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Rotation Diet for Migraine or Headaches

The cauliflower debacle never really resolved. Even after I stopped eating cauliflower, I began reacting to other “safe” foods I’ve restricted my diet to the last six months. Despair was knocking, so I did what I always do when I need a sense of control — I began to research. Rotation diets were my target.

Rotation diets have come up frequently in my reading on dietary histamine. The idea, as I was introduced to it, is that you don’t eat the same food more than every four days. That’s the preschool version of rotation diets. A true rotation diet involves rotating food “families” every four days. Food families are either botanical families (for fruit, vegetables, grains, oils and herbs) or animal families (fish, bovines, swine, etc.).

The quickest way to understand how this works is this four-day rotation guide (page 7 of the PDF). The belief is that it takes four days for a food to completely clear your system, so that’s why you need to wait. Also, if someone reacts to multiple foods in the same family, they should consider eliminating the whole group (no goosefoot for me). The science behind rotation diets is slim, but I know what’s working for me.

I started it 10 days ago and am thrilled with the progress so far. My migraines are far less frequent and disabling than they’ve been the last couple months (and they’re easy to abort with triptans and/or Midrin). My diet is way more varied than it has been in the last 18 months. I have’t thrown caution to the wind — I reference lists of foods that contain histamine, tyramine and benzoates (the best lists I’ve found are in Dealing with Food Allergies by Janice Joneja). Instead of avoiding those foods completely, I choose carefully which ones I test.

The rotation diet is allowing me to eat foods that were never a regular part of my diet (mangoes, dandelion greens, persimmons, pomegranates). It’s helping me identify more definite migraine triggers (nuts, cabbage, quinoa, beets). I’m also figuring out how frequently I can eat a food and in what quantity without a reaction.

Wondering why I’m so excited about this strict diet? Here’s a recap of the past 18 months: Failsafe; chicken, white rice and oatmeal; feeding tube formula; six to 10 fruit and veg that I ate every single day. I don’t know how many different foods I’m able to eat now — that’s major progress!

Some people are on rotation diets indefinitely. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to figure out what my thresholds are for certain foods and not have to follow the diet rigidly for long. It doesn’t feel like a permanent change to me, more like another part of the diagnostic process. I’m more optimistic about this diet than I have been since I started my current migraine diet journey in January 2012.

Want to learn more? Here are the resources I’ve found most helpful:

I included migraine and headaches in the title because I’m using it for migraine, but I’ve read that it can help with chronic non-migraine headaches as well.

7/17/14: If you have true food allergies, please seek the guidance of a health professional before reintroducing foods in a rotation diet! I only have food intolerances/sensitivities (not allergies) and am not at risk of a life-threatening food reaction.

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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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Birthday Goodness (and the Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)

In response to All Migraineurs Are Different — So Stop Judging Me!, a reader (who happens to be my mom) commented that I share with you my frustrations and failings, but not what I do manage to achieve. I was ready to dismiss it as just my mom being a mom, but then another reader of no familial relation backed her up. Sadly, I realized that I don’t share my accomplishments because they are so often miniscule. I compare myself to “normal people” and come up way short.

I’m trying to overcome my feelings of inadequacy and share the good with you. This is made a little easier since cyproheptadine is reducing my head pain and the fatigue that has drug me down all summer suddenly lifted on Monday (fingers crossed that it lasts!). Also, today is my birthday. This week has been less about accomplishing and more about having fun. And eating foods that aren’t on my migraine diet, though only ones that I’m pretty sure aren’t triggers for me.

Here’s my week in food!

Salted Caramel Ice Cream — My first time making caramel was successful thanks to the fantastic tips from David Lebovitz. The ice cream is superb. Now I want to try making caramel candies. Can anyone recommend a good recipe?

The Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookies — These really are perfect, especially with a couple tweaks.

  • After rolling the cookies into balls, refrigerator for 36 hours. (If the dough is too soft to form balls, refrigerate it for 20 minutes and try again.) This step is a must. From the famous New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, it allows the dry ingredients to fully absorb the liquid, resulting in a better texture. Either bake or freeze the dough after the 36 hours is up; it starts to dry out if left in the fridge too long.
  • Use a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flours or all white whole wheat flour to add a little depth and nuttiness.
  • I vary the cookie size depending on the recipient. However, the ideal size about the size of a golf ball (3.5 oz), according to the New York Times and me.
  • Use real, unsalted butter and real vanilla. And be sure to use dark brown sugar for the fullest flavor.

Yellow cupcakes from Baking Illustrated are in the oven as I type. I haven’t made this recipe before, but Baking Illustrated has never let me down.

Quinoa Porridge — My new migraine-diet-friendly favorite. Quinoa mixed with a little plain rice milk and sugar, then frozen in 8 oz. canning jars to pop in the microwave for an easy breakfast. When I want dessert, I add some more sugar and call it pudding.

Happy birthday to me! Hope you have a lovely weekend full of delicious food and as little head pain as possible.

 

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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.