Wednesday, March 3, 2010
How I Control Migraines Without Scary Pharmaceuticals*
Now, finally, the headaches are relatively under control (knock on wood!). In fact, last month I didn't have any headaches at all. It was no fluke, I know exactly why I managed to escape the usual migraine attack. I have become vigilant about controlling everything I can that leads to or helps eliminate the headaches. And since so much of it is nutrition/food related, I wanted to write about it here in case maybe what I've figured out can be of use to someone else out there.
1. Recognize food triggers. This was, in all honesty, one of the key reasons why I went back to being vegan after a number of years of being a lacto ovo vegetarian. One of my biggest food triggers was cheese. One night of pizza and I was down for the count. I started doing a lot of reading about migraines and food triggers and I learned that in a lot of cases, poor digestion plays a part in the headaches. I noticed that when I stopped eating dairy products my digestion was much better and my headaches were less frequent and less intense.
2. Keep those sinuses clear. I also notice, personally, a link between congestion and migraines. Often as a migraine lessened, it would turn into a sinus headache. Again, a reason why avoiding dairy would lead to fewer headaches. I've also started doing a few other things to keep my sinuses clear, namely rinsing my nose out with water (sucking it through my nose and spitting it out, like you might do accidently while swimming. Ugh, but it works) and sleeping with my head propped up on two pillows instead of one. I know some people would say, well then you aren't having migraines, you're having sinus headaches, but that isn't the case. I know my migraines because I have a visual aura (flickering wavy lights that take over my vision) and I absolutely know the difference between a migraine and a sinus headache.
3. Consult with a naturopath. When I talked to my regular doctor about the headaches, she offered me a drug to take when I got a migraine. "Does it take the pain away?" I asked. "No," she said, "It just puts you to sleep until the migraine is over." I said I'd pass on that. I don't usually have any trouble falling asleep on my own, unless the migraine is particularly bad. We discussed preventative drugs, but those all seemed to have heavy side effects. So next, I went to a naturopath, Shawn Yakimovich at the Ottawa Integrative Health Centre. Shawn asked me about four times as many questions about the headaches as my regular doctor did. Then he gave me a homeopathic remedy to take when I felt a headache coming on. I've been taking the remedy whenever I'm worried about a headache and I haven't had any headaches after taking the remedy. The only headaches I've gotten since I got the remedy have come on at night when I wasn't awake to take it.
The remedy also helped me wean myself off the Advil Liquigels (NOT vegan!) that I was taking every time I worried that I might be getting a headache. Which was really bad for my health. Ibuprofen can contribute to high blood pressure which is something that runs in my family. I started noticing that my heart would beat really fast after I took an Advil which scared me. And I've noticed that since I've stopped taking Ibuprofen, I've been sleeping much better and I feel more calm in general.
4. Increase magnesium intake. In a lot of the articles I read, magnesium was sited as a supplement to take that would lessen the frequency of migraines. And then an aquaintance told me that when she was pregnant and couldn't take regular pain killers, her doctor gave her magnesium injections to help control her migraines. Right now I take at least 500 milligrams of manesium a day, sometimes a little bit more if I know there are other factors (diet, weather, lady problems) that might be bringing on a migraine. I have found that this really, really helps to prevent my headaches and when I do end up getting a migarine, it isn't nearly as bad as they used to be.
5. Keep blood sugar steady. I read a few different studies that said that people who are suffering from a migraine often have low blood sugar at the time the headache strikes. I've mentioned before on this blog that I have lots of problems with my blood sugar. The migraines are yet another reason for me to watch what I eat. If I eat refined sugar I tend to crash soon afterwards. More often then not the crash comes complete with migraine. I also make sure that I eat small meals at regular intervals through out the day and that I avoid refined sugar and stock up on protein instead.
Those are my main tricks. They aren't difficult to keep up, but I do find it occasionally annoying to be constantly thinking about it. It would be nice to be able to eat whatever I wanted, forget to take my vitamins, go to bed without extensive preparations, and not worry about carrying remedies and pain killers with me wherever I go. But when I really think about it, there are much worse ailments to have, and at least I have the kind of migraines that respond to actions like the ones I've listed.
On a related note, I went to see Wilco perform last night and I was reminded of this article that lead singer Jeff Tweedy wrote about his extensive struggle with migraines. When I found this article it really helped me get over my perception of myself as "weak" on account of the migraines. He is a smart, talented, productive person who struggled for years with the same malady and eventually got it under control. I found it very inspiring. It was great to watch and listen to him last night, so happy on stage.
I'd love to hear from you folks if you have anything to add. Are you in the migraine club too? If so, is there anything you've found that helps? Or maybe you have another problem that you've managed to conquer through nutrition and natural remedies. It would be great to hear some of your stories.
*And, just in case it wasn't fully obvious, I'm not a doctor or an expert. I'm just writing about what I've read and what works for me.
This Time Last Year: Vegan Crepes With Blueberries