7 Common Blind Spots in the Management of Migraines

Over the course of my time coaching people to alleviate migraines, it’s become clear over and over again that some doctors and naturopaths may inadvertently be causing MORE headaches and migraines through the recommendations they make – especially when it comes to management of migraines caused by digestive problems and subsequent histamine intolerance.

I’m actually very grateful that a naturopath I was seeing early on for my migraines (prior to developing the SimplyWell Protocol) prescribed an herbal remedy that contained cinnamon as its first ingredient.  I was experiencing peripheral neuropathy along with the migraines and, rightly so, she thought the increased circulation boost offered by the cinnamon would help alleviate that (actually, it was my lymph that was congested).  When the remedy made me even sicker, I took a close look at the ingredient list and through doing some online research, realized that cinnamon is a major trigger for those with histamine intolerance.  This was the clue that I needed which sent me down the path of investigating migraine through the lense of histamine intolerance, which probably wouldn’t have happened had she not suggested I take cinnamon.

This was a good lesson in realizing that all reactions to medications whether positive or negative are telling us something: even bad reactions may be helpful if we can use them as a clue to better understand what’s going on in our bodies.  Conversely, sometimes the substances that we’re taking don’t manifest as obvious problematic symptoms that we can link to them, so we may inadvertently be using supplements or eating foods that are actually causing harm without knowing it. And then there’s the problem which is all too common of taking so many supplements and medications that it is nearly impossible to know which is causing what effects, for better or worse.

Below is a rundown of the most common ways to manage migraine, usually at the advice of a holistic or conventional professional health care provider, which may be exacerbating rather than mitigating your migraines.  It helps to be mindful about these blind spots so that you can interface with your health care professional in a more educated way.  Be forewarned that many health care practitioners may not be aware of what histamine intolerance is, since it is not a formal diagnosis.  I have heard of many cases of doctors undermining or questioning the existence of histamine intolerance.  Other practitioners may be aware of histamine overload but don’t link it to migraine.  Luckily, more and more more practitioners are learning about histamine intolerance and its causes.

Blind Spot #1: Fermented Foods & Probiotics

As people wake up to the importance of good gut health and its role in basically everything, many are getting on board the fermented food bandwagon. After all, it makes sense that if your gut flora have been depleted by antibiotics and meds (which most of ours have), that replenishing them with more good flora by way of fermented foods and probiotic supplements would be beneficial.  But this is not always the case.

One of my pet peeves is to see how widespread the fervent belief in the value of fermented foods is.  Fermented foods are the holy grail of gut health right now – except that they actually make a lot of us sick. As I have explained here in this blog post on histamine intolerance, fermented foods (yes, even the beloved home-made sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha) become problematic for those of us who are low in the enzyme, DAO (diamine oxidase), which helps to break down histamine.  Most fermented foods as well as probiotic supplements contain a mixture of histamine-producing, histamine-neutral, and histamine-degrading bacteria. (If you do feel you need a PRObiotic, choose only those strains that are histamine-degrading, like l. plantarum, l. rhamnosus, or b. infantis).

As a result of this DAO enzyme deficiency, those with the deficiency who eat fermented foods will not be able to break the food down properly, so by the time it reaches the colon, it will start to ferment even more.  Opportunistic bacteria in the colon, many of them also histamine-producing, will also try to lend a hand in the breakdown of the food.  By this point, your serum levels of histamine are probably quite high, and symptoms of bloating, brain fog, and migraine may appear.

Let’s be clear that I am not demonizing fermented food.  Fermented foods are beneficial if you can break down histamine.  The problem is not histamine-rich foods, but the nutritional and mineral deficiencies that make it impossible for the body to produce enough enzymes.  B vitamins, in particular, are building blocks for enzymes, and many B vitamins are normally provided by our gut flora.  However, if our gut flora are depleted, we won’t have these building blocks in place.

Luckily, we have extra help from PREbiotics, which also increase healthy gut flora but are much more supportive for those with migraine. Prebiotics and probiotics are normally complimentary, so once we have stabilized with the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol, we’ll find we can gradually reintroduce the wonderful and otherwise beneficial fermented foods like sauerkraut that used to give us problems.

Blind Spot #2: Bone Broth & Collagen

Bone broth and collagen are usually recommended as a means to improve the integrity of the gut lining.  Full of minerals, healthy fats, and most importantly chock full of important amino acids, bone broth and collagen at first glance appear to be really good for building gut health.  And they are – IF you have the nutritional building blocks for the enzymes needed to properly convert glutamic acid (one of the most abundant amino acids in bone broth). 

The problem is similar to that of histamine overload exacerbated by low diamine oxidase enzyme – it means that an otherwise beneficial substance becomes toxic when it is unable to be transformed or broken down due to enzyme deficiencies.  The problem is also a cyclic, chicken-and-egg problem: how do you build gut health and enzyme function if your gut health is so poor that you can’t properly absorb or assimilate the nutrients needed to make the enzymes needed for good gut health?  Because healthy gut flora normally produce many of the B vitamins that are essential for enzymatic function, consistent B vitamin and mineral supplementation is usually crucial here.

But until then, bone broth and collagen may pose some problems for those with migraine, because the glutamine and glutamic acid in it has a molecular structure very similar to monosodium glutamate (MSG) – a known migraine trigger. Despite the fact that glutamic acid is used by the body for the creation of glutathione (which is generally low in those with migraine), some caution is still in order here.  Migraineurs also have high levels of glutamate in certain parts of the brain, which leads to excitotoxicity.  Glutamine and glutamic acid are converted into glutamate.  Therefore migraineurs are best supported by avoiding substances that contribute to excessive glutamate load.

Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, coauthor of the highly acclaimed book Nourishing Broth: An Old Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World, points out that:

The glutamine content of broth increases with cooking time as do the levels of all other amino acids. Thus long-cooked bone broth is more nutrient rich and preferable for all who can tolerate it. . Appropriate supplementation and detoxification may also help sensitive people handle glutamine. People with severe MSG sensitivity are often low in vitamin B6 or unable to convert it to the active form of pyridoxal-5-phosphate (p5p). Becoming replete in B6 and the other B vitamins may help. Glutamine sensitivity can also come from lead toxicity, widespread today due to lead contamination of our food and environment.

A separate issue in consuming bone broth or collagen if you have migraines is that of freshness and quality.  Bone broth must be made and consumed fresh because – just like any other food – bacteria start to break down broth the longer it has been around – making packaged or leftover bone broth much more of a trigger than fresh homemade bone broth.

And, as is true of all animal products we eat, any bone broth consumed must be 100% organic.  Dr. Stephanie Seneff explains how the herbicide roundup (generic name glyphosate) can contaminate many products made with gelatin:

Once you think of glyphosate insinuating itself into collagen, it’s an easy step to imagine that glyphosate would be a major contaminant in gelatin, a very common food additive and the main constituent of gelatin-based deserts. Gelatin is routinely added to marshmallows, pudding, gummy bears, yogurts, margarine, frosting, cream cheese, sour cream, non-dairy creamers and fat-reduced foods. Gelatin is typically derived from the bones joints and skin of pigs and cows. These animals are fed high doses of glyphosate in their GMO Roundup Ready corn and soy feed. The glyphosate that makes its way into their joints ends up in your gelatin dessert.

Gelatin is also the main constituent of gel caps, which have become a standard way of packaging both pharmaceutical drugs and nutritional supplements such as fish oil. I would predict that any nutritional supplement housed in a gel capsule is going to cause you much more harm than good, because whatever benefit the contents provides is more than offset by the damaging effects of the glyphosate. This also means, of course, that bone broth, a highly nutritious food, must be made from grass-fed beef rather than from the large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). One solution is to be sure that your supplements use vegan gel caps, which are made from cellulose, a plant-derived polysaccharide that would probably be much less at risk of glyphosate contamination. (Source)

Bummer.  Major bummer. And if that weren’t enough of a bummer, glyphosate also interferes with how the body is able to utilize glyceine, one of the other amino acids that bone broth supplies.

Takehome: if you only get migraines once in awhile, bone broth and collagen may be supportive of your healing (only if it is 100% organic due to the glyphosate contamination issue).  But if you have chronic migraines and very high histamine, and are easily triggered by food, it may be best to opt out of consuming a lot of bone broth, or only eating occasional bone broth you make yourself that has been made with short cooking times. Be absolutely sure not to buy packaged broths, and opt for supplements made with vegetable, rather than gelatin, caps.

Blind Spot #3: Methylated B vitamins

These days taking methylated forms of B12 and folate is all the rage. As more and more people do genetic testing and find they have the MTHFR gene mutation, they and their doctors may believe they need methylated B vitamins.

I was always suspicious of methyl B12 as a stand-alone supplement, because I’ve personally experienced migraines triggered by B12.  Multiple clients of mine have repeatedly mentioned that they also get migraines from methylcobalamin. 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 cause oxidative stress in the liver and thereby deplete glutathione, at least in rats).

Not only folic acid, but also methylated forms of folate can be problematic also because they may increase glutamate and lower serotonin levels. Folic acid and folate supplementation also lower riboflavin levels – not good for those with migraine. Consider this:

The potential limitations of administering a restricted range of B vitamins are illustrated by evidence showing that approximately a third of supplementation studies to date have involved the administration of folic acid alone. . . . [F]olate and vitamin B12 are intimately interlinked within the folate/methionine cycles, and increasing the level of folate can mask the accrual of permanent neurological damage associated with a specific vitamin B12 deficiency. A striking illustration of this was provided by an epidemiological study by Morris et al. who reported that high folate status was associated with protected cognitive function, but only in those with normal vitamin B12 status, with this relationship reversed in participants with low vitamin B12 status. For this group, high folate status exacerbated the detrimental effect of vitamin B12 deficiency, increasing the risk of cognitive impairment and anaemia by a factor of five, compared to those with normal vitamin status. A further study also demonstrated that low vitamin B12 status was associated with a significantly increased decline in cognitive performance over the subsequent eight years, with this effect exacerbated in those having high levels of folate, or those taking folic acid supplements. Alongside these observations it is interesting to note that in one study supplementation with folic acid also significantly increased the proportion of participants with riboflavin deficiency. (Source)

Why not just try to get all of your b vitamins through food?  Because b vitamins from food have always been a supplemental source to begin with – adding to the b vitamins that our gut flora would normally produce for us.  That is precisely the problem: evolutionarily, we have never relied on food alone for our b vitamins.

While supplementation with methylfolate may initially give some positive results, it can also quickly backfire, especially for those with migraine.  Luckily, there are alternative ways to methylate – through the use of choline or thrimethylglycine for example.

Methylation is an extremely complex topic (one that I certainly don’t have a full grasp on) – and around which there is much confusion and many diverse perspectives even among experts. Below are a few perspectives worth considering from some of the experts on the benefit of being cautious when it comes to supplementing with methylfolate:

Chris Masterjohn:

This is not – NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT all about getting methylfolate. . . . You can’t restore the normal flux of methylfolate no matter how much you eat. The RDA for folate is 400 mcg depending on your sex and life stage, and that assumes you’re going to absorb 200mcg of folate. Each molecule of folate you consume is recycled 18,00 times per day. If you consume a molecule of methylfolate the methyl group on that folate is available once, and then it has to be recycled 17,999 times. Where does that recycling come from? The carbons come from serine or glycine, but the part that MTHFR is catalyzing, the part that’s defective in someone with an MTHFR mutation, they’re coming from glucose. . . One glucose molecule, if you’re burning it for energy, supplies enough NADPH to recycle one molecule of folate one time. You’re going to need 3,00 to 6,000 molecules of glucose for every molecule of folate to get your daily methyl flux out of it. . . . But if you wanted to make up for that process by adding individual methyl groups . . . . from methylfolate that you got out of a capsule, in order to make up for that process you would have to consume an incomprehensible amount of folate: 4.5 grams of folate. You would have to consume 18,000 times the RDA of folate. I have no idea what happens to folate when you consume 18,000 times the RDA for it, I just don’t know. My guess is a lot of it winds up in your poop. But I do know that I would never advise anyone to eat 4.5 grams of folate. And that if anyone thinks that by eating super high doses of folate like several milligrams that they’re getting anywhere near inching their way towards making up for the normal flux of methyl groups through that pathway, that’s delusional. (Source).

