Mild Herb Liver Pate Recipe: The Ultimate Supplement

Why would you want to eat liver if you have migraines? Because it’s high in bioavailable copper needed to break down histamine, and has loads of other important vitamins and minerals besides. A few ounces of this goodness contains ample quantities of vitamin A; all the B vitamins including choline and betaine; copper; zinc; iron; potassium; phosphorous; selenium; and even a little vitamin D.  It also has vitamin E as tocotrienols, squalene, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, vitamin K, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and Coq10 from the Red Palm Oil I added to it.

The real gold nugget here though is the vitamin A.  Vitamin A, along with food-based vitamin C like Acerola powder, can help your liver to produce a protein called ceruloplasm, which makes copper bioavailable for thousands of enzymatic functions including the breakdown of histamine. So I figured, why not just add acerola powder directly in here!  I did.  Now it’s an even more potent medicine.

Listen to this video to learn more about the importance of copper for histamine, herpes, and hormones.

It is important to use only chicken liver if you have any copper toxicity issues, since other types of liver such as beef liver can have much higher amounts of copper. Obviously you want to use the most humanely-raised, organic or pastured chicken livers possible.

I know that most moderns are out of touch with ancestral ways of eating and don’t find pate palatable. That’s why I’ve made this pate as mild as absolutely possible, and packed full of pungent fresh herbs to help dull the mineral taste of liver.  If you’re averse to other pates you’ve had, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this very mild pate.  Even my very picky fiver year old son liked it (I didn’t tell him it had liver in it). So here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

3/4 cup melted butter or ghee
3 T Red Palm Oil (Nutiva Brand)
1 very large or 2 med onions or shallots
4 garlic cloves
4 large mushrooms
1.5 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp pepper
2 T acerola powder (I like Micronutrients brand)
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 T fresh thyme
1 T fresh oregano
1 T fresh savory
1 cup of fresh chicken liver
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 T heavy whipping cream (optional, but it gives a nice whipped consistency to the pate)
2 tsp whiskey (optional)

Directions

Sautee all ingredients except livers, herbs, cream, and whiskey. Meanwhile, boil some water with salt and add the chopped liver.  Cook for a few minutes until the liver is slightly pink in the middle, but don’t overcook. This recipe yields a little over 2 cups, which should be enough for 2 people to eat 2 T a day.

After the ingredients are sauteed, add them to a blender with the liver, herbs, and whiskey. Add to food processor and blend until smooth. This lasts about a week (it lasts a long time because the saturated fats preserve it and prevent oxidation), and you can freeze extra batches. I eat this at least three times per week, if not daily. When I eat it daily, I eat 2 T a day.  When I eat it a few times a week, I eat around 4 T on those days.

Nutrition Info

Eating 2 T per day of this pate will offer up roughly 3,000 IU of vitamin A and on average about 30% of the daily value for most B vitamins.

The amount of vitamin C here is pretty minimal at around 200 mg in the whole batch, or around 90mg per day in the daily dose of 2 T, which is above the RDA of 60.

This should provide about 16% of your RDA for vitamin E.

The total amount of CoQ10 in the whole 2 cup batch is about 1.8 mg, or 257mcg per day – pretty negligible.

I’ll see what I can do to find values for the other nutrients in here soon.

Enjoy!

Does Niacin (B3) Contribute to Migraine and Histamine Intolerance?

niacin

Updated Oct. 26, 2017. Since writing this article I’m more and more convinced of the benefit of niacin to those with migraine, despite the fact that niacin is a methyl sponge.  Stay tuned for more blog posts on niacin.

Migraineurs generally have high histamine, high homocysteine, low blood sugar, dilated blood vessels and consequent low blood pressure, and liver and gallbladder problems – in addition to the splitting head pain! Niacin (nicotinic acid), as it turns out, is known to contribute to, cause, or exacerbate all of these problems.  On the other hand, niacin reduces glutamate and increases serotonin, which in and of itself is hugely relevant to those with migraine.

We need B vitamins, without a doubt.  Migraineurs especially benefit from B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyruvic acid).

