Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis for Migraine Relief

The SimplyWell Protocol is an excellent set of lifestyle steps that can effectively dismantle many chronic migraine patterns.  However, some clients who have been suffering for decades, have been on medications for many years, or who have a history of trauma, surgery, or hormone replacement therapy, may need additional support in the form of mineral balancing through Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.

In my coaching practice I have consistently seen serious damage done to people’s mineral balance through the casual (or, often doctor reccomended) use of supplements, especially vitamin D and multivitamins containing copper and zinc.  It is often incorrectly assumed that deficiencies in blood are an accurate reflection of the state of the cell, and that minerals do not interact with one another.  This could not be further from the truth.

In general, many women with migraine and hormonal imbalance have copper dysregulation (either low copper, or latent elevated copper).  Copper is needed to support metabolic function and the synthesis of the DAO enzyme, as well as thousands of other important enzymes.  Therefore supplementing with zinc without sufficient copper can be very problematic since it could further deplete copper levels if done improperly.  This is why one-on-one guidance is often necessary to balance zinc and copper levels, based on actual specific data from an individuals HTMA lab report.

What is Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis?

Your hair contains all the minerals present in your body, including nutritional minerals as well as toxic heavy metals.  Hair mineral analysis is a laboratory test that measures this mineral content in the hair.  In most cases, the test results reflect how much of these elements are in your tissues and provide a vivid picture of your cellular and tissue mineral levels.  With this information, a world of metabolic events can be interpreted.  Not only can your nutritional status be viewed, but the test can also reveal how efficiently your body is working on many levels – including adrenal function, thyroid function, metabolic type, stress response, heavy metal toxicity, hormonal function, chemical sensitivity, and more.

After 30 years of research, hair analysis has emerged as the most practical method of testing for mineral balance in your body.

How Accurate is HTMA Compared to a  Blood or Urine Test?

With a properly obtained sample, hair analysis is extremely accurate.  Blood tests give information about your mineral levels at the time of the test only.  If you’ve just eaten a banana, your test can indicate a high potassium level, even though you may actually need potassium supplementation.  On the other hand, hair analysis results indicate your overall level of potassium – your actual tissue and cellular storage levels over a period of time, not just what you ate that day or even that week. So a blood test will only accurately report what is being transported in our blood at the time of the test.

Testing for minerals in urine measures the minerals that are being excreted from your body – not necessarily what has been absorbed as fuel for your body.

So blood and urine tests are like snapshots whereas a hair analysis is the video of your mineral retention.

Understanding Dynamic Relationships Between Minerals

Vitamins and minerals interact with each other in a dynamic rather than static way.  Too much zinc, for example, can antagonize vitamin D.  Therefore, taking zinc indiscriminately may cause an imbalance in vitamin D.  Too little vitamin D, in turn, antagonizes calcium, creating poor conditions for calcium absorption.  So now you have a shortage of calcium.  Too much vitamin C can cause a copper deficiency and allow too much iron to build up in the body.  A domino effect occurs.  While you may be aware that vitamins and minerals are needed, too much of something can be just as bad as too little.

Mineral levels can be very closely and accurately analyzed using a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA).  Marya is trained in HTMA and can assist with personalized mineral rebalancing as part of a one-on-one coaching session.

Causes of Hormonal and Menstrual Migraine

You probably already know that three times more women than men suffer from migraine. And if you are one of those many women, you have also probably asked why. The typical and obvious answer is that it’s our hormonal differences that make us more susceptible to migraine than men. But since not all women get migraines, we need to take a closer look at some of the factors that lead some women’s hormones to get out of balance in such a way that this imbalance manifests as migraine – especially “hormonal” migraine or menstrual migraine.

Since I am not an endocrinologist, the inquiry for this blog post will be fairly general and necessarily simplified (for example, there are many types of estrogen but I will just refer to “estrogen” as though it is one thing).  I think that this simplicity will still be accurate for the purposes of providing a general understanding for why reducing histamine and glutamate (as per the SimplyWell Protocol) can work to alleviate “hormonal” migraines – and how fluctuating hormone levels at ovulation raise histamine, while low estrogen and progesterone levels (exacerbated by mineral deficiencies) raise glutamate levels and contribute to menstrual migraine.

There are surely additional factors that go into why women get more migraine at ovulation and menstruation, and there are other inflammatory molecules besides histamine and glutamate that play a role in migraine pathology, but these two are certainly big players in menstrual migraine.

The Fluctuation of Estrogen and Progesterone at Ovulation and Menstruation

One very basic explanation for why migraine occurs during ovulation and menstruation has to do with the sudden spikes and drops of hormones during these times.  Women who have reached menopause do not have such intense hormonal fluctuations.

Notice in the graph below of a “normal” menstrual cycle that estrogen is high at ovulation while progesterone only starts to rise a little at this point.  Progesterone peaks in the week after ovulation (and estrogen is at its lowest point), then starts to plummet again leading up to menstruation. Both estrogen and progesterone get very low right before and during menstruation.