Dr. Ben Lynch

If you know or suspect that you may be deficient in various minerals or vitamins, then it is important that you replenish many of them prior to supporting with methylfolate or methylcobalamin. Why? Because if you support with these two powerful methyl donor nutrients, it can cause a ‘clog’ in your biochemistry. This ‘clog’ may occur in how your brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) get formed and/or eliminated. Obviously, this can cause some significant issues. (Source)
Dr. Carolyn Ledowsky

A lot of information available from a variety of sources says that for those patients who have MTHFR mutations (especially the C677T MTHFR mutation) methylfolate is critical to take. And yes, for some patients, gentle supplementation via methylfolate may be all that is needed if they are otherwise healthy and have few health conditions they need to address. However for anyone dealing with allergies, inflammation, poor detoxification, hormonal imbalances or mood/ neurotransmitter imbalances – methyfolate could amplify these issues if they have not been addressed prior to engaging the methylation cycle once more. (Source)

Dr. Albert Mensah

Much discussion surrounding methylated folate comes from genetic testing and the MTHFR paradigm, which is neither an accurate assessment nor an appropriate guide for true methylation disorders. MTHFR testing is very significant in the realm of autism and in multiple sclerosis, however, in the area of mental health it is strikingly inconsistent and dubious at best.  The proof is in the pudding. People who are truly undermethylated do not do well on methylated folate after two to three months. In fact, on quite the contrary, many people report worsening of symptoms. (Source)

Marlene Merritt, LAc, DOM, MS Nutrition

Methyl groups have effects on many, many different areas of the body, INCLUDING TURNING ON AND TURNING OFF GENES and this includes tumor suppressor genes. To prevent abnormal methylation, there are seven checkpoints to prevent hypermethylation, since hypermethylation often causes cancer. So this is another reason that you not want to take large amounts folate (or any other methyl donor (ex: methyl-B12, SAMe), because you also do not want too much methylation to occur.

So then why in the world would you want to take a nutraceutical like methylfolate/5-MTHF? . . .

[L]ong term supplementation of methylfolate causes a list of side effects that rival a pharmaceutical drug: anxiety, irritability, insomnia (from changes in neurotransmitters), sore muscles and achy joints (from reduction in glutathione production), headaches and migraines (from increased nitric oxide production), nausea, palpitations, rashes and suicide, in addition to exacerbating B6 and B12 deficiencies, along with magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese and other mineral deficiencies. . . .

In preparing this article, I interviewed five biochemistry and nutrition PhD’s, all of whom categorically said that they would not take methyl folate as a supplement and considered the amounts typically prescribed as unsafe. (Source)

Blind Spot #4: Excessive Vitamin D Supplementation

Another pet peeve of mine: excessive vitamin D supplementation.  Don’t get me wrong – it appears that vitamin D3 supplementation is pretty valuable (though this may need to be reconsidered – see below).  Most people, whether they have migraine or not, are low in vitamin D.  But taking huge amounts of vitamin D is also dangerous – especially to migraineurs, since vitamin D requires magnesium for absorption.

Dr. Carolyn Dean explains:

Here’s what happens. You feel great on your magnesium and then you begin to have more magnesium deficiency symptoms after adding a high-dose Vitamin D supplement. Magnesium is required to transform Vitamin D from its storage form to its active form and for many other aspects of Vitamin D metabolism. That means if you take the extremely high doses that allopathic doctors are now recommending you can plummet into magnesium deficiency and not know what the heck is happening. In general, I don’t recommend more than 1,000-2,000 IU of Vitamin D daily for this reason. And never take Vitamin D without magnesium. (Source)

Excessive vitamin D can also deplete vitamin K stores, which are essential for helping calcium build bone.  With vitamin D excess and K depletion, calcium ends up in the wrong places. Sufficient vitamin A is also crucial if you are supplementing with vitamin D.  According to Nora Gedgaudas in her book “Primal Body, Primal Mind”, insufficient Vitamin A can lead to vitamin D toxicity.

Chris Masterjohn explains his hypothesis:

[V]itamin D increases the expression of proteins whose activation depends on vitamin K-mediated carboxylation; as the demand for carboxylation increases, the pool of vitamin K is depleted. Since vitamin K is essential to the nervous system and plays important roles in protecting against bone loss and calcification of the peripheral soft tissues, its deficiency results in the symptoms associated with hypervitaminosis D. This hypothesis is circumstantially supported by the observation that animals deficient in vitamin K or vitamin K-dependent proteins exhibit remarkable similarities to animals fed toxic doses of vitamin D, and the observation that vitamin D and the vitamin K-inhibitor Warfarin have similar toxicity profiles and exert toxicity synergistically when combined. The hypothesis further proposes that vitamin A protects against the toxicity of vitamin D by decreasing the expression of vitamin K-dependent proteins and thereby exerting a vitamin K-sparing effect. If animal experiments can confirm this hypothesis, the models by which the maximum safe dose is determined would need to be revised. Physicians and other health care practitioners would be able to treat patients with doses of vitamin D that possess greater therapeutic value than those currently being used while avoiding the risk of adverse effects by administering vitamin D together with vitamins A and K. (Source)

It’s well established that overly-high vitamin D levels are associated with frequent urination, constipation or diarrhea, hypercalcemia, headaches, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, kidney failure, and tiredness, among other things – and it is recommended that those with headaches and thyroid disorders (ie, migraineurs) supplement with vitamin D cautiously (Source).  Levels as high as 100 are above the suggested 50-80ng/ml range, and levels of 150 ng/ml and above are considered toxic.

