Migraine Trigger Alert! High Levels of Nitrates in Green Leafy Veggies

When people with migraines think about foods to avoid, green leafy vegetables aren’t usually on their radar as a migraine trigger.

After all, veggies and especially greens are important foods that you’ve gotta love. They’re packed full of blood-building and cleansing nutrients and exemplify all that is healthful and wholesome.  Most people with migraines and food sensitivities see vegetables as one of the safest food groups to eat from.  Spinach is occasionally recognized as a migraine trigger but usually the explanation given is that it contains high levels of oxalates or triggers histamine.  Both of these explanations may be true, but nitrates are usually not described as a migraine trigger when it comes to eating spinach.

The original SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol addressed the issue of nitrates – though not explicitly – by suggesting that you avoid nitrate rich foods such as lunch meats and cured meats along with most other aged and fermented foods.  What is news to us is that many fresh vegetables also contain significant amounts of nitrates – some naturally-occuring, some a result of how the plants are fertilized, and some a result of the time of year of harvest, growing conditions, and how the food is prepared.

The natural human tendency is to think that when something is good for you (ie, vegetables), more is even better for you. So our enthusiasm for taking responsibility for our health may result in us getting really amped about the practice of drinking fresh green smoothies every morning (for example)!   Unfortunately, if you get overzealous with them, raw leafy greens high in nitrates eaten in excess can be a migraine trigger, for reasons explained below.

Before moving forward, I want to point out, however, that my migraines went away before I knew about this connection and while eating nitrate-rich veggies.  I didn’t drink many green smoothies though.  My impression is that drinking green smoothies high in nitrates once in awhile should not pose too much of a problem for people who only get migraines occasionally.  But for those who have almost constant migraines, this nitrate issue may be a game-changer and reducing their consumption may improve symptoms and quality of life.  So as you read this, think of this info in light of how severe your migraines are before deciding to change how you eat greens.

The new research into nitrates and migraines

Recently there’s been some new research coming out showing that people with migraine headaches have more nitrate-reducing bacteria in their mouths and nitrate-producing bacteria in their guts.  This is important information, because:

“Nitrates, such as cardiac therapeutics and food additives, are common headache triggers, with nitric oxide playing an important role. Facultative anaerobic bacteria in the oral cavity may contribute migraine-triggering levels of nitric oxide through the salivary nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Using high-throughput sequencing technologies, we detected observable and significantly higher abundances of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reductase genes in migraineurs versus nonmigraineurs in samples collected from the oral cavity and a slight but significant difference in fecal samples.” (Source)

While higher levels of nitric oxide (and raw, green, leafy veggies) may be a good thing for people with hypertension and high blood pressure, it’s not sp great for those of us with hypotension and low blood pressure.  Nitrates contribute to vasodilation and low blood pressure, and when our blood pressure is low (as most of ours are who are prone to migraines), there is insufficient blood and therefore oxygen getting to the head (as well as impingement on nearby cranial nerves). If you’d like to learn more about this, read my blog post here, under the section “Why do so many people with migraine headaches have dilated blood vessels, low blood pressure, and electrolyte imbalances?”

I know this isn’t something you really wanted to hear.

The last thing you need is to start being afraid of yet one more food group. In addition to alcohol, cheese, chocolate, and fermented and aged foods and supplements, you may (or may not be) already aware that you’re probably also to some degree triggered by glutamates, histamine, tyramines, benzoates, oxalates, and/or salycilates.  Now also nitrates!?!?  This news is hard to be receptive to, I realize.

The only consolation I have to offer is that by being educated about the properties of foods, we can actually be less fearful and more empowered in how we eat.  We don’t have to avoid these foods entirely (that would be impossible!), but by making discerning decisions about which foods we eat and how we prepare them, we can stop overloading our system with them.  The even better news is that once your gut flora starts to get rebalanced with help from the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol, your body just won’t get overloaded quite so easily, and you’ll be more resilient.

I’d imagine that even among people who are prone to migraines, there is still a diversity in their gut (and oral cavity) microbiome and these differences among us may explain our different levels of food sensitivities and capacities to handle glutamates, histamine, tyramines, benzoates, oxalates, and/or salycilates. There may be differences in our individual capacities to handle nitrates as well, so please test these foods out on yourself to gauge your own sensitivity levels.  What does seem clear is that nitrates ultimately reduce blood pressure, and this is generally undesirable in those with migraines.

So what are the veggies highest in nitrates?