It is most common for women to get migraine directly prior to and during menstraution – more common than women getting migraine during ovulation.  This is because both levels of estrogen and progesterone are low at this time.

But why would low levels of estrogen and progesterone lead to migraine?

Histamine, Glutamate, and Menstrual Migraine

Both histamine and glutamate are excitatory neurotransmitters implicated in migraine, and levels of these two amino acids in the gut and brain are affected directly by hormones as they shift at different times of the menstrual cycle.

  • Estrogen and progesterone are glutamate transporters, ie, they help to reduce glutamate buildup. Excitotoxicity from glutamate is one key feature of migraine. Therefore, low levels of estrogen or progesterone (at menstruation) contribute to excitotoxicity. (Source)
  • Histamine intolerance or overload is a feature of migraine. Estrogen levels trigger mast cells to release histamine, so estrogens (including xenoestrogens and environmental pollutants that mimic estrogen), especially the estrogen spike at ovulation, will contribute to histamine overload. (Source)
  • But because most menstrual migraines occur at menstruation when both estrogen and progesterone are low, I hypothesize that glutamates are playing an even larger role in migraine than histamine.
  • Estrogen also down-regulates DAO (diamine oxidase), one enzyme that breaks down histamine. Estrogen replacement therapy and “the pill” increase estrogen levels and deplete progesterone – which may be one reason why headache is a known side-effect of the pill. (Source)
  • Progesterone is used by the body to make cortisol.  Therefore excessive amounts of stress will deplete progesterone levels, and thereby raise glutamate. Progesterone is also needed to upregulate DAO (diamine oxidase), one enzyme that breaks down histamine. (Source)
  • Hormones are processed by the liver, so anyone with an overwhelmed liver will necessarily have more of a tendency towards hormonal imbalances. (Source)
  • Stress depletes zinc, which is needed to make progesterone. (Source). Zinc and copper have a reciprocal relationship. When zinc is depleted, copper levels rise, leading to more estrogen and histamine.
  • When both zinc and copper are low, hormonal function of both estrogen and progesterone is compromised.
  • Sudden drops in estrogen or progesterone during ovulation or directly prior to menstruation may account for migraines coming on at these times. (Source)

Additional Factors Influencing Menstrual Migraine

Digestive health clearly plays a role in both instances of hormonal migraine during ovulation and prior to menses.  When the gut flora are out of balance, there is a proliferation of bacteria that produce glutamate and histamine – meaning that the histamine and glutamate load from food sources is ADDING TO the load already present in the (imbalanced) gut.

So for many women who have a large load of glutamate and histamine from both food and gut bacteria sources, any situation in which estrogen, progesterone, or both get very low can lead to an overload – and a migraine (for reasons described in the last section).

If a woman’s stress load is very high or her sleep quality is poor, she will be even more susceptible to menstrual migraine. But why? Because both stress and poor sleep quality lead to mineral depletion (especially of magnesium and zinc). Minerals are key building blocks for all enzymes, including those that manufacture estrogen and progesterone.

We know that stress reduction is key to healing migraine because cortisol, the hormone released during stress, is made from progesterone; so, stress leads to insufficient supplies of progesterone to clean up glutamates.

Drinking coffee or caffeine also increases cortisol so is antithetical to healing hormonal migraine (or any kind of migraine).  Coffee should not be consumed regularly, and only used as a last resort to help abort a migraine.

Since most migraineurs usually have insomnia or poor sleep quality once they are asleep, coffee as well as foods and medications like aspirin which contain caffeine should also be reduced or avoided.  It can be very difficult to heal insomnia when consuming large amounts of caffeine.  Since the body repairs itself at night, getting quality sleep is crucial to healing menstrual migraine.

Migraine and Pregnancy

Luckily for most women who suffer from migraines, when they get pregnant, these migraines miraculously disappear – usually in the third trimester.  What could explain this?

To keep inflammation at bay, the placenta increases DAO (diamine oxidase) production, effectively reducing histamine.  By the third trimester, these levels are peaking.

Estrogen and progesterone both rise in the third trimester.  While estrogen generally increases histamine, this is presumably counter-balanced by the high DAO from the placenta.  And again, since estrogen and progesterone are both glutamate transporters, these higher levels of hormones help reduce migraine during pregnancy as well.

Unfortunately, following pregnancy, these same hormones plummet again.  The migraine-prone mother is likely to be revisited by her migraines, but this time they may be much worse due to the demands of motherhood, sleep deprivation, or recovering from the all-too-common c-section operation and a disrupted microbiome from the antibiotics and other meds.

Hormonal Migraines and Menopause

The vast majority (probably 90%) of my clients are peri- or post-menopausal. While it’s commonly known that many women’s migraines disappear after menopause, I think this is changing. At least some women’s migraines are getting worse with menopause.

This means that migraine is not just a result of the sudden shifts and fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone in the cycle (in the case of menstruating women), but also from chronically low levels of progesterone and estrogen during menopause.

Why, then, do some women’s migraines go away when they reach menopause while other women’s do not?  I believe the women who continue to have migraine have a much higher incidence of gut flora imbalances, digestive problems, mineral imbalances, and liver disease than those whose migraines go away.