It appears that what is often not realized by many health care practitioners is that elevated levels of vitamin D have ALSO been associated with headache and migraines.  Dr. Stasha Gominak, a neurologist specializing in alleviating migraine, improving gut health, and re-establishing sleep hygiene, believes that vitamin D supplementation contributes to B5 deficiency (and we need it for enzymatic function!).  She has put forth the hypothesis that our gut flora do not produce sufficient B vitamins in the presence of vitamin D depletion. She suggests that vitamin D should be in the range of 60-80ng/ml.

Other experts differ in their view, including Chris Kesser and Chris Masterjohn, and Amy Proal. Chris Kesser summarizes the evidence as follows:

The U.S. laboratory reference range for adequate 25(OH)D is 30 to 74 ng/mL, while the Vitamin D Council suggests a higher range of 40 to 80 ng/mL, with a target of 50 ng/mL (17).

But a large body of evidence in the medical literature strongly suggests that optimal vitamin D levels might be lower than these figures. There is little to no evidence showing benefit to 25(OH)D levels above 50 ng/mL, and increasing evidence to suggest that levels of this magnitude may cause harm. . .  Based on an exhaustive review of over 1,000 studies in 2011, the Institute of Medicine recommends a much more conservative range of 20 to 50 ng/mL. . . .

What about optimal vitamin D range from an evolutionary perspective? A study on traditionally living hunter–gatherer populations in East Africa found that the Masai and Hadzabe tribes had average 25(OH)D concentrations of 48 ng/mL and 44 ng/mL, respectively (35). These indigenous populations get a great deal of sun exposure but also have very high intakes of vitamins A and K, suggesting that these levels are probably towards the higher end of the optimal range for most people in the modern world.(Source).

And here is another very important consideration from Amy Proal explaining the cause of low vitamin D levels:

Vitamin D supplementation is routinely justified based on a plethora of studies that report low concentrations of 25-D in the blood of patients with a wide variety of inflammatory conditions. Thus far, the consensus on these findings has been to assume that the low concentrations of 25-D are driving or contributing to the pathogenesis of these diseases. However, the low concentrations of 25-D often detected in patients with inflammatory conditions may be a result of the inflammatory disease process rather than the cause of the inflammation. . . Indeed, our data suggest that under conditions of microbiome and interactome dysregulation, the body uses multiple mechanisms to naturally downregulate intracellular production of 25-D. (Source)

You can read more about alternative viewpoints and potential problems with vitamin D supplementation in the following articles: “Vitamin D: More is Not Better”, “The Evolution of Diverse D Requirements”, and “The Concept of Vitamin D Deficiency is Flawed”, “Harm from Vitamin D is Supported by High Quality Studies”, and “Vitamin D Supplements are Immunosuppressive”.

After considering these views, I no longer supplement with vitamin D.  I am currently looking into purchasing a vitamin D lamp, since I live in the Pacific Northwest. I make sure to get plenty of vitamin A from butter and beef liver pate. Getting just 15 minutes of sunlight a day should be sufficient for most people.  Sunlight is converted into vitamin D by the presence of cholesterol in skin and vitamin E.  As it turns out, vitamin E is best absorbed topically, so I like to use a sesame oil for my skin with some essential oils added as one way to boost my vitamin D production when I go out into the sun

Blind Spot #5: Insufficient or Wrong Kind of Magnesium

Magnesium is nature’s natural calcium channel blocker.  When magnesium levels are low, the voltage gated calcium channels that allow nutrients and oxygen into the cell don’t work properly.  Due to the imbalances in the ratios of our most important electryolytes – calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium, these channels may not be able to open and close in a balanced way.  When these channels are open, calcium floods into the cell, causing cell death (important side note: EMF – electromagnetic frequencies also cause damage by the exact same mechanism).  In order to maintain the integrity of the cell, we need the proper ratios of magnesium to calcium, potassium, and sodium.  As I pointed out above, less magnesium will be available for cellular health if it is being used up by excessive vitamin D supplementation.

One thing that I see consistently with clients is that some of them give up on magnesium if it doesn’t provide immediate or obvious benefit in alleviating their migraines.  I did this myself early on, and actually noticed a more positive immediate benefit from potassium.  Potassium deficiency, however, is usually tied to an underlying magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium supplementation can actually cause initial cleansing reactions and headaches.  A blood test for magnesium is not reflective of actual tissue concentrations of magnesium.  Therefore it is important to supplement with sufficient quantities of magnesium for the long-term.  It takes up to 4-6 months of continual supplementation to reach the right tissue concentration levels.

It is important to not only get enough magnesium (your body requires 300 mg just to maintain daily functions even without a deficiency), but to get the right kind.  Just the other day I discovered that one of my clients had been taking magnesium aspartate.  While some early studies did show magnesium aspartate to be beneficial for those with fibromyalgia, and aspartate is part of the citric acid or Krebs cycle, nevertheless it is also a neurotoxin at certain levels and when the person taking it doesn’t have the proper enzymes to convert it to a form the body can handle.  The same goes for magnesium glutamate.

Both magnesium aspartate and magnesium glutamate are often hidden in products labeled “magnesium chelate.” Dr. Russel Blaylock, a neuroscientist, explains this at length in his book Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills.  Because those with migraines already have very high levels of inflammatory neurotoxins including glutamate and CGRP, and are already sensitive to glutamate-containing foods and supplements, it’s crucial to avoid magnesium glutamate, as well as aspartate, for optimal brain health.