If you have migraines, you probably have already been prescribed B vitamins, especially methylated B12 or methylfolate. The problem is that supplementation with either single or combined B complex vitamins can often trigger migraines. Clearly, we need (some or most) B vitamins, but it appears we often can’t tolerate them.  Why are we deficient and why can’t we tolerate supplementation?  How do we get out of this chicken-and-egg conundrum? And is niacin (nicotinic acid) one of the culprits in migraines triggered by B vitamins?

First, a Word about Forms of Niacin and Food Sources

Niacin is available in three forms – niacin (nicotinic acid), niacinamide (aka nicotinamide), and inositol nicotinate.  Niacin will cause a flush, while niacinamide and inositol nicotinate will not.  While all forms are good for their ability to heal schizophrenia, niacinomide is not as effective as niacin or inositol nicotinate for lowering cholesterol. It appears that niacinamide and inositol nicotinate may be more supportive of those with migraine if it is true that they don’t trigger mast cell degranulation in the same way that niacin does (this is discussed later in this article). Slow-release niacin capsules are also available (but not recommended, according to the research I’ve done).

Foods containing niacin include turkey, chicken, liver, mushrooms, peanuts, and tuna. Nutritional yeast also contains very high levels of niacin – and is a known migraine trigger (hmmmmm . . . ). Also, you can buy histamine-degrading probiotics which produce niacin. One of the histamine-reducing strains that produces niacin, b. infantis, can be purchased as a stand-alone probiotic (I found this brand, though I have never tried it so am not promoting it specifically). B infantis also produces the b vitamins folate, biotin, and thiamine.

The Benefits of Niacin

I don’t believe in demonizing any food or essential vitamin, especially not niacin.  Like all B vitamins, niacin has an important role to play in our health. Below are some of the properties of niacin, most of which are beneficial to those with migraine:

  • helps reduce nitric oxide
  • thins the blood
  • improves cholesterol levels
  • acts as a sleep aide
  • has been shown to be especially helpful in healing schizophrenia, alcoholism, and arthritis
  • increases serotonin levels by slowing the loss of tryptophan (a deficiency in niacinamide will
    drive breakdown of tryptophan. Reduced levels of tryptophan will result in decreased levels of serotonin). (Source)
  • acts as an important cofactor in glutamine synthetase enzyme, thus reducing glutamate levels (which get elevated in part due to methylfolate).
  • breaks down norepinephrine, epinephrine, and estrogen (as a cofactor for the COMT enzyme)
  • protects against both UVA and UVB damage (while sunscreen only protects against UVA.
  • helps stimulate production of hydrocholoric acid in the stomach (Source)

Potential Problems with Niacin for Migraineurs

Nevertheless, as mentioned, niacin is a “methyl sponge”.  It requires SAMe for its metabolism, and thereby contributes to a drop in methylation.  Bad reactions to niacin indicate deficiencies in SAMe.

Niacin also has a range of other effects that are known to be associated with migraine. According to the Mayo Clinic, niacin supplementation may also result in the following symptoms (I have reordered these in order of their relevance to this discussion):

  • migraine
  • headache
  • stomach upset
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • liver damage
  • nausea
  • hypothyroidism
  • increased homocysteine levels
  • insulin resistance
  • abnormal heart rhythms
  • heartburn

In addition, niacin also

  • Raises histamine (again, by way of mopping up methyl)
  • Contributes to a drop in methylation
  • Depletes/lowers B9 (folic acid)
  • Depletes/lowers B6 (which we need to produce the DAO enzyme among others)
  • Dilates blood vessels (and thereby lowers blood pressure)

One testament to niacin’s ability to raise histamine is the typical face flushing that accompanies it’s use.  It was previously assumed that the flushing is the result of a histamine response.  It is now understood that the flushing is a result of prostaglandins.  According to practitioners of Orthomolecular medicine, people with low histamine need more niacin to get the flush than people who already have high histamine (and migraines) do.  It is said that people with high histamine will flush with just 50mg of niacin whereas people with low histamine may need as much as 150mg to flush.