And it’s no wonder.  While it’s normal for digestive health to decline somewhat with age, we have to consider why many women who have hit menopause are so overwhelmed with health problems.

Peri and post-menopausal women with chronic migraine will tend to have a large constellation of other symptoms besides migraine, such as fibromyalgia, uterine fibroids, cystic fibrosis, cataracts, depression, etc.  They tend to be on more medications, more synthetic hormones, and have had more surgeries (read: more antibiotics and a disrupted microbiome) – including plastic surgery.

Women with a congested liver will process estrogen less efficiently – and thyroid hormones too! Liver congestion then spills over into gallbladder problems, which are also chronic in migraineurs.  And the cascade of downstream problems continues . . . .  They are all connected, but doctors are treating them as though they are separate conditions.

Many of the women who come to me also have common character traits: highly empathic women who are givers, they tend to overextend themselves and not know how to slow down. These women, even while they are on anti-depressants, very often have an obvious lust for life.  They are not fundamentally depressed people, they are simply in a very depressing situation battling chronic migraine for literally decades.

All of these meds, and all of this stress, leads to more and more mineral depletion. Which leads to lower hormone levels, and higher glutamate and histamine levels. Yes, I’m repeating myself.

Let me say it again, and simply:  the solution is to stop doing the things that deplete minerals (stress, meds), slow down – and replenish your minerals.

Healing Menstrual Migraine with the SimplyWell Protocol

From the people I’ve coached who were not menopausal and had hormonal migraine I can confirm that the SimplyWell Protocol can address so-called “hormonal migraine”, but its success (and how fast that success happens) depends on a number of factors.

One factor is how long the migraines have existed (ie, how chronic the pattern is) – with less chronic, shorter history of menstrual migraines resolving within 2-3 months.

The second major factor is how many medications the person is on to manage migraines, which always seems to slow healing and success on the Protocol down (probably because of the way that the medications congest the liver, alter the microbiome, and deplete minerals).

So: people who have already been eating a whole foods diet, have had migraines for 5-10 years instead of 20 or 30 years, and have used minimal medications (meaning fewer than five doses of any pharmaceutical per month) will recover quicker on the Protocol than those whose pattern of depletion has been ongoing for decades and involves a big dependence on medications.

However inconvenient it may be, the fact remains that healing takes time.

With longstanding chronic migraine, the level of mineral and nutrient depletion on a cellular and tissue level can be profound. While the gut flora get rehabilitated on the Protocol, and nutrient absorption improves, the body will begin to “catch up” on long-neglected repairs.  The body follows the most intelligent sequence in healing, but improvement of hormonal functioning is not always the first in the sequence when the body is deciding where best to utilize nutrients.

As an example to the last point, the B vitamins and also especially copper are crucial for hormonal balance and yet they are also required for thousands of other processes in the body.

The good news is that even while healing takes time, the body does know the right sequence, and improvements are usually seen long before the symptoms are completely eliminated.

Usually clients on the Protocol who present with hormonal migraine see an initial clearing of the migraines and headaches they have during the rest of the month, an improvement in energy, and symptoms of migraine during their moon cycle gradually becoming less severe.

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to Heal Migraine

Deeper-seated, longer-standing hormonal imbalances that have been ongoing for decades may need additional support in the form of specific mineral balancing of copper, zinc, and other minerals to improve electrolyte, enzyme, and hormone function.

Mineral levels can be very closely and accurately analyzed using a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA).  Marya is trained in HTMA and can assist with personalized mineral rebalancing as part of a one-on-one coaching session.

In general, many women with migraine and hormonal imbalance have copper dysregulation (either low copper, or latent elevated copper).  Copper is needed to support metabolic function and the synthesis of the DAO enzyme, as well as thousands of other important enzymes (such as the enzyme MAO, which breaks down tyramine).  Therefore supplementing with zinc without sufficient copper can be very problematic since it could further deplete copper levels if done improperly.  This is why one-on-one guidance is often necessary to balance zinc and copper levels, based on actual specific data from an individuals HTMA lab report.

To Sum Up . . .

Healing menstrual migraine involves reducing estrogen load, increasing progesterone, reducing glutamate and histamine load, cleansing the liver, improving digestive function so that minerals are properly absorbed, balancing minerals (especially zinc and copper), and reducing medications and stress.

Pain-solving Migraine Salve Recipe with Ancient Healing Resins

Making your own medicine is empowering and fun.  You get to source your own ingredients, adapt the recipe to get it just how you like it, and finally use the medicine to help yourself. This particular migraine salve is incredibly potent – every single ingredient is a powerful healing agent.

I personally believe that there is a placebo effect that amplifies the medicinal qualities of the ingredients used when we take the time to make medicine ourselves rather than purchasing it elsewhere.  Each time we use our medicine we give the message to our bodymind that Mother Nature has provided us with ample support in the form of botanical plants, and that as long as we have access to the ingredients, our healing is in our own hands because we have the knowledge to make our own medicine – in this case, a luscious migraine salve to rub on our temples and massage into our neck muscles!

