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Extreme Migraine Diet: Eliminating Tyramine & Tannins

After purposefully not making any resolutions for 2012 (I’ve decided to embrace my flaws instead of constantly trying to fix myself), I find myself on the second day of the new year plotting the most extreme migraine diet I’ve ever done. The diet will be guided, in part, by Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain, a book whose author’s attitude I find offensive. I have long thought food triggers for migraine are overrated and I’ve never had relief with long-term migraine diets, yet I’m cross-checking lists of triggers and wondering if bland will be the flavor of the next four months. Desperation is powerful motivation.

I’m using Heal Your Headache as a basic starting point and also avoiding other foods that are high in tyramine (including those that are listed as OK in moderation) or tannins. Science hasn’t found a clear correlation between particular foods (or particular chemicals in foods) and migraine, so I’m relying on anecdotal evidence I’ve heard and read over the years. That’s right, there’s not much logic to my diet plan, just the stories from people who read this blog and the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon. Have I mentioned that I am desperate?

I’ve included some links to previous posts I’ve written about food triggers, but I had to stop looking at them for fear that I would discourage myself from trying again. Instead, I’m telling myself that maybe this time will be different. Maybe I’ll be more disciplined, maybe I’ll get enough cooking help from family that I’ll have adequate nutrition, maybe climate was a factor in previous attempts and I’ll be more successful in the relatively steady barometric pressure of Phoenix. Maybe, maybe, maybe it will be different this time.

Please, migraine gods, let it be different this time.

20 Responses to Extreme Migraine Diet: Eliminating Tyramine & Tannins

  1. Kate says:

    Good luck! I’ve also tried similar diets but not quite so strenuous (with no result). My reading seems to point to that migraines may be exacerbated by diet (among other triggers), but headache such as NDPH most likely isn’t. I think the continued trials of treatments give us hope. I also only liked parts of the Heal Your Headache book and thought the tone of it was demeaning, but it does have some good intro type info. Best wishes,

  2. Vicki says:

    Interesting!! I havent read the book but I just reserved it from the library so I hope to start it soon. My 10yr old daughters suffers from headaches, not migraines but from Pseudotumor Cerebri. I’ve been told to try this diet out but I’ve never done it but coincidentally we just started it today. So we can go through this journey together :)

  3. Iris says:

    I am, on the one hand, very sorry to hear that you are finding it necessary to resort to the recommendations of “Heal Your Headache: 1-2-3″ but at the same time finally moved by your desperation to comment on your blog which I’ve been following for over a year (two?).

    I’m another migraineur who became desperate enough to buy this book and follow its recommendations (after reading all those positive reviews on Amazon – I should go back there and leave one of my own), and I have to say it worked for me. What finally broke the back of my escalating headaches was a combination of strict diet and a prescription for the minimum dose of a popular anti-seizure/migraine drug. Any attempt to increase the dose of the drug caused me to experience many of the side effects they warn about, so I HAD to adhere to the diet to avoid breakthrough. Even at the smallest dose I wound up with a kidney stone at the one year point at which time I had to discontinue it. On a positive note, one of the drug’s side effects that I experienced was a loss of appetite (& resulting weight loss :), making the diet much easier to adhere to (not hungry = not likely to cheat).

    I have to say that I got tremendous support from my husband who did most of the cooking during that time, and really rose to the challenge of reading labels and cooking meals from scratch to assure that he wasn’t feeding me something that contained a hidden trigger. And we rarely ate out – another big change.

    Shortly after the kidney stone and stopping the med, I realized that I could add back some foods without getting headaches. Now, nine months out from the kidney stone and about 21 months after starting the 1-2-3 program, there are just a handful of things I have to stay away from.

    I don’t think even Dr. Buchholz understands the real “why” of migraines, but he’s studied them for a long long time, and has made clinical observations resulting in recommendations that no one wants to hear, which is why I think he comes off as sounding so obnoxious. I had read about migraine diets for years and always thought, just shoot me now – there’s no way I can do this. But once I was desperate enough to make serious changes, his explanations made perfect sense to me, and his solution helped me pick myself up and move on when I had hit rock bottom.

  4. I plan on starting another elimination diet in the beginning of this year and mostly to look at tyramine as a trigger. I will go to a new specialist next week and we will be talking about this. I wish you the best of luck on your diet!

  5. Sue says:

    Sorry, but I was so offended by “Heal Your Headache 123″ that I didn’t even recycle it. I tossed it in with the kitchen garbage quite gladly.