One Major Cause of Low Vitamin B (and Niacin) Levels:
Gut Flora Imbalances

It could be said that migraine is essentially, at its root, a chemical sensitivity and lymphatic congestion issue caused by gut dysbiosis and excessive chemical pollution including pharmaceutical medications.  The solution is to heal the gut by rehabilitating gut flora (with help from B vitamins), and in so doing also support the building blocks for optimal nutrient absorption, enzyme function, blood sugar metabolism, blood pressure regulation, and detoxification.

Our gut flora normally manufacture B vitamins in our body for us (with the exception of B12) – assuming the particular gut flora that produce them have not been depleted by antibiotics and medications.  When our guts are assaulted by pharmaceuticals and stress, the healthy gut flora are thrown off in favor of histamine-producing bacteria and we become deficient in B vitamins; hence, the need for supplementation.  Different B vitamins have different functions, but they work together as a whole family (which is why I question the use of single B vitamins).

The human gut microbiota supplies its host with essential nutrients, including B-vitamins.. . . [H]uman gut bacteria actively exchange B-vitamins among each other, thereby enabling the survival of organisms that do not synthesize any of these essential cofactors. . .  [I]n addition to diet, the gut microbiota is an important source of B-vitamins, and . . . changes in the gut microbiota composition can severely affect our dietary B-vitamin requirements. (Source)

If gut flora produce B vitamins, would supplementing with a probiotic to replenish the gut flora help with B vitamin production? Maybe, in theory – but because probiotics are made through fermentation they can often trigger migraine as well. Normally I am not in favor of probiotics for migraine because the “good”, histamine-degrading bacteria are mixed in with some histamine-producing bacteria.  Fine and good if you have great gut health – not so great if you already have an overload of histamine.

Dr. Stasha Gominak, a neurologist who started to help her migraine patients by improving their sleep and gut health, is NOT in favor of probiotic supplementation, but she IS in favor of vitamin D and B supplementation:

Current suggested treatments for the ‘wrong’ intestinal bacteria are probiotics and fecal transplants (poop from one person given as an enema to another person to implant the ‘right’ bacteria). Neither of these work for very long. I think  the problem is not the supply of the bacteria it is the intestinal environment. We have to supply the happy, helpful bacteria what they need to thrive and they’ll replace the bad guys.  My experience has been that the ‘happy, helpful’ bacteria need the proper amount of vitamin D (enough so we aren’t sucking up every bit of it for our own use, this is usually a D25OH blood level of greater than 40 ng/ml. ) plus larger doses of B vitamins for about 3 months. (Source)

The bottom line is that when gut flora are thrown off and detoxification pathways are compromised, inflammation and histamine increase as the body tries to flush out the waste that would otherwise have another means of exiting the body.

Which Bacteria Produce Niacin?

Recently, it was discovered which bacteria produce niacin:

The two most commonly synthesized vitamins of the human gut microbiota genomes were riboflavin and niacin, with 166 and 162 predicted producers, respectively. . . . . However, the two synthesis pathways are distributed differently over the five phyla. Riboflavin synthesis is mainly found in Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, and Fusobacteria, but it is only found in half of the Firmicutes genomes and very few Actinobacteria. In contrast, the niacin biosynthesis pathway is more evenly distributed over the genomes of the five phyla. Such differences between the distributions of these two pathways can have various explanations. First, this variation may reflect their evolutionary history; riboflavin synthesis appears to be more ancient than the NAD biosynthesis pathway. Second, the biosynthesis of riboflavin and its derivatives is a quite straightforward pathway, whereas the biosynthesis of NAD is very complex and includes numerous versions of salvage pathways in various bacterial taxa. (Source)

It’s also great news that at least one of the histamine-degrading probiotic bacteria – b.infantis – also produces niacin:

Niacin, or vitamin B3/nicotinic acid, is an essential nutrient, whose importance is often characterized by the consequences of insufficient intake. Symptoms such as nausea, skin problems, headaches, and, in severe cases, pellagra can result from niacin deficiency. . . . Similar to other B vitamins, B. bifidum and B. infantis appear to be good producers of niacin. (Source)

Methylation and Niacin

Phase 2 detoxification pathways are the routes through which our cells hook activated toxic substances up with small nutrient groups, neutralizing them and making them water-soluble so they can be eliminated in urine.  One of the major detoxification pathways is called methylation. Our detoxification pathways get overwhelmed by chemical assaults, some of them exacerbated by genetic polymorphisms (like MTHFR, but also those related to sulfation and glutathionation).