But don’t cayenne and cinnamon trigger migraine?

You’ll notice that a few of the ingredients in here, like cayenne, clove, and cinnamon, are high-histamine plants which can actually trigger a migraine if ingested as food.  It’s common for people with migraine to be told ingesting cayenne or cinnamon will help with their migraines.  This is a big mistake, as I outlined here in this blog post. The great thing about this salve is that we can still benefit from the analgesic (pain-numbing) and circulation-enhancing properties of these plants by applying them topically to help with head pain.

Here is an excerpt from that blog post that describes why cinnamon and cayenne are not to be ingested if you have migraine, but why they are valuable topically in a salve like the one we’re about to make here.

  • 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 seems 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).  It also triggers herpes virus, which may be playing a role in migraine.  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!
  • 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).
  • Clove also has different effects when used topically than it does internally.  Clove is a powerful antiviral and also a warming, pungent oil that enhances circulation in a way similar to how cayenne and cinnamon do. It is also one of the most potent antioxidants known.

Bring on the sacred healing resins, frankincense and myrrh!

I’m so infatuated with frankincense and myrrh.  These ancient resins have stuck around for aeons because they work in so many ways to support health. While there are many benefits to frankincense and myrrh taken internally (management of cancer, arthritis, candida, for example) and topically for healing wounds as an antiseptic, for our purposes here we are interested in the therapeutic effects of the aromatics and their beneficial effect on the nervous system.

Although these resins originate in Arabia, eventually the Chinese incorporated them into their medicinal cornucopia.  In Chinese medicine:

“Frankincense and myrrh both quicken the blood and relieve pain. However, frankincense moves qi to quicken the blood and also stretches the sinews, frees the channels, soothes the network vessels, and relieves pain. Myrrh, by contrast, dissipates stasis to quicken the blood and also disperses swelling and settles pain. The former tends to act on qi, while the latter acts on blood. When the two medicinals are used together, the benefits of each are mutually enhanced. Therefore, these two medicinals are almost always used together in clinical practice.”(Source)

First, make the resin-infused oil

Put 3/4 cup of sesame oil in a mason jar along with the frankincense and myrrh resin, the cayenne, and the red sandalwood powder.  Put the lid on tight and and stir the ingredients together to fully saturate them with the oil. Put the mason jar in a slow cooker or in a slow cooker or Instapot, filling it with warm water so that it comes half way up the side of the jar.  Turn the slow cooker on low heat and heat in the water for 24 hours, shaking/agitating the herbs in the oil every few hours to help them dissolve.

Strain the herbs through a coffee filter to remove them, pressing them as you filter them to keep as much of the oil as possible.  You can make this infused oil ahead of time or in larger batches and keep the oil shelf-stable in a cool dry place for up to five years.

For the infused oil:
3/4 cup organic sesame oil
1 Tablespoon organic frankincense resin powder (boswellia carteri)
1 Tablespoon organic myrrh resin powder (commiphora myrrha)
1 teaspoon organic red sandalwood powder
1 teaspoon organic cayenne pepper

For our purposes today we will use all of the oil for our migraine salve – it should turn out to be 1/2 cup of oil after straining, or 8T of oil.

Next, make the migraine salve

For the salve:
2 Tablespoons beeswax
6 tabs cocoa butter (about 1.5 Tablespoons)
30 drops organic essential oil of lavender
35 drops organic essential oil of clove
15 drops organic essential oil of cinnamon
10 drops organic essential oil of frankincense
10 drops organic essential oil of basil

Add the herb infused oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax to a cup in a double-boiler. Simmer the water in the double boiler over low heat until the beeswax and cocoa butter is completely melted. Once the mixture has cooled a little, add the essential oils in.

Stir the migraine salve as it begins to cool further, pouring it into tins and letting it cool completely before putting the caps on. This makes 1/2 cup of migraine salve.

How to use the migraine salve

This salve can be used to help ease headaches and migraine.  Apply to the temples, base of the skull, or even cautiously inside the nose.  Using this in the nasal passage is likely to be most effective but be forewarned it does have a little burning sensation to it.

You can also use the migraine salve on swollen lymph nodes and swollen glands, or rub it on joints that ache.  A small dab is all that’s necessary.  Apply as often as you need to.  Avoid putting this salve directly on open cuts, wounds, or broken skin.

This migraine salve is also available in our shop!

It’s in the spirit of opensource Folk Medicine that I share this “Pain-solving Salve” recipe.

 

 

Beyond Nutrition: Stress Reduction Leverage Points for Healing Migraine (Video)

We all know we need to reduce our stress, get more rest, and exercise.  But how do we break the cycle of overextending ourselves and prioritize our healing above all else?  It’s tempting to just focus on diet as the key leverage point in healing, but it is still hard to heal if we are unable implement other important lifestyle changes that reduce stress and give our bodies a chance to repair.  In the video below I share my personal explorations with sleep hygiene, exercise, and how to make these a priority.