Those who are constipated or who have oxalate sensitivity issues may benefit from magnesium citrate, as this form helps to flush out oxalates from the body (and may cause some cleansing reactions).  Magnesium citrate also supports the citric acid or Krebs cycle, which brings oxygen into the cell to create ATP, or cellular energy.  Magnesium malate is also supportive of the citric acid cycle and generally doesn’t cause loose stools as the citrate form does.

Those who already have loose stool should avoid the citrate form.  The glycinate form is great because not only is it well tolerated, but it also lends a glyceine amino acid, the smallest and most versatile amino acid.  (The receptor sites on cells often get blocked for this amino acid, incidentally, by the presence of glyphosate, or roundup contamination in food – which seriously messes up enzymatic function).

Magnesium chloride can be easily absorbed as bath salts or through the skin, though magnesium oil is sometimes very itchy.  This form of magnesium is mined in ancient deposits, so sourcing is important.  The benefit of magnesium chloride is that the chloride portion of this molecule can be used by the body to produce stomach acid for those low in stomach acid.  Chloride is also important for the cellular receptor sites for diamine oxidase (DAO), meaning that it helps to metabolize histamine.

I always take a minimum of 800 mg total of magnesium daily. I like to use a combination of magnesium chloride (the kind sold as “magnesium oil” in my water, along with other minerals I add to my filtered water), and a magnesium glycinate as well as magnesium malate supplement.

Blind Spot #6: Ingestion of Cinnamon

Cinnamon is without a doubt an incredible healing plant ally.  It is warming, pungent, and therefore dispersing of stagnation, which is one reason why cinnamon may be suggested by holistic health care practitioners to improve circulation.  Cinnamon especially is also a powerful antiviral and antibiotic as well as a mast cell stabilizer.

It is not totally clear why cinnamon triggers migraine, but it has been observed repeatedly that it does in those with histamine overload.  Cinnamon does contain histamine, but most likely, histamine triggers caused by cinnamon are due to the fact that sodium benzoate (NaB) produced by cinnamon is a DAO inhibitor and will therefore impair histamine degradation. 

It must also be noted that there are different kinds of cinnamon, and the coumarin in cinnamon may be the culprit, as it is hard for the liver to process (and could therefore trigger migraine in someone who already had compromised liver detoxification).

There are big differences between the main forms of cinnamon, cassia, and Ceylon. If you ingest cinnamon as a spice or take it in supplement form, you want to make sure that it is produced from Ceylon cinnamon. Both forms of cinnamon contain coumarin, which is a natural blood-thinning agent but is hepatotoxic. Ceylon cinnamon contains minute amounts of coumarin compared to cassia cinnamon. Coumarin detoxification requires proper liver function and activation of the cytochrome P450 gene CYP2A6. If you have a polymorphism in CYP2A6, you need to avoid cassia cinnamon if all possible. Proper detoxification of coumarin will be lessened, and increased risk of liver damage may occur. (Source)”

Side note: I’ve made an analgesic salve available in my shop that does contain cinnamon along with cayenne for rubbing on the temples and intranasally to dissolve migraine – but, as explained above, topical application has very different effects than ingesting it does!

Blind Spot #7: Ingestion of Cayenne or Chili

As for chili, it can definitely add to your overall histamine load.  Cayenne as well as most spicy chilis, especially their seeds, contain a powerful compound called capsaicin.

How capsaicin is administered makes a difference in its therapeutic effects (or lack thereof).  Because cayenne (and capsaicin) thins mucous, consumption of cayenne may be more applicable for those with sinus headaches than with migraines caused by digestive upset and histamine overload. This mechanism makes sense when you consider that those who experience relief from capsaicin get it when they take capsaicin in a drink (where it gets exposed to the nasal sinus) but don’t when they take it in capsule form.

Capsaicin has been shown to inhibit CGRP (Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide), a potent vasodilator implicated in migraine. However, again, in this study the capsaicin was administered through the nose (Source). Intranasal exposure to capsaisin numbs and desensitizes the cranial nerves. Note that Lundberg and coworkers found that CGRP was inhibited (in guinea pig lung) only when small concentrations of capsaicin were used, but not when high concentrations were (Source). Capsaicin seem to contribute to migraine by way of neurogenic inflammation on a cellular level caused by a sudden influx of calcium into the cell followed by cell death (Source).

For those with histamine intolerance, ingesting cayenne must be avoided, because capsaicin not only contains histamine but also is a potent vasodilator itself (source).  It is a very potent trigger. If you’re going to take it, take it up the nose.  Otherwise – avoid!

Side note: I’ve made an analgesic salve available in my shop that does contain capsaisin in cayenne for rubbing on the temples and intranasally to dissolve migraine – but, as explained above, topical application has very different effects than ingesting it does!

A Final Note About “Triggers”

I just want to briefly point out that when we speak about histamine intolerance and its associated food “triggers”, that it is the amount of pre-existing histamine in the body that determines whether a food with more histamine will act as a trigger or not.  This makes it a little tricky because it means that depending on the person’s histamine level at the time, they will get different responses from the same kind of food and may therefore think that something like chili, sauerkraut, or chocolate isn’t an issue because it doesn’t cause a migraine every time it is consumed.  Again, histamine intolerance is an issue of histamine overload, not an immediate, anaphylactic allergic response.  So the word trigger may be misleading.  What we are talking about here is problematic foods that increase histamine and add to the overall load, which will sometime mean that that food acts as the trigger because the histamine bucket “tipped over” into migraine.

 

 

 

5 Ways to Get Migraine Relief without Drugs – Quick!

Back in the day, when I lived with the weekly beast of migraine headaches gnawing at my skull or looming nearby, I experimented with a wide variety of ways to get migraine relief without drugs.  When I felt one coming on, I’d frantically start going through my arsenal of tricks, and usually ended up succeeding one way or another in keeping it at bay or dissipating it entirely.  I refused to take pharmaceutical pain or migraine meds – because I understood that my migraines were actually caused by pharmaceuticals, especially antibiotics, that threw off my gut flora balance.  I’m not sure that my strength to stay away from pain meds would have persisted had I not finally discovered the plant-based solution to migraine headaches that I now call The SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol.

