find that gives you a headache
Some things about this: he recommends to go off of ALL of these things, then slowly add back in only the things you actually miss (he says things you don't miss aren't really worth it, which is why I still haven't had yogurt!) HOWEVER, his one caveat: he says that caffeine is simply too much trouble, and anyone that suffers from migraine should get off of it, stay off of it, and never re-introduce it. You know, I don't miss the feel -- I especially don't miss feeling crummy later in the day. I miss the taste. Oh, heavenly days, I miss the taste. Seriously, licking my lips as I type. It helps that my preventative that I take has changed the way Diet Coke tastes, so even if I were to drink one, it isn't my old friend Diet Coke. But, oh, I miss it so....

I have been off of caffeine about 6 weeks. I can honestly say that I can go without it for the rest of my life, but I don't know if I can go the rest of my life only drinking water, which is pretty much all that is available to me currently (once you eliminate high calorie, Aspartame, and caffeine). It's pretty boring.

Oh, one more: he also says that pizza, due to being yeasty, full of cheese and if it has meat on it, MSG, can be one of the worst things for a migraine sufferer. It doesn't seem to bother me. FYI. Whew...

Step 3: Raise your Threshold.
This means, basically, go to your doctor and get on a preventative. Which, to be honest, I did first, and would highly recommend doing BEFORE you go through all of the detoxing, what-have-you because it can also reduce the severity of migraine symptoms. However, like any other medication, these are not without side effects. Mine has been a God-send, but I can't rely on it as the be-all, end-all savior to end my migraines. Also, I am on one that my doctor said, "Start at this dosage, and go up dosage every week until migraines are almost eliminated." Well, by the time migraines were almost eliminated, I felt HORRIBLE 24/7. Vague headache, no energy, just terrible. I felt so bad, it took me two weeks to realize this: "At the lower dosage, I did have 3 migraines in a week, but I actually felt good for the other 4 days!" I went to the lower dosage, and have now had 1 migraine in the last two weeks. A HUGE victory for me.

My doctor wants me at the higher dosage -- I don't know why -- but I'm perfectly happy here. Truthfully, I will stay here a few months and maybe see if I can get off of this and control migraine by diet.

So. My migraine life. Happy to share what I know. There are many alternatives that I wish I could afford to try -- accupuncture, for example -- but for now simply eliminating certain foods and being good to myself seem to be working. 

I'll be happy to answer any of your questions -- it would work best if you would leave me your email address -- but keep in mind I am NOT a medical professional, and I would encourage you to keep doing your own research with a medical professional.

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