Comforting Low-histamine Corn Chowder Recipe

If there’s one great way to get potatoes into your diet (with all their minerals and insoluble fiber), chowder is certainly an excellent one.  Chowder is the ultimate comfort food, but many chowders contain seafood or stock that can be a trigger for migraine.  This recipe is a rich and vegetal version of traditional cream chowders, full of celery and leeks and herbs.  It’s great on cold or rainy days!

In a saucepan, saute:

3 T high heat cooking fat (such as this one)
1 chopped onion
1 chopped leek
3 sticks chopped celery
1 teaspoon thyme or rosemary or both
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

When onions are translucent, add:

2 large organic potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups of water

Simmer until potatoes are soft. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend on medium speed until pureed, adding water if needed, then transfer blended soup back into the pan.

Finally, add:

1 cup of fresh (or 1 bag or 1 can of organic) corn kernels
1 Tablespoon of fresh cheese-free pesto (optional) – recipe here
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream or coconut milk if you’re vegan

Add more water if needed to get to desired consistency, depending on how thick you like it
Add more salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with rosemary, cilantro, basil, parsley or fresh thyme

Enjoy!

Pan-roasted Brussel Sprouts

In my family’s constant experimentation with diet and nutrition, my husband recently went ketogenic on me. He basically lived off of grilled brussel sprouts, chocolate sweetened with xylitol, and huge tubs of almond butter.  He’s 6’5″ and it was a sight to behold him fuelling his lanky frame without carbs.  I wasn’t convinced of the healthfulness of the keto diet (except the part about him growing new mitochondria – very cool), but I really did enjoy those grilled brussel sprouts.  Of course, his brussel sprouts were roasted in bacon fat, which I can now happily enjoy (thanks to the SimplyWell Protocol).  But what I enjoyed even more was drizzling balsamic vinegar on top of these brussel sprouts, because he couldn’t eat the balsamic vinegar while going keto, and it made the dish that much tastier.

Bacon is full of nitrates, even the kind without nitrates added.  So, I can’t offer you a brussel sprout and bacon recipe, or a brussel sprout and balsamic recipe.  But what I can offer you is my attempt to recreate the tangy sweet goodness of the balsamic vinegar on a bed of grilled brussel sprouts.  I am very pleased with these.  This recipe serves 2.

In a cast-iron pan, sautee the following ingredients together under medium-high heat until the garlic and onions are slightly caramelized:
1 T butter or ghee
1 T Red Palm Oil (for the vitamin E, CoQ10, and beta carotene)
1/2 Onion
3 Cloves Garlic

Next, add the following two ingredients and cook for a few minutes so the flavors are evenly distributed:
1 T maple syrup
Squeeze of 1/2 lemon

Finally, turn up the heat and throw in
10 brussel sprouts, halved
salt and pepper to taste

Grill these on the pan for a few minutes until the brussel sprouts are browned on the edges.
Enjoy!

Why You Need to Know About Niacin B3 for Migraine

The hunt for B vitamins that don’t trigger migraine

Earlier last year, in my ongoing hunt for a Folk Medicine solution to easily, safely, and affordably abort migraine headaches, I got distracted by a long and circuitous diversion when I found myself studying B vitamins.  I wanted to understand why some people with migraine who clearly need B vitamins so much can’t tolerate them. I had personally been triggered by methylated B vitamins myself and had heard stories from clients reacting poorly to them.

In the process of discovering which B vitamins may be causing the most havoc for those with migraine, I also discovered that niacin worked beautifully to abort migraine.  But the irony is that it is niacin – aka nicotinic acid or B3 – that I was initially the most skeptical of.  I wrote about my concerns that niacin might be triggering migraine in this blog post:  (“Does Niacin B3 Contribute to Migraine and Histamine Intolerance?”). Please read that blog post for a primer on Niacin.

I was suspicious of niacin as a potential trigger because niacin is a “methyl sponge” – ie, it mops up methyl.  It is generally known that high histamine is associated with undermethylation.  I had tied my own migraines to histamine intolerance and helped many with migraine to eliminate their migraine symptoms through a low histamine diet while rebuilding gut health using my SimplyWell Protocol, with excellent results.

If it is true that those with high histamine are undermethylated already, wouldn’t lowering their methylation with niacin deepen the histamine load and add to migraines? This was my concern. Surely the few anecdotal reports of people I had found online who had had success with niacin to abort migraine were not really suffering from true migraine then – or were they?

While niacin does mop up methyl, it turns out it is actually required for the breakdown of histamine:

“Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH) is the final step in histamine breakdown. This is the same enzyme that breaks down alcoholic beverages. This explains why some individuals flush when they drink. It is also a good reason to perhaps skip cocktails, beer, and wine during hay fever season. This enzyme actually has four different cofactors including zinc, vitamin C, thiamine (B1) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD—a niacin-based flavoprotein).” (Source)

Folic acid and folate trigger migraine because they contribute to glutamate load – and niacin reduces folate.