Some of the ways I’ve succeeded in getting rid of migraines were not only not replicable at all, but highly esoteric (visualizing sacred geometry – specifically, the torus symbol below).  Other attempts were successful but extremely hard to pull off while in so much pain (such as giving myself a craniosacral therapy treatment, or making love with a splitting headache, eventhough they worked!).

torusSo I want to share with you the five most common ways that I consistently managed to stave off or get rid of a migraine.  Obviously, these techniques are the most effective when applied the soonest you feel a migraine coming on.  However if you are like I was and constantly have some kind of a headache more or less all the time, there’s the tendency to hope that early signs of a migraine will just resolve themselves with a little sleep or rest.  Better to be proactive before things ramp up too much.

I offer these tips as a temporary measure for those of you who have not managed to get your dietary triggers figured out or who have not done the SimplyWell Protocol for long enough to see results yet.

In order to understand why the approaches below can often work to get rid of a migraine, we need to understand what migraine is and why it manifests.  My belief is that the majority of migraines result from 1) compromised kidneys which affects blood pressure and electrolyte balance, 2) imbalanced gut flora with a predominance of histamine and nitrate producing flora, which makes eating foods high in these substances overwhelming and activates inflammation in the gut and brain, and 3) congested lymph, especially in the neck area.  There are of course other factors involved, such as liver health, thyroid health, and issues with nutritional absorption all of which also affect migraines, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll just focus on these main points.  I’ve listed the most effective solutions here first.

1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate – and Raise Your Blood Pressure

Yes, we’ve all heard this one before.  What some of us haven’t heard is that drinking water doesn’t make your cells hydrated if your electrolyte balance is off.  The cells need an optimal ratio of potassium to sodium in order for the potassium/sodium channels to work (as well as magnesium and calcium, but potassium and sodium are the most important for actually getting rid of a migraine). Therefore, have a DIY electrolyte powder on hand that you can drink when you feel a migraine coming on.  Buying pre-formulated electrolyte powders won’t work as wel because most of them are formulated for athletes who lose a lot of sodium or aren’t directly formulated for migraineurs.

Click here for a DIY Electrolyte Drink Recipe!

So, in order to be hydrated you need both electrolytes and water.  Water contains oxygen but also increases blood volume, which is important because increased blood volume will mean there will be more blood to permeate all the extremities as well as the head even in the midst of low blood pressure. After you’ve taken 1 T of the elecrolyte mixture in water, drink a minimum of 3 pints of fresh water to raise your blood volume.Low blood pressure and dilated blood vessels will mean that less blood and oxygen will get to the head, so we need to constrict the blood vessels and raise the blood pressure (in addition to raising blood volume).  Getting sufficient sodium will also help to raise blood pressure (in addition to hydrating the cells), while potassium will help to relax tense muscles (in addition to hydrating the cells).

2. Move Your Lymph

People with migraines often have congested lymph, especially in the head and neck area.  Contrary to popular belief, muscular contraction during exercise is not what moves lymph along.  It’s actually deep diaphragmatic breathing (which can also occurs during exercise).In order to move congested lymph from your head, first massage under the jaw.  Use deep firm pressure under the lip of the jaw bone moving medially inwards to outwards towards your sternocleidomastoid and jaw (putting pressure directly on the submental and submaxillary glands).  Next, massage your cervical glands by gripping your sternocleidomastoid muscle in a pincer grip from top to bottom.  Here is a video demonstrating manual lymph drainage.

face-and-neck-lymph-nodes-5514bd716d393Once you have the muscular tissues and lymph moving in your neck and head, do a few deep breathing exercises, making sure to emphasize a complete and full EXHALE.  Get all the stagnant air out of the lungs.  This is just as important as a deep inhale.After this, go outside for a vigorous run, ideally up a steep hill or up a flight of stairs.  Do this for at least 20 minutes.  The exercise will increase blood flow to the brain, move stagnant lymph, and oxygenate your entire body.  The headache should subside, especially if you have also taken electrolytes prior to running.  It can be hard to push yourself during a migraine, but it’s well worth it.  If you don’t have stairs or a steep hill, do jumping jacks or any kind of vigorous movement that gets the heart pumping hard and the diaphragm moving vigorously for 20 minutes.  Dancing works too!

3. Calm Your Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve acts as the communication link between the gut and the head.  When the gut is inflamed, the vagus nerve sends alarm signals to the brain.  There are simple ways to calm down the vagus nerve.  You can take an alternating hot/cold shower.  The heat will increase blood flow, and the cold will constrict blood vessels, encourage deep inhalation, and calm the vagus nerve.  Get the water as cold as you can, and make sure you are proportionally staying under the cold water at least twice as long as the hot water.  Make sure you get the cold water on your head, face, back and torso.  Definately end with cold water, not hot.  (In general, avoid soaking in hot water while you have a migraine, as this dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure).If you cannot take a shower, you can calm your vagus nerve by splashing cold water repeatedly on your face (a minimum of ten times).  This may not get rid of a migraine by itself, but it can really help especially in conjunction with other approaches outlined here.For more ideas on how to calm your vagus nerve, read this article here.