These days, it’s all the rage to blame all manner of histamine issue on gene polymorphisms such as MTHFR.  And that’s clearly playing a role in people’s elevated histamine issues and histamine intolerance – since those who have high histamine are undermethylated.

But as pharmacist and functional medicine practitioner Suzy Cohen points out, you can be undermethylated without the MTHFR polymorphism – because pharmaceutical medications can also compromise your methylation:

The biggest mistake you could make is thinking that methylation problems don’t apply to you because you don’t have the gene mutation . . . I assure you that your medicine has the capacity to mess up your methylation! (Source)

It’s also worth considering an alternative viewpoint on methylation, Anthony William’s perspective as a medical medium that:

The MTHFR gene mutation test is currently in its infancy and is not as accurate as the medical community believes. . . The MTHFR gene mutation test . . .  is just a basic test that reveals inflammation in the body. Although this test is given under the guise of a gene test and a real gene is being looked at, it is ultimately only able to indicate if there is inflammation in the body. . . The inflammation that triggers off a positive MTHFR gene mutation test stems from toxic byproduct wreaking havoc as it moves from the liver into the bloodstream. This can play a part in producing abnormal homocysteine levels. Eventually, this “dirty” blood prevents proper methylation or the conversion of folate or folic acid. (Source)
People can also be OVERmethylated and LOW in histamine.  While that’s not generally a problem people with migraine have (if their migraine is part of a picture of histamine intolerance or overload), using B vitamins such as methylfolate and methylcobalamin CAN eventually tip people into an overmethylated state.  At this point, niacin is very useful, because it mops up methyl. (For more information on overmethylation as compared to undermethylation, click here). 

But for those of us who are generally UNDERmethylated, taking a B complex vitamin that includes both methylated forms of B12 and Folate will be counterbalanced by the presence of the niacin.  And if the amount of niacin is very high, the total overall effect could theoretically result in a deepening of the methyl depletion.

So, it’s complex.

Some Additional Considerations Re: Niacin and Methylation

When I spoke with one of the formulators at NOW supplements, they explained to me that 1) quantities of niacin in B complex vitamins are formulated based on a general target market and the ratios presented by the marketplace and competition, as well as by recommended daily allowances set by the National Institutes of Health – B complexes are NOT formulated in ratios meant to prevent undermethylation or specifically for those with migraine.

Also, you can get migraine from both under-and-over methylation, though they are accompanied by different psychological states (undermethylated being more depressive, foggy, and lethargic – overmethylated being more amped and full of tension and anxiety).

There is more to migraine than methylation.

 

Niacin Can Both Trigger and Treat Migraine.
What is Going on Here?

The literature and anecdotal evidence for how niacin affects migraine is all over the board. There are case reports of people getting rid of headaches using high doses of niacin, as well as a few studies that show people getting resolution of migraine with niacin (some with intravenous niacin, some via the oral route). Finally, there are also anecdotal reports of people’s migraines being triggered by niacin.

There is more to consider about niacin than the fact that it is a methyl sponge. Niacin is also a “histamine liberator”, which might be why taking it would initially raise histamine but eventually clear it out.  The ability of niacin to clear out histamine (and glutamate) may explain its ability to benefit those with migraine.  Dr. Hoffer, the founder of Orthomolecular medicine and huge proponent of niacin, said:

“It is necessary to give enough (B3) to empty the histamine storage sites to a level at which there is no time to replenish them by the time the next dose is taken. It may require 6 to 8 grams per day for some people.” (Source)
As it turns out, niacin has been used to treat histadelia (high histamine), as well as histapenia (low histamine). Jonathan Prousky, ND, points out that:
Using niacin to treat histadelia might seem contradictory considering it will augment the release of histamine from basophils and tissue mast cells. However, there is evidence that the niacin flush is mediated by the release of prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) from dermal macrophages and not from degranulation of basophil and tissue mast cells. Further, Hoffer suggested that daily intake of niacin gradually lowers total body histamine by chronically depleting storage levels. Niacin has a complicated mechanism of action that modulates histamine release, lowers total blood histamine, and increases the production of PGD2. (Source)

 

What to Do?