It appears there is more to migraine than histamine or methylation. I’m beginning to wonder if in fact the low histamine diet and gut healing in the SimplyWell Protocol is successful because it also raises niacin (by way of feeding gut bacteria that produce it), and lowers glutamate.  Maybe glutamate toxicity is playing an even bigger role in migraine outcomes than histamine or methylation status.  Not so incidentally, it seems that folic acid and folate supplementation is the biggest culprit in triggering migraine (even methylated folate) – and niacin reduces folate.

“Folates are comprised of numerous glutamic acids conjugates. The higher the dose of folates, the greater the propensity towards an increase in the pool of free glutamate. Hence, the “excitatory” and neurological types of adverse effects of folate in certain individuals.” (Source)

According to Dr. Albert Mensah, those who are undermethylated have low brain serotonin and also

“. . . have a genetic tendency to be very depressed in calcium, magnesium, methionine, and Vitamin B-6 and may have excessive levels of folic acid in nuclei of brain cells.” (Source)

I make a point to eat a lot of vegetables to get naturally-occuring folate since I choose not to supplement with synthetic  folic acid or folate, for reasons stated above. One concern I had with taking niacin (eventhough I take mine in my own hand-blended B complex with other Bs but without folic acid or folate) was that it might deplete folate, since niacin-derived NAD is a necessary co-factor for the enzymes dihydrofolate reductase in the folate/tetrahydrobiopterin cycles and S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase in the methionine cycle (Source).

A recent blood test showed no folate deficiency even while supplementing with 80mg of niacin a day (and sometimes more when I aborted a headache) for three months. It seems my concerns about taking niacin depleting folate and folic acid may be unfounded – perhaps because undermethylators are high in folic acid.

Luckily, the B-complex B-Minus by Seeking Health contains no folic acid or folate (or methyl b12).  It also contains some niacin B3, whereas many other B blends contain niacinamide or non-flushing B3, which does not have the same benefits as niacin as nicotinic acid does.

Why niacin sufficiency is so important for those with migraine

Because migraine is a chronic systemic inflammatory condition affecting the whole body, there are many angles from which to view migraine causality.  One perspective worth recognizing is that migraine is a metabolic disease caused by inefficiencies in enzymatic processes.  Because vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are all needed for enzymes to work, it makes sense to ask to what extent nutritional deficiency is playing a role in migraine.  This is especially important in the case of niacin, which is used in more biochemical reactions than any other vitamin-derived cofactor once it is converted to the enzyme NAD.

 “. .Your body uses NAD (with a hydrogen it is NADH) in over 450 biochemical reactions, most of which are involved in anabolic and catabolic reactions. Most people tend to associate NAD with glycolosis (sugar breakdown) and ATP (energy production). However, NAD is involved in many other reactions as a cofactor, including either the synthesis (anabolism) or the breakdown (catabolism) of just about every molecule our cells make: steroids, prostaglandins, and enzymes. NAD is involved in cell signalling and assists in ongoing repair of your DNA.” (Source: Niacin, the Real Story)

Technically, niacin is the third B vitamin discovered (although because it can be made from tryptophan in the body it actually should be classed as an amino acid). Niacin deficiencies in the general population but also in those with migraine may be more widespread than realized because testing for niacin deficiency is not a common practice.

Niacin B3 is vitally important, especially for those with migraine because it:

  • raises blood sugar (good for migraineurs with low blood sugar)
  • breaks down glutamates (often the cause of that migraine that starts at 4am)
  • it helps synthesizes sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone (low estrogen and progesterone lead to migraine)
  • helps heal leaky gut
  • helps metabolize excess ammonia (cause of leaky gut and also brain inflammation)
  • increases serotonin
  • removes heavy metals
  • cleans out the lymphatic system
  • helps to break down beta-amyloid lesions in the brain (common in migraineurs)
  • thins the blood – ie, has an “anti-sludging effect” (migraineurs have sticky blood)
  • mops up adrenaline, thus reducing anxiety
  • improves sleep

Causes of niacin deficiency and pellagra

Compromised gut flora due to the use of antibiotics, consumption of high-carb diets, estrogen dominance, and stress all contribute to niacin deficiency. A diet high in the amino acid leucine may also contribute because it interferes with the conversion of tryptophan to niacin. Leucine is high in whey and soy protein concentrates and is also known as the food additive  E641 as a flavor enhancer (Source). Niacin deficiency can also be caused by Hartnup’s disease, where there is a block in the tryptophan-nicotinic acid pathway. Consumption of polyunsaturated fats DHA, EPA, and linoleic acid also play a role because they activate the conversion of tryptophan to quinolinic acid, and inhibit the formation of niacin (Source).

Problems caused by niacin deficiency can range from mild to fatal, as in the case of severe pellagra. Mild niacin deficiency is characterized by mental fatigue, irritability, weakness, indigestion, and skin irritations, while mild to advanced pellagra involves headaches, insomnia, loss of strength, light sensitivity, nausea, indigestion, and hypersensitivity to smells (Source). In acute niacin deficiency, an encephalopathy is found which closely resembles Wernicke’s syndrome – a thiamine B1 deficiency disease usually found in alcoholics and discovered post-mortem.