4. Constrict Your Cranial Blood Vessels

When vertebral arteries and blood vessels are engorged (dilated) and blood pressure is low, blood does not get to the head and the blood vessels impinge on the plexus of cranial nerves leading into the head from the neck.  Therefore, constricting these blood vessels is an important way to get rid of a migraine. The cold shower should help with this, but in addition, you can place an ice pack or pack of frozen peas on the base of your skull, thereby creating more space for the cranial nerves going into the skull at the foramen magnum.In addition to the ice pack, you can constrict your blood vessels by drinking a frozen drink (getting a “brain freeze” can help constrict the blood vessels by cooling the back of the mouth).  Some people find more success using a frozen coffee drink, since caffeine also constricts blood vessels.  You can also drink chilled peppermint tea (peppermint is a vasoconstrictor).  This alone is not likely to get rid of a migraine but may help to tip you away from it when used in conjunction with other methods outlined here.58qv-2804

Another way to constrict your blood vessels is to use a blend of hypertensive essential oils. You’ve probably noticed that it’s not just synthetic fragrances that are a horrible trigger when you have headache and migraine symptoms – some essential oils (especially the more floral and low-note oils like jasmine and patchouli) can wreak havoc on your fragile brain too.  That’s because those and many other oils are hypotensive (ie, vasodilating) oils. Therefore, migraineurs may want to avoid geranium, jasmine, marjoram, rose, valerian, lemon, melissa, neroli, nutmeg, vetivert, and ylang ylang essential oils, especially when they are symptomatic – and instead opt for hypertensive oils.

To learn more about hypertensive, vasoconstrictive essential oils, head on over to my blog post on that topic, where I share with you my recipe for a vasoconstrictive/hypertensive essential oil blend.  The oils I’ve chosen to use in my own SimplyWell Migraine, Headache, & Brain Fog Support Blend are only a few of the vasoconstrictive essential oils out there. All of the oils used in this blend are also great for digestive issues.  No surprises there, since most migraines are digestive migraines!

5. Remove Fermentation & Histamine From the Colon with an Enema

This is a last resort, but it has worked for me many times.  It is not an optimal solution, because we don’t really know how enemas affect the gut flora.  However, some people may find it to be a solution preferable to taking a pharmaceutical medication (which also negatively affect gut flora).  Coffee enemas tend to be the most effective, perhaps because they help to stimulate the hepatic nerve of the liver and thereby reduce liver congestion (which is also implicated in migraine headaches).Most importantly, an enema will help to remove food that has reached the colon that is triggering inflammation, perhaps because this food has not been sufficiently broken down through DAO (diamine oxidase). Many people with migraines have low DAO levels, and DAO receptor sites on cells are also affected by electrolyte balance, so the electrolyte mixture above will help with that as well.When food which has not been properly broken down by DAO reaches the colon, it starts to feed unfriendly bacteria which produce histamine, thus adding to your histamine load.  Removing this histamine burden through an enema can often make a migraine go away.While I won’t be going into a tutorial on how to do an enema here, it’s important to emphasize that the water or coffee be lukewarm and not hot, and that the water be purified.  A full quart bag is usually needed to clean out the colon, and multiple enemas may be necessary.

I Hope These Tips Are Beneficial to You!

None of these ideas are long-term solutions, they are merely singular ways that I’ve found to consistently get rid of migraines.  The important point is to get to the root of your migraine problems by avoiding trigger foods and healing your gut, as outlined in the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol.  Luckily, we do have very powerful plant food allies that can help us so powerfully that over time, we will no longer need to resort to any of the techniques above to get rid of a migraine.

Please note that this information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat migraines, or act as a replacement for medical care from a medical professional.

[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 and health coach specializing in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions. She practices out of Portland, Oregon. In January of 2016, Marya healed herself of chronic debilitating migraine headaches caused by pharmaceutical medications she received after a c-section operation. Her life purpose is to educate people about broader health-care and self-care options through promotion of specific fabulous medicinal foods that have been forgotten or ignored. [/author_info] [/author]

Migraine Medications or Folk Medicine?

Migraine Medications or Folk Medicine?

The Necessity of Pharmaceutical Migraine Medications

It’s very clear that pharmaceutical migraine medications allow some people with migraines to function and keep a job while dealing with what is considered to be the sixth most debilitating condition.  The annual burden of migraine costs in the US in 2005 was estimated at $17 billion annually.  Without migraine medications, migraines are a serious handicap which lead to lost productivity, huge impacts on quality of life, lowered energy,  compromised presence with kids and family, and on migraine days – inability to function in any capacity.  Therefore, use of migraine meds is totally understandable, especially given the scarcity of truly effective, safe, natural alternatives – or the fact that they are not being actively marketed to us and so require a lot of digging and research to hear about.

Since most people manage their migraines by way of health insurance and the treatments that the practitioners within their networks provide, they are less likely to discover natural and plant-based solutions unless they have literally become so desperate to find a solution that they spend much of their time researching how others have healed themselves and/or experimenting with ways to heal themselves.

This is what happened to me.  Without health insurance and after a few expensive out-of-pocket expenditures with various alternative health care practitioners, I still had debilitating migraine headaches a few times a week and finally reached the point where I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Two and a half years of self-experimentation, online research, cleansing and dietary and lifestyle changes, mixed with some incredible luck, led me to the discovery of a folk medicine solution to migraine headaches that completely cleared my head and is now helping many others to do so: the SimplyWell Migraine Protocol.  There is now a choice between pharmaceutical migraine medications and folk medicine solutions to chronic migraine headaches.

In comparing pharmaceutical migraine meds with plant-based, drug-free folk medicine solutions to migraine headaches, it’s not my intention to judge or demonize anyone who is taking pharmaceutical migraine medications.  Some people have had daily, weekly, or monthly migraine headaches for literally decades, and must do something to manage them.  These people are acutely aware of the drawbacks of pharmaceutical medications and their attendant side effects, but haven’t found a better solution to manage their migraines besides meds.

I wish I could say that the SimplyWell Migraine Protocol were an easy replacement for migraine meds, but it appears that frequent use of migraine medications makes the protocol take longer to be effective, and in the case of daily use of migraine medications, may render it totally ineffective until those meds have been weaned off.  It’s my belief that this is because anything we ingest orally will affect our microbiome (the gut flora balance in our colon), and that pharmaceutical meds feed pathogenic bacteria (this is just a hypothesis) which keeps the histamine load in the colon high (thus perpetuating migraines).  They also steal vital nutrients needed to create important enzymes that break histamine down.