Given that people with digestive-based migraines generally already have high histamine, LOW blood pressure, and blood vessel dilation, it seems logical that their symptoms would be exacerbated by niacin.  Because niacin depletes B6, which is needed to make the histamine-degrading enzyme DAO (diamine oxidase), additional supplementation with B6 may be beneficial for those choosing to supplement with niacin.

Upon reviewing all of this evidence for and against niacin, I initially felt very cautious about niacin, and thought it might even be the culprit B vitamin causing so many migraines in people who take a B complex. But ultimately, I’ve found that intellectual and research-based ideas of how beneficial something is only go so far.  Especially when the evidence is mixed or split as to different qualities of a substance, it comes time to experiment. This is where the rubber meets the road.

While everyone may react differently, my observation in clients taking niacin with migraine is that it is actually very beneficial.  It appears that its glutamate-lowering and serotonin-raising effects far outweigh its undermethylating and other effects, at least in those people with migraine who have excess glutamate as its cause. Furthermore, it appears that the flushing form of niacin works to abort migraine while the non-flushing forms do not.  I also found out that coffee contains a fair amount of niacin and this may be one reason it helps to get rid of migraine.  Intriguing!

Other Potential B Vitamin Migraine Triggers

I was always suspicious of methyl B12 as a stand-alone supplement, because I’ve personally experienced migraines triggered by B12. I have come across some evidence that B12 can be toxic in the presence of glutathione depletion.  Glutathione is our most powerful and abundant antioxidant in the body, and migraineurs are generally low in it. (As it turns out, triptans – the most popular drug for the treatment of migraine – also deplete glutathione.  This is another way of saying that triptans cause inflammation).

Not only folic acid, but also methylated forms of folate can be problematic also because they may increase glutamate and lower serotonin levels. The politics of methylfolate and which forms are available in supplement form as compared to prescription form are especially complex.

I will share more research on this topic in my online course, as well as my blog post on how I make my own customized vitamin B blend.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.simplywell.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Marya.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, health coach, and wellness researcher. She specializes in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions.

The SimplyWell Protocol is available here, or you can book a consultation with Marya.
Learn more about Marya’s healing journey here.
[/author_info] [/author]

Coffee and Migraine Headaches: Benefits and Drawbacks

The majority of migraineurs I see in my coaching practice are addicted to coffee.  And why not?  After all, coffee constricts blood vessels and thereby alleviates headache symptoms. There’s a good reason why caffeine is added as a key ingredient in some NSAID migraine meds like Excedrin: caffeine lowers adenosine levels (but like all other migraine meds as well as coffee itself, Excedrin also causes rebound headache). Coffee actually has a lot of great health benefits, some of them particularly relevant to those with migraine, which is probably one reason why so many with migraine are so dependent on it.  All of us also know that coffee consumption has some drawbacks as well – causing us to either feel physically or psychologically bad for drinking coffee when we do. So are coffee and migraine headaches incompatible, or complimentary?

Quite a few of us yo-yo between these two states: going through phases of intense coffee use and then denial, back and forth.  Others have wholeheartedly and without reservation accepted their coffee obsession, without any qualms.  A few lone souls have actually managed to completely stop drinking coffee.

Coffee is just too delicious and too sacred a ritual for the majority of my clients to give up with any ease.  Usually I will recommend that people NOT try to give up coffee in the early weeks of implementing the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol because I think it is often unrealistic and too challenging to expect people to start drastically new dietary and lifetsyle habits while also going through withdrawal from their favorite drink.