    I was fine with his recommendations (I don’t use analgesics anyway) and even the lifestyle and diet crap…..but at the end, if you still have pain, well, it’s all your own fault. Arrogant jerk.

    I truly hope you have better luck than I, but I have zero respect for this author, and his science is non-existent.

    I mean that sicerely Kerrie, I do wish only the best for you.

  6. Maria says:

    My mom has headaches and we don’t know what’s causing it. Someone told me to get a book about diet and blood types. I have to try it.

  7. I’ve been tempted to look into the 123 diet, but I’m not quite brave enough yet.

    I’ve been fighting the good fight, trying to avoid migraines, for more years than I care to remember. Every day I seem to come up with another trigger, food being the most suspect. I avoid all the usual triggers, except coffee, something I’ve been having trouble giving up.
    I’ve been working on a cookbook about feeding your dogs and your family with the same ingredients (http://www.peoplefoodforpets.com/). When I am in my cooking and recipe mode, my headaches miraculously go away. Every food on the list of foods that are a problem for dogs is a migraine trigger for me: aged cheese, alcohol, bananas, beer, caffeine, chickpeas, chocolate, citrus, corncobs, eggplant, garlic, ketchup, mushrooms, mustard seeds, onions, processed meats, raisins, raspberries, red grapes, red plums, soy sauce, tea, tomatoes, uncooked yeast dough, walnuts, wine.

    I have no idea why it’s true, but when I eat like a dog, I don’t get migraines. Added to the list for me are: milk products, including all cheeses, cream, yogurt, sour cream, and butter, and artificial sweeteners.

    I’m now into heavy-duty writing mode, not developing recipes and I’ve been lax about trying to eat like a dog. I’ve also been plagued by migraines.

    Maybe I should come up with a new migraine diet and call it the canine connection

  8. Tami says:

    Hi Kerrie,

    I’ve been lurking here for years, but have never written to you! But I have felt your pain and frustration for sure. Over the last few months I have really wanted to write to you, though — and this post is really relevant. I know that you’ve read so many things that have worked or not worked for others. I went through the gamut of prevention drugs, acupuncture, physical therapy, cranio-sacral, etc. but nothing helped my daily migraines. I was taking relpax every day just to get through the day — and sometimes more than 1 pill. I was desperate and my neurologist was suggesting Botox, which I really felt afraid about. (I’m incredibly sensitive to everything and have heard of some bad reactions.) I’ve never equated food to my migraines except for some obvious triggers like red wine. I did the food logs, etc. — no correlation. But some folks at my gym were following this paleo diet and eventually I found what seemed like a manageable version which is actually more of an anti-inflammation diet. It’s called the Whole30. It is free, although you can buy a Success Guide which is helpful. You eat quality meats and veggies, a little fruit, coffee is okay, healthy fats. You eliminate grains, alcohol, sugar, processed foods — and there are other suggestions if autoimmune issues might be involved. You do this for 30 days and see how you feel. On Day 3, I didn’t have a headache. By the end of the Whole30, I had stopped carrying relpax in my pocket. I still get a dull migraine around the time of my period, but that’s really it. It is a miracle for me. I hope so much that it might help you and anyone else reading this. For more info, go here: http://whole9life.com/start/ The folks at the site (and on Facebook) are extremely helpful. If you are feeling desperate, like I was, it is really worth it to try it for 30 days. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. (tamra.wysocki@gmail.com)

  9. Emily says:

    Good luck to you! I wrote about the National Headache Foundation’s low tyramine diet on my blog about a month ago, and I’ve had lots of success with it so far. No food item is worth having a migraine (to me at least)!!!

  10. Gillian says:

    I recently started following your blog after I was diagnosed with CDH. I am 17 and was forced to withdraw from my school because my headaches are 24/7 and so severe. We have tried everything Eastern Medicine has to offer, literally. I am very petite and so all medications I take give me lots of side effects so we have been hesitant to do Western Medication but I ended up being hospitalized over New Year’s with intense IV medications that did absolutely nothing for my headaches except made them worse.
    Growing up with organic foods and all that, I can definitely tell you there is a correlation between what we eat and how we end up feeling and so I started an intense elimination diet two weeks ago and I am feeling better…in every week but my headaches. It is a very strict diet and I don’t know much about the 123 Diet Program, but this one was created by a holistic MD who deals with people who most doctors have given up on. If you are interested in the diet or want information about, my email is gillian.elizabeth1@gmail.com. Thank you though because you are an inspiration for me. I’ve only began to start to deal with this unbearable pain and it helps to know that I am not alone.