Prior to the discovery that pellagra was caused by niacin deficiency (and subsequent fortification of flour with niacin in 1940), it was thought to be an infectious disease.  Three million pellagra cases and 100,000 deaths resulted from niacin deficiency in the US in the first half of the 20th century – with 30,000 of those deaths occurring in 1930 following the Great Depression (Source: “Niacin, the Real Story”).

Given that migraine headache is experienced by a disproportionate amount of women compared to men, it’s really interesting to make note of the fact that:

“Pellagra occurs about twice as often in women as in men, and this is because estrogen activates an enzyme that alters metabolism of tryptophan, blocking the formation of niacin . . . Progesterone inhibits the activity of that enzyme. Progesterone also . . . decreases the excitatory carcinogens and increases the formation of niacin.” (Source)

Niacin is a known – but obscured – migraine solution

From my research it appears that the benefits of niacin for migraine are known but not widely shared, realized, or emphasized.  A few websites mention niacin as being helpful along with a long slew of other substances, most notably riboflavin (B2), feverfew, butterbur, ginger, magnesium, etc etc.  With niacin mentioned in passing along with this long list of other contenders, it is easily overlooked and does not stand out as a legitimate solution. The majority of the websites I saw didn’t mention that niacin could abort a migraine outright, or how to do it, they just said it was supportive of migraine.

The two sites I did find that said migraine could be aborted with niacin didn’t mention that it could also be used to prevent migraine, or why it worked.  The authors of the book “Niacin, the Real Story” (by Hoffer, Saul, Foster) only had a very small section on the topic sharing a single report from the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic in which a patient had responded to sustained-release niacin.  They also mention that a 2005 review of nine articles investigating niacin therapy for migraine stated:

“Intravenous and oral niacin has been employed in the treatment of acute and chronic migraine and tension-type headaches, but its use has not become part of contemporary medicine, nor have there been randomized controlled trials further assessing this novel treatment . . . Although niacin’s mechanisms of action have not been substantiated from controlled clinical trials, this agent may have beneficial effects upon migraine and tension-type headaches.” (Source)

Clearly, there is benefit in the use of niacin for migraine, but for some reason these benefits have become obscured, forgotten, ignored, buried, unrealized, or just not very rigorously studied. I want to bring niacin back into the limelight.

Going off the Protocol to experiment with niacin

A nagging voice of intuition kept asking me why there would be anecdotal reports and some support from studies that niacin helped migraine if it actually exacerbated it. I’m glad I got over my initial caution with niacin so I could discover its benefits.

I’ve learned I have to stay on my SimplyWell Protocol to be completely free from migraines. But I still go off of the Protocol form time to time to test the extent to which the underlying root causes of my migraine have been healed (or not), and to experiment with new approaches to migraine.  After three weeks off the Protocol, the telltale migraines do come back. Last time I went off the Protocol, I used this as an opportunity to try out niacin. The niacin worked beautifully (usually at a dose of 500mg) to dissolve both headaches and a few migraines.  I then went back on the Protocol.  Each time I get off of it, I’m reminded that preventing migraine with the Protocol is much easier and more desirable than having to rely on a pill to abort migraine.

Now that I’m back on my beloved SimplyWell Protocol, and am migraine free again, I still continue to utilize niacin in my B complex that I make myself.  I love niacin, because it clearly stabilizes my mood, improves my sleep quality, has completely eliminated any brain fog I used to wake up with in the morning (which usually went away after an hour), and has given me more resilience in being able to eat very high histamine foods without even a glimmer of brain fog.  I take it daily, and truly appreciate it’s value for improving my quality of life. I try not to share anything with my migraine clients that I have not personally tried or use regularly myself.

Feedback from clients on niacin

I’ve received feedback from a number of clients who have used niacin for migraine, with mixed results. As with all things, diversity in response, approach, and interest is the name of the game.  That includes people who just don’t like the idea of taking a synthetic supplement, even while they rely on synthetic pharmaceuticals to abort migraine.

A few of my clients have had great success aborting migraine with niacin – these are the people who don’t mind the flush. One client even said that the flush of niacin felt almost identical to the flush she gets from her Imitrex shots. Some people, myself included, enjoy the flush.

Another client was encouraged by the research I shared but chose to do a lot more research herself and after doing so, decided to take time-release niacin before bed.  She no longer wakes up with migraine in the morning like she used to, and she has replaced her nightly triptans with niacin. Personally, I am not in favor of time-release niacin due to its potential challenges it poses for the liver to process it, but my client has done her research and made her own conclusions.

Others can’t tolerate the flush and some even find the experience downright awful (itching, burning, prickling, shivers, nausea).  From the people I’ve worked with taking niacin, I’ve observed that it is generally those who have had migraine for a longer time period, who eat a normal diet including high histamine foods, and who also take medications for migraine that have the most unpleasant reactions.  For these people niacin may not be a viable option for aborting migraine, though they may benefit from getting smaller doses in a B complex taken with food to avoid such reactions.  On the other hand I also had a client who had migraines for a long period and took medications while eating high-histamine food who felt fine with the flush and used niacin to get off her meds.