But when we recognize we’ve reached a place where we are truly ready to do anything to heal, the time comes to really take stock of what we consume regularly, ESPECIALLY if our use of it is chronic, addictive, or we feel we literally can’t function without it.  That’s a sign that the substance offers substantial benefits but is also probably being misused.

Like all foods with inherently dynamic properties, there is ample evidence for both the benefits and drawbacks of coffee consumption as it relates to those with migraine.

Above all, my intention here is simply to share some of the research that I’ve found on both the positives and negatives of coffee and migraine headaches and how I personally choose to interface with coffee.  My intention here is neither to demonize or glorify coffee.  It’s a food grown from a plant, and you know how I adore plants.  I believe we need to be able to integrate food into our life while being very mindful and educated about each food’s properties, and then check in with our inner body wisdom and experience to make the final call about how much to incorporate that food into our life.

Coffee and caffeine’s affects on us are complex and vast. The most thorough and balanced article on coffee’s benefits and drawbacks that I was able to find concludes that much of the research on coffee is conflicting at best, because:

. . . most research studies observe and measure the effects of a single dose of caffeine rather than the effects of chronic ingestion. Yet most coffee drinkers drink coffee daily. As a number of studies have shown, single-dose experiments don’t necessarily reflect the effects of our regular routines. . .  [But what is clear is that] caffeine impacts whether certain chemicals are available; how receptive our brains are to them; and whether we’re even making those chemicals in the first place (Source).

Coffee benefits for those with migraine

Coffee imparts certain benefits to those with migraine especially.  The question is whether these short-term benefits are worth the drawbacks. So first, what’s so fabulous about coffee, above and beyond the taste and the ritual, specifically for those with migraine? Here are the highlights that I find intriguing:

  • “Chronic caffeine intake has been shown to increase the receptors of serotonin (26-30% increase), GABA (65% increase), and acetylcholine (40-50%). This may contribute to the elevated mood and perceived increase in energy we feel after a coffee.” (Source)
    Why this is relevant: Migraineurs tend to have lower levels of most neurotransmitters, including serotonin and acetylcholine, but more receptor sites for them (presumably because their levels are so low, they need more receptors to benefit from the few that are available). Coffee inadvertently increases receptivity to serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine BECAUSE it depletes our bodies of them (maybe not such a good thing, but the initial effects of increased receptivity feel good).
    “In the human body, when neurotransmitter receptors . . . increase their sensitivity, it generally suggests a reduction in functional capacity and activity of neurons associated with those receptors. Either the brain needs more chemicals to do the job, or the neurons involved aren’t working as hard. This might mean that a certain neurotransmitter is in short supply, or that its activity needs to increase.” (Source)
  • Caffeine inhibits blood platelet aggregation (it does so by inhibiting the release of serotonin). Why this is relevant: Migraineurs generally have thick, sticky blood.
  • Caffeine synergizes with progesterone, and increases its concentration in blood and tissues. (Source)  Why this is relevant: progesterone is a glutamate scavenger.  It is also essential for the production of cortisol, which puts the brakes on histamine.  Progesterone offsets estrogen, an excessive amount of which contributes to histamine overload and interferes with proper signaling in your thyroid gland.  Increased progesterone can improve liver and thyroid function as well.  All of these are good things for those with migraine.
  • Coffee contains magnesium and potassium. Other vitamins and minerals found in coffee include vitamin K, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, choline, calcium, phosphorus and manganese, but these are not present in dosages high enough to warrant drinking it. Why this is relevant: Migraineurs get migraines due in part to deficiencies in essential vitamins and electrolytes.
  • Caffeic acid, found in coffee as well as other plants like celery and the herb Danshen, lowers CGRP levels.  Why this is relevant: CGRP, an inflammatory neuropeptide, has shown to exist in higher levels in those with migraine.
  • Coffee raises blood pressure.  This is perhaps the greatest benefit of coffee, and explains why it can get rid of a headache once in awhile.  Coffee raises blood pressure by way of stimulating adrenaline. Why this is relevant:  those with migraine generally have low blood pressure, so raising it and thereby getting rid of the headache is a huge relief. The blood vessel constriction and raising of blood pressure results in reduced blood flow to the brain.  Check out these before and after images of the brain after coffee consumption.
  • “Caffeine affects the activity of a naturally occurring and necessary brain substance called adenosine. Adenosine levels in the blood go up during migraine attacks. Furthermore, adenosine when injected into a vein can trigger migraine attacks. Adenosine is widely available in the brain, and can produce many effects including less brain electrical activity, temporary widening of blood vessels, and control of some aspects of sleep and movement. Adenosine acts by sticking to specific receptor molecules on the surfaces of some brain cells. Caffeine can block the action of these receptors, and, thereby, stop the effects of adenosine. We do not know how these effects of caffeine result in acute anti-migraine and pain control actions.” (Source)
  •  Caffeine shows promise as a means to reduce β-amyloid levels which cause lesions in the brains of migraineurs and those with Alzheimer’s. So far, this has been demonstrated in transgenic mice.
  • Coffee is high in niacin.  One cup of coffee contains about 40 mg of niacin. Niacin helps to lower glutamate and increase blood flow in small capillaries of the body.