  11. Sarah says:

    I tried the 123 diet last summer. Yes, the author is a bit of a jackass, but no more than most doctors in my experience! If you can get through how he’s presenting it, most of what he’s saying is reasonable.

    The diet itself is pretty tough going, but it’s worth doing even if it turn out that none of the foods on the list are your triggers. At least then you know.

    If it makes you feel slightly better (sometimes it helps to know that it could be worse!), I can’t eat wheat, onions, legumes, apples, pears, mangos, melon, honey, fructose and artificial sugars already due to my IBS, so the 3-4 months I was following the diet in the book (which got modified to an even stricter one halfway by my dietician) was pretty awful foodwise. And I didn’t even find any food triggers.

    Hopefully you’ll have better luck than I did. All the best!

  12. JoAnna Smart says:

    I had a recent episode where became sick and was very nauseated and unable to eat much of anything. Needless to say, I lost 10 lbs. The great part of being miserably sick was that, I didn’t have a migraine the entire 2 weeks! Which led me to believe that my migraines were due to what I was eating. I was never able to pinpoint what my triggers were until recently, because I had them so frequently at all times of the day. I’ve had migraines since I was a child. My doctor pushed it off on “stress and depression.” I’m beginning to think that’s his answer to everything. Anyway, I have some of the typical triggers, but now I am beginning to think it’s basically all processed food. I used to lose as many as 13-15 days a month to migraines! I think it’s worth me taking a peak at this book. :-)

  13. Michelle says:

    I have tried food diaries many, many times and have been on elimination diets before, though, I have to be honest, I didn’t stay on them long…probably not even long enough to see results, I realize now. However, tomorrow is a new day. I shall begin a strict elimination diet! I must. I just cannot take the pain anymore…

  14. Shae Spitzer says:

    This is to Iris,
    I am so happy to hear your story! It gives me a lot of hope. I agree with you completely. I believe most people are offended by the way he comes off and I believe, becuase the diet is so overwhelming at first that many ppl want to ignore that it could help. I’ve been on the diet for a month and a half and I’m stopping my bayer migrain slowly..completely over spring break (I’m a teacher). I know rebounds will get in the way of my success. I plan to follow the diet for several months after that and slowly try to add stuff in. I pray that the diet alone help and that like you I will only have a handful of triggers. I have followed it to a T so far…I make EVERYTHING homemade and I do mean EVERYTHING. My fiance and I don’t go out basically because I don’t know how I could eat anywhere. I’m hoping down the road I can narrow down my triggers and have some leniancy when I do want to occasionally eat out. It’s tiring, but the diet makes me feel so much healthier over all. I’m so glad I know how to cook this way now and I’m an excellent label reader. I normally keep a positive attitude (especially when I hear stories like yours) but believe me there are days that I get down…I think..wow I can’t go out to eat with my friends/family, I can’t eat at someone else’s house….it’s tough..but worth it. I try to not let it get me down. Any words of wisdom on that? Oh and do you have any advice on if I do find myself having to eat out occasionally over the next few months?

  15. Last year I was able to accurately pinpoint tyramine as a headache trigger. I began following a new diet (for a cleanse, not for headaches) in January and ended up eating more protein than usual. I felt pretty good, but was having headaches every other day and using Relpax. Most of the protein sources were on “the eat with caution lists”. I finally figured out it was the cumulative effects, not the specific foods themselves. I am searching today because I am again being hit with a headache every two days. Since they started again, I have been eating raw garlic instead of cooking it first. It is supposed to be so much better, but I am now wondering if it is causing the headaches to come back. Having the knowledge of knowing what causes my headaches has been great, but I thought I would have them more under control by now.

  16. Ana Sullivan says:

    Have read the book. It seems to be working. There are not many recipes in the book, and some do contain trigger ingredients. I have started collecting recipes on my Pinterest board:
    http://pinterest.com/thelostapron/headache-diet-recipes/

  17. Michelle Jones says:

    I also was desperate from migraines and tried the Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program diet. I had tried elimination diets before but never could identify ‘the’ trigger. I went on the drastic diet from the book and found that many tyramine sources were triggers, as the book described. I now have much better control by eliminating all caffeine (including decaf!) and most junk food. I can handle cheese and chocolate in small amounts. I love sauerkraut but if I have it 2 days in a row, I will have a mild day-long headache on day 3. If I drink coffee or black tea, I can plan on a migraine by the weekend. Diet really does play a huge role!