That’s not a straightforward question to answer, because of the variability in factors that contribute to nitrate content (soil, plant type, growing conditions, fertilizers, time of year harvested, how old the plant is, part of the plant consumed, etc).  I’d love to be able to provide you with a very neat list outlining fixed nitrate levels for each vegetable, but doing so would be deceptive. In addition to the factors just described, we probably each have diverse nitrate reducing gut and mouth microbe communities, meaning nitrate levels as a migraine trigger may vary in intensity for each of us as individuals.

So let’s just simplify this.

Generally it appears that there is agreement that spinach, kale, arugula, chard, cilantro, and beet greens are highest in nitrates.  These foods doin’t have to be avoided – but will be better for you to eat cooked.  Cabbage, celery, bok choy, romaine, and radishes seem to be generally in the medium range of nitrate levels.  Cabbage and bok choy are usually cooked anyway, but radishes should still be good for you in moderation because unlike the more leafy green veggies high in nitrates, radishes contain prebiotic fibers and other properties beneficial to people with migraines (which is why they remain an optional but important part of the SimplWell Protocol).  According to some lists, potatoes and carrots are on the lower end of the nitrate spectrum (and also contain prebiotics, so we want to eat them raw).  Cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, and mesclun greens are also in the low to medium range.

Fruits also contain nitrates, but nowhere near the amounts that green leafy veggies do.  It’s my personal conclusion right now that its not important to stop eating any fruits, especially since fructose breaks down into a variety of waste products, one of which is uric acid. Uric acid drives up your blood pressure by inhibiting the nitric oxide in your blood vessels.  We want to increase our blood pressure to get more blood to the head (again, since people with migraines usually have low blood pressure).  Of course, always consider this information in light of what  you already know about your own particular food sensitivities.

Here’s a quick primer on how to minimize nitrate load from greens in your diet:

  1. Always choose organic greens.  Organic greens generally have fewer nitrates than conventionally-raised greens (which are more likely to to be a migraine trigger).
  2. Greens harvested during the spring and summer have lower nitrate levels than those harvested in the fall and winter.  Eating locally in season is one way to reduce nitrate levels.
  3. Cooking greens significantly lowers nitrate content, so eating cooked rather than fresh veggies will be less of a trigger, especially for the greens that are still healthful, like kale and spinach, but are very high in nitrates when fresh.
  4. Vegetables lower in nitrates should be chosen when you are eating fresh vegetables in the form of salads or green smoothies.  Mesclun greens, romaine lettuce, and cucumbers are lower in nitrates, but still contain nitrates.

A reminder: this info on nitrates is preliminary.

The research on higher nitrate-reducing bacteria in the mouths of those with migraines, and higher levels of nitrate-producing bacteria in their colons, just came out a few weeks ago. The implications of this research has not been tested out in large numbers of people with migraines to see how reducing nitrate-rich veggies and greens will impact their migraines.  But the mechanisms for how and why nitrates would affect those of us with migraines (and attendant low blood pressure) is pretty clear.

It just so happens that recently, when I experienced an unusual week of headaches and cloudy brain fog, I had been choosing to drink a lot of green drinks (normally I just rely on my carrot potato juice).  I had attributed my headaches to hormonal changes in my pregnancy, and low blood pressure from weather changes.  But then I found this research on nitrates. It’s almost as though the universe decided to perfectly time my green drink experiment with the releasing of this information so that I would make the connection.  So I stopped drinking the green drinks, and my headaches went away.  I’ve briefly tested this again and noticed fresh salads high in nitrates seem to give me headache symptoms.  Because my gut flora are more balanced from the prebiotics and improved electrolyte balance, high-nitrate greens aren’t a migraine trigger for me – but they do seem to give me a headache and other milder symptoms that would otherwise turn into one without implementation of the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol.

Scientific Research + Experiental Learning + Sharing Insight = Folk Medicine

The validity of this insight as it pertains to those who are prone to migraines should be tested more, and we have other members in our SimplyWell Protocol Community currently testing out this insight.  So if you normally drink a lot of green drinks, and decide to stop after reading this, please let me know what you find out.  You’ll be contributing to Folk Medicine knowledge by sharing your anecdotal evidence.  The combination of insights and explanations gleaned from scientific research which is then applied through personal experimentation – followed by the sharing of your observations with those who are also asking the same questions – is the best of both worlds.

Important! The goal is NEVER to be more afraid of food.

The goal is to be educated enough about food and how it affects us that we can actually feel well and function while we do the important work of healing the underlying imbalances that are causing the food sensitivity in the first place.  The body knows how to heal if we support it properly, and we can do so through better understanding of the properties of foods including this new information on nitrate migraine triggers and how to eat veggies in a way that won’t overload us or lower our blood pressure to much.

Check out my delicious recipe for a low-nitrate green drink made with romaine, cucumber, mint, and pear!

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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]

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.