Coffee drawbacks for those with migraine

  • Despite increasing receptor sites for serotonin, caffeine inhibits the release of serotonin. Why this is relevant: low serotonin is a major cause of migraine, and elevating serotonin’s levels also serves to stop the overproduction of inflammatory brain chemicals like glutamate and CGRP. While lower serotonin levels result in increased receptor sites (as discussed in the benefits section), low serotonin is not a good thing for migraineurs.  Changes in serotonin levels from coffee consumption lead to the “characteristic withdrawal symptoms (such as agitation and irritability) when coffee intake is stopped. The brain has come to expect more action in its serotonin receptors, and when its abundant supply of happy chemicals is abruptly cut off, it gets crabby. . . .” (Source) To help with migraine symptoms, we want to increase serotonin, not inhibit it.
  • “Caffeine produces its stimulant effects by inhibiting the release of GABA and thereby allowing the increase of excitatory neurotransmitters. The less GABA, the more nerve transmissions occur. Think what too much coffee feels like: that is the sensation of glutamate without enough GABA.” (Source) Why this is relevant: migraineurs need to increase their GABA.  They can do so through improved gut health and consumption of prebiotics as outlined in the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol.  Inhibited GABA is not desirable for migraineurs, because it leads to excess glutamate (which in turn leads to excess CGRP, an excitatory neurotransmitter elevated in those with migraine).
  • Coffee inhibits the absorption of iron, as well as vitamin B6 and thiamine.  This is true even in the case of decaf coffee, because the nutrient depletion happens not by way of caffeine, but by way of the tannins in the coffee that bind to these minerals and vitamins.  For this reason, tannins in tea are also problematic and steal B vitamins.  Why this is relevant: Iron and B6 are both involved with the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. B6 is also needed to create Diamine Oxidase (DAO), the enzyme that breaks down histamine. Thiamine is important for the creation of acetylcholine, which is needed for proper vagal tone and to keep inflammation in the body down. Migraineurs are generally anemic and low in these vitamins already.  They need the constituents necessary to produce serotonin, DAO, dopamine, GABA and especially acetylcholine.
  • Increased alertness (or anxiety) due to caffeine may be mainly due to blockage of adenosine receptors which normally inhibit glutamate release. Why this is relevant: migraineurs have high levels of glutamate, which causes excitotoxicity in the brain.  We need our adenosine receptors to be working properly so as to prevent an excessive buildup of glutamate. Glutamate released into synapses is normally reabsorbed back into neurons by the ion-exchange transport system, or soaked-up by astrocytes which convert the glutamate into glutamine (a molecule which cannot cause excitotoxicity). However part of the pathology of migraine is imbalanced electrolyte levels which impact the effectiveness of ion-exchange.
  • Caffeine increases cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, mimicking a state of acute stress. Why this is relevant: stress increases histamine and inflammation, which we all have enough of already.
  • Caffeine is metabolized more slowly in women, especially those on oral contraceptives or postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy, due to the fact that it is detoxified using the same enzyme used to metabolize estrogen. Why this is relevant: more women than men get migraines and many women are on hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives.
  • Chronic coffee consumption increases insulin resistance. This typically occurs with a diet high in refined sugars and starches, and many people consume their coffee with pastries or refined carbs. This horrible combination creates inflammation and neurotransmitter imbalances. Why this is relevant: Migraineurs already have imbalanced sugar metabolism and low blood sugar.  We don’t need more.
  • Caffeine decreases vitamin D receptor protein expression (Source).  Why this is relevant: Vitamin D is essential for lowering inflammation, proper digestion, deep sleep, and for serotonin production.
  • Coffee is a diuretic, ie, dehydrating. Why this is relevant: As migraineurs, our kidneys and adrenals are already stressed out from the constant inflammation in our system.  Due to their compromised status, we already excrete important vitamins and minerals like sodium, magnesium, and the B vitamins faster than most people.  And we are already dehydrated.
  • Coffee is acidifying. Why this is relevant: due to having compromised kidney function, most migraineurs also have compromised pH balance (ie, are already acidic).
  • Coffee consumption causes dependency and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. “Studies of caffeine dependency and tolerance show that daily caffeine users are actually more motivated to consume it to avoid withdrawal symptoms, than to experience the lift that its stimulant properties may provide.” (Source)
  • “Research has shown that some conditions, such as long-term antibiotic use or excessive consumption of alcohol or caffein can deplete inositol stores. Suboptimal levels of inositol can negatively impact brain function, and memory loss may be an indication of inositol deficiency.” (Source)