  18. Tina says:

    I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to consistently identify food triggers. I’ve had migraines all my life, and around my monthly cycle days they were debilitating.

    In my 20s I identified the nightshade vegetables as triggers. As I got older, I noticed lack of sleep and dehydration triggered them, and they seemed to appear whenever I needed dental work and had eye problems.

    Now I’m in my 50s, and they became severe again when I developed numerous eye diseases all at once. I revisited the diet, eliminated all wheat and processed foods of every kind, and now eat at least 20 kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs every day.

    My migraines are less in pain and frequency, just a few a week, but my eyesight, including auras, double vision and blurryness caused me to “retire” early from my career. The meds just made me so foggy and stupid that I couldn’t do my job.

    Now I focus on trying to stay balanced everyday in everything, but the migraines have taken over again despite all my efforts. I keep telling my doctors that I only get migraines when my eye diseases act up, of which I now have 7 different eye diseases, any of which can cause blindness. And researchers are just starting to link migraines to glaucoma and optic nerve atrophy, so I know for a fact that my diet has really nothing to do with the migraines. It’s whatever caused all these eye degenerative diseases to happen–either lack of oxygen to the ganglion cells or some type of neurotoxin, trauma, etc., or all of the above. I’ve had it all.

    All I know is I’ve always eaten well, exercised, slept 8 hours, been active and positive minded, had good weight and lab test numbers my whole life, and I have consistently suffered from migraines when I had health, dental and eye flareups.

    I’m sharing this to let you all know that even if you have no success with diet changes preventing migraines, it will help your overall health and life, and they really are putting all kinds of toxic stuff in the foods we eat, so it’s worth the effort to be discerning.

    But in the end, there may be some underlying reason for a particular person’s migraine experience, and it may not coincide with other people’s experiences.

    Don’t lose heart! Find what works for you and if your doctor is not sympathetic, replace him! There’s a ton of doctors out there trying to make a living–find one that you don’t mind paying for, in order to feel better, as long as he doesn’t demean you.

    I went through 20 years of grief with doctors until I finally had one diagnose me with a genetic defect that caused a lot of my health problems. So it’s not anything I’m doing to myself, it’s just the overall environment of my bodily organism.

    Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about what you experience in your own body–move on and find someone who is supportive! You need and deserve that to help you get through it and move on to better times. If you had MS, MD or cancer, no one would belittle you.

    So just tell people in your life that you have a medical condition that affects your availability from time to time, and they’ll usually understand. You don’t have to tell them it’s migraines, because they will probably be unsupportive due to all the negative publicity out there.

    I hope this helps someone. I’ve been battling these brain pain attacks for 50+ years and I don’t want anyone here to feel like they can’t get through this. I’ve had good days, weeks, months, and years. I can’t say I’ve ever gone more than 2 years without a migraine, but when they reared their ugly head I dealt with them and eventually got them under control where I could go back to work and function. I think the longest I’ve ever worked at a stretch was 3 years though, my last job. Before that it was always 2 years until the next episode launched.

    It’s something most people will never experience or understand, but it is the way your life is, and you have to make sure you’re not adding to your grief by punishing yourself with negative thoughts that are put on you by ignorant people, including doctors.

    I used my “downtimes”, stuck in bed or the house, to reflect on my relationship with myself and others, and to rely on God to help me to understand how to have a purposeful life despite such extreme pain and grief that I experience. I wish the same for you all.

    Some people don’t have a faith in a supreme being, so if you can find a way to satisfy a meditative, spiritual need within yourself, it will help you to cope. Although I really feel you will benefit more by being able to consult with a sympathetic God who can help you whenever you need it most. Everyone has their own method of relying on a support when they need it.

    Dealing with the stress and pain is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, in addition to managing the guilt from disappointing others in your life when you can’t be there for them. But it can make you more stronger, and determined to persevere, which can be a wonderful example for others to see.

    • Tina,

      Thanks for sharing your story and for the encouragement. The diet I mentioned in this post didn’t provide any relief, but I eventually found that dietary histamine is a big trigger for me. Reducing my histamine intake and taking a digestive enzyme that helps with it has made a big difference.

      Hang in there.

      Kerrie

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