The good news is that people who only use migraine medications very intermittently, or who wean themselves off these meds, usually respond very well to the SimplyWell Migraine Protocol.  Since I never took migraine meds, I didn’t have to go through that process, but very soon I’ll be highlighting the stories here of some of the courageous people who have managed to successfully wean themselves off meds and how they did it.  So stay tuned!

Pharmaceutical Migraine Medications:

  • require a prescription, are high-tech and patented (not easily accessible)
  • are expensive (require costly health insurance or are subject to random price hikes)
  • have negative so-called “side-effects” (in other words, are making you sick with dizziness, fatigue, rebound headaches, medication-induced headaches, drowsiness)
  • are suppressive, so don’t solve the underlying problem but rather, drive it deeper into the body.
  • are foreign substances to our bodies (evolutionarily novel for our organs to process)
  • steal vital nutrients needed for essential body functioning
  • compromise liver, kidney, and gut health (thereby affecting bile flow, gallbladder health, lymphatic health, and gut flora balance).
  • some opiate-based medications activate mast cells and increase histamine release
  • are habit-forming and prevent some other natural therapies from working
  • we don’t really know how many of them actually work

The Ultimate Migraine Medicine

  • Reduces histamine load
  • Reduces estrogen dominance
  • Balances the gut flora
  • Balances electrolyte levels
  • Balances blood sugar levels
  • Raises blood pressure and thereby improves blood flow to the brain and extremities
  • Improves vitamin/mineral absorption
  • Supports liver, gallbladder, kidney,  pancreas, colon, adrenal and thyroid function
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves digestion
  • Improves energy levels

In other words, a truly holistic medicine will have POSITIVE SYSTEMIC “SIDE-EFFECTS”.  The Simplywell Migraine Protocol is the ultimate migraine medicine.

Medicine by the People, For the People
(ie, Folk Medicine)

  • discovered by laypeople without expertise or specialized training
  • easily accessable, affordable or free
  • self-administered, ie, self-empowering
  • free from unwanted side-effects
  • safe, gentle, and effective
  • easy to comprehend and therefore, relay to others
  • easy for our bodies to process
  • natural, nourishing and supportive
  • low tech and open-source (free from trademarks and patents)

Wellness comes about through a lifestyle of self-care, firsthand experience, self-experimentation, and community gossip about what works.  The Simplywell Migraine Protocol is an expression of Folk Medicine.  Folk Medicine is happening.  It’s not prescriptive – it’s descriptive of what people prefer and are creating, rediscovering, and sharing as laypeople, as the “Folk”.

To learn more about Folk Medicine, read my article “Resuscitating Folk Medicine – for Migraine Headache Relief and Beyond”

To get your copy of the Simplywell Migraine Protocol E-book, go to the homepage and subscribe for a free copy.

[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 and health coach specializing in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions. She practices out of Portland, Oregon. In January of 2016, Marya healed herself of chronic debilitating migraine headaches caused by pharmaceutical medications she received after a c-section operation. Her life purpose is to educate people about broader health-care and self-care options through promotion of specific fabulous medicinal foods that have been forgotten or ignored. She is actively trying to form a Folk Medicine movement to transform the culture of suppresive and poisonous medications to one of holistic health accomplished through an educated, pro-active, and mutually-supportive community.[/author_info] [/author]

SimplyWell Classes for Migraine Headache Relief Portland Oregon

Our next migraine relief class will be held at Fettle Botanic Supply at 3327 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214.  Please visit their site to RSVP!

Plant-based, Drug-Free Migraine Relief with the SimplyWell Protocol
Join Marya Gendron to learn how a few humble healing plant foods can help you to relieve migraine headaches by: balancing the bacteria in your colon, improving your electrolyte balance, healing your kidneys, and gently cleaning your lymph, liver and gallbladder. The information shared in this class may be beneficial for anyone who is recovering from the impacts of antibiotics and/or NSAIDs, or who has symptoms of inflammation and histamine intolerance. We will go over the healing properties of foods in the protocol, foods to avoid while getting stabilized, and how to adapt the protocol according to special dietary needs and busy lifestyles.
Length – 90 minutes.  The actual presentation will probably not be more than an hour but its good to have extra time for questions and conversation.
DateMarch 29th, 7-8:30pm


Previous classes:

Simplywell_Celestial Awakenings

 

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Migraine Relief Coaching & Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis

I offer health coaching over the phone or via Skype to people globally. Health consultations for migraine headache relief come with a complimentary copy of the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol.

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) is a very helpful tool and service that I offer to get accurate information about your mineral status.  A HTMA is not required for migraine coaching but it is highly recommended. To learn more about HTMA and mineral balancing, visit this page.

Rates

OPTION 1: Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) Lab and Report
This option involves a hair analysis without a one-on-one coaching session.  After receiving your intake and lab report from Trace Elements, I will write up a report including my analysis of the results.
Cost: $155 including lab fee of $55

OPTION 2: One-on-One migraine coaching
This includes a free copy of the SimplyWell Protocol, a one hour phone or Skype session with Marya, and a follow-up email including all instructions and summary of the consult.
Cost: $150

OPTION 3: One-on-One migraine coaching with HTMA:
This includes a free copy of the SimplyWell Protocol, a one hour phone or Skype session with Marya, a HTMA lab and mineral analysis written report, and a follow-up email including all instructions and summary of the consult.
Cost: $205 including lab fee of $55

To Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment, email me at marya at simplywell.info, or call 802.281.2948. In your introductory email, please let me know 1) where you live and your time zone 2) your schedule and preferred time frame for a session, and 3) your Skype username if you have a Skype account.

Coaching Intake Form

Here is the intake form in

Some people print it out and scan or photograph it and send it back to me. If you don’t feel like you want to share personal info over the web we can go over the intake during the session, but this will cut back on our time discussing other things. If you do get the intake to me before the session, please do so at least one day prior to the session so that I can review it.

How to Cut Your Hair Sample

Complete instructions for how to obtain a hair sample for Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis are available here.