The healthiest coffee

The healthiest coffee to drink is cold-brewed, organic water-pressed decaffeinated coffee.  Conventional processes used to decaffeinate coffee use a lot of harmful chemicals.  Decaf coffee contains some caffeine.  And it is still acidifying for the body.  Once you have bought your water-pressed decaf coffee, you can cold brew it according to these instructions here.

Alternately, you can make an herbal “coffee” substitute using healing herbs that actually support digestion, liver health, and adrenal function.  Check out my chicory, dandelion, and chaga “coffee” recipe here.

The ultimate question is always: what does your bodywisdom say about your coffee consumption?

I’ve learned over the years that I actually don’t love coffee.  I love the flavor and ritual of coffee.  And there is something about the joy of doing something that I tell myself I shouldn’t just because it’s fun to live a little, to indulge in life’s pleasures and to counterbalance any tendency towards strict denial in life.  But ultimately I’d rather have a clear head, healthy kidneys, and a happy stomach.  So I only drink coffee about twice a month to remind myself that I don’t actually enjoy the feeling coffee gives me, even while I love the taste.

So what’s the takehome?

Is the occasional cup of coffee going to counterbalance all your efforts to get rid of your migraines?  No. Will occasional cups of coffee actually be supportive to you as someone with migraines?  Yes.  Is the consumption of daily cups of coffee, even decaf coffee, going to undermine all of your other good lifestyle habits?  If you are consuming coffee in excess out of stress, depletion, and a deep sense of fatigue – absolutely. We may want to keep in mind that caffeine is a defensive toxin designed by various plants to repel herbivores from its the berries and seeds. On the other hand, humans evolved eating small amounts of toxic substances which stimulate the liver.

What do the neurologists say about caffeine consumption if you have migraine?

It is important to emphasize that caffeine consumption is rarely the sole “cause” of frequent headaches including migraine. However, it is a modifiable risk factor, unlike many other unavoidable migraine triggers. Caffeine is often a significant and overlooked contributor to the problem of frequent and chronic daily headache. Migraine sufferers should use caffeine less frequently or remove it entirely as one component of a program of therapies for success, and it requires no prescription. (Source)

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.simplywell.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Marya.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, health coach, and wellness researcher. She specializes in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions.

The SimplyWell Protocol is available here, or you can book a consultation with Marya.
Learn more about Marya’s healing journey here.
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