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Revamped Migraine Elimination Diet: Avoiding Histamine & Salicylates

“Immensely frustrating” sums up my experience with the migraine diet I began in January. It seemed to make no difference, but I haven’t known for sure because the high dose of magnesium I started a few weeks later did help. Reintroducing foods is nearly impossible as I can’t tell if any particular one is a migraine trigger or not since I still have a migraine nearly every day. About three weeks ago, a reader’s comment got me thinking and researching: Maybe I do have food triggers, but they aren’t the ones that are usually implicated in migraine.

It all started with this comment from reader Bibi on A Gluten Connection?:

My migraines get worse with wheat as well, but a gluten test at the doctor’s was negative. Genny Masterman (What HIT me?) writes, that there is histamine in yeast so that might cause migraines. I feel a lot better eating less histamine rich and histamine releasing foods.

This caught my eye because the only prescription migraine preventive that’s ever helped me is cyproheptadine, an antihistamine. And physicians don’t know exactly why it helps with migraine. Furthermore, my head often hurts worse after I eat, no matter the food — a phenomenon no doctor of any specialty has been able to explain to me. This pieces came together when I learned that that some foods contain histamine, that others cause histamine to be released in the body, and that the body releases histamine as part of digestion?

Researching histamine intolerance led me to discover that some people have a sensitivity to salicylate, a naturally occurring food chemical. More light bulbs turned on when I discovered that corn and olive oil, both of which have triggered migraines for me, are high in salicylates, as are some of my favorite vegetables. Vegetables that I have been consuming in mass quantities since starting the migraine diet.

There is so much to tell you and so much I have yet to learn and assimilate. Most of the information on histamine and salicylates is anecdotal and unscientific. The health ailments that people claim can be treated by eliminating these (and other) food chemicals from one’s diet range from rashes to ADD and ADHD to migraine to anxiety and depression. It is precisely the kind of topic I would normally dismiss as pseudo-scientific babble. Except that it makes logical sense given the years of unsuccessful treatments and medications I have tried and that I seem to feel worse the more healthful my diet is.

I started the elimination diet last week and felt better than I have in literally a decade, even though the weather was stormy. I’m not doing so well this week, whether it is because I’m in the “withdrawal symptom” phase of the diet, still eating forbidden foods while trying to sort out the details of the diet, or being worn out by Saturday’s party, I’m not sure. Possibly all of the above — or that my good spell last week was a blip completely unrelated to the diet. There’s always that infuriating explanation.

I honestly believe I’m onto something here. I’m looking forward to telling you all about it, but I’ve reached my limit of ability with this current migraine. Here are a few links to get you started:

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The Connection Between Tyramine & Migraine

Tyramine is one of the primary substances that migraine diets attempt to eliminate. Tyramine occurs naturally in many foods and increases in potency when the protein in food ages. It is though to trigger migraine by dilating then constricting blood vessels in the brain, setting off a chain reaction that leads to a migraine episode.

It is important to avoid foods that contain tyramine, but also to eat food that is as fresh as possible to avoid the additional tyramine that develops as food sits. This is the most daunting part of the diet for me. Foods (especially high-protein foods like meat) should be cooked within a couple days of being purchased and leftovers should be frozen within 48 hours. To eliminate as much tyramine as possible, I cook or freeze ingredients within 24 hours of purchasing them and freeze leftovers within 24 hours of preparation. Frozen vegetables are an easy way to do this and they are usually picked and frozen at their nutritional peak.

Additional information:

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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.

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Drastic Migraine Elimination Diet: It’s Time

Update: I didn’t even start this diet before I realized how absurd it is. I’d be starving myself of nutrition even though elimination diets have never helped me find food triggers. Read the post linked to in the last sentence for details.

I’ve been on elimination diets that avoid the major and minor food triggers of migraine on and off with little success. There’s much debate on the role of foods in triggering migraine, and I’ve always fallen on the skeptical side. The general acceptance now is that about 25% of people have food triggers.

I’ve revised my position drastically: I’m nearly convinced that all foods are migraine triggers for me! No matter what I eat, a migraine comes on 30-60 minutes after eating. Not always, of course, but the vast majority of the time. I know my conclusion isn’t realistic, but it so often feels this way.

This is a slippery slope to mistrusting all food and not wanting to eat. A friend with celiac disease and other unknown gastrointestinal problems restricted foods so much that she couldn’t eat anything without obsessing over the ingredients. It got to where she felt like she had an eating disorder.

To avoid following the same trajectory, I’m trying a dramatic diet. I’m going to go extreme up front to quell my suspicions more easily. For three days, I’ll be down to chicken, oatmeal, or rice and a green vegetable. I’ll slowly add foods back in to see if they are problematic.

Even this diet isn’t foolproof. Because triggers seem to add up to reach a threshold, something that’s a trigger this week may be benign next week. It’s worth a shot.

I’m tired and I hurt. I can barely think. The diet is extreme, but I’m sick of screwing around. I’ve got to find some way to reduce the severity of my migraines and headaches. I still love my life, but there’s so much more I want to do. I hate sitting on the sidelines and I miss being able to think.

Now I have to decide when to start. . . .