Some people don’t even get a flush even on very high doses of niacin, and also aren’t able to abort a migraine with niacin without a flush – while other people can abort a migraine with niacin even in the absence of a flush. So responses are all over the board.

Flushing from niacin usually indicates a high level of histamine (since niacin empties the mast cells of histamine), while a lack of flushing from niacin usually indicates a very high threshold for niacin and potentially a very deep deficiency and/or an excess stress manifested as adrenaline in the body.

“When an individual is stressed, their requirements for vitamin B3 will need to increase, due to increased amounts of adrenalin (epinephrine) being released from the adrenal medulla, creating more oxidized adrenalin. To convert the increased oxidized adrenalin back to original adrenalin, the reducing ability of NAD is necessary, and thus the need for more vitamin B3. Perhaps the lack of or reduced flushing among these patients was due to an increased metabolic need for vitamin B3 (i.e., a more rapid conversion of vitamin B3 to NAD within the body), necessitated by heightened periods of stress.” (Source)

Most people can abort a migraine with 250mg of niacin on an empty stomach or with only a small amount of food if the migraine is caught early on.  If it is not taken until the migraine is advanced, more may be needed for it to work.  Generally 250-500mg is sufficient to abort a migraine for most people, but individual tolerances for niacin vary widely.

Follow the money

In 2017, the global market for drugs used to treat migraine is $3 billion and rapidly growing. The money spent to pay expert practitioners to (often unsuccessfully) treat migraine is surely even more. Niacin costs about .06 cents per capsule.  Triptans cost about $28 per pill. The new CGRP receptor antagonist drugs, which use recombinant DNA, will probably cost tens of thousands of dollars per shot, and may not be covered by insurance.  The fact that niacin is available in most every drug store or grocery store and is not widely known about for use with migraine is amazing when you consider how incredibly important, supportive, and effective it is at addressing some of the root causes of migraine.

I find it inexcusable that so many people are suffering so much with migraine headache – fully 1/3 of them caused by medications themselves – even while such simple, effective, and affordable solutions such as niacin exist. The good news is that niacin is only one of many natural approaches to aborting migraine.

Want to learn more about niacin for migraine?

This blog post is an excerpt from a new e-book I am writing that includes more information on niacin, including:
  • Why not just get niacin from food?
  • Niacin, Tryptophan, and Serotonin
  • Gut flora imbalances and their effects on niacin
  • Niacin and hormones
  • How niacin works with riboflavin
  • Is niacin a replacement for the SimplyWell Protocol?
  • How to abort a migraine with niacin
  • How to prevent migraine with niacin
  • Cautions, contraindications, and safety concerns with niacin
The good news is that for those who have sensitive stomachs or cannot tolerate the niacin flush, I’ve discovered another even gentler and more effective way to abort migraine using an essential amino acid that is virtually unknown as a solution for migraine.
I have searched for over a year to find alternatives to NSAID’s or pharmaceuticals that are effective, and I’m so excited to have found them. The ability to get rid of headaches and migraines using natural supplements can be a huge leverage point during the first few months on the SimplWell Protocol because these supplements are supportive and nutritional rather than suppressive and toxic.
Stay tuned – this e-book will be available in the coming months.

Almond Pecan Cookies (Gluten Free)

These delicious pecan cookies were suggested to me by a participant in our Facebook community.  They’re absolutely delicious!  The coconut oil is good for gut health (if you don’t have salycilate sensitivity), the sugar level is low, and the almond meal and pecans lend magnesium and methionine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons solid coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups almond flour or almond meal (I have used both with success)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Set aside.
  2. Add the coconut oil and the pure maple syrup to a large bowl. If the oil is very hard, microwave for a few seconds until soft but not melted. Stir briskly with a whisk until the syrup and oil are mixed together – this may take a minute or two. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk together until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together the almond flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir together with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in chopped pecans.
  4. Scoop mounded tablespoonfuls onto the cookie sheet, spacing about two inches apart. Press down gently with your fingers to flatten slightly.
  5. Bake until set and the edges are golden brown, 8-9 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Cookies keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for 4-5 days.

    Adapted from this recipe.

Bitters for Migraine Prevention and Liver Health

Over the course of my research into health, wellness, and optimal digestion, I’ve frequently been reminded of the value of consuming bitter foods to stimulate the liver and produce more bile.  We evolved eating many more bitter-tasting foods than your average person eats today, with the primary and sometimes only bitter food consumed by most westerners in a given day now being coffee.

Most digestive bitters marketed for medicinal purposes are supplied in the form of a tincture of herbs in alcohol.  This is one reason that I’ve avoided bitters for the most part in my healing journey, along with many other tinctured medicines.  While grain alcohol does not contain the same level of histamine-triggering compounds as other alcohols like wine or beer, in my worst times of histamine overload I felt it was still better to avoid tinctures along with other fermented foods.  I knew that I could simply stimulate my liver health by consuming dandelion greens or adding some aloe vera to a smoothie or onto my tongue.  Yet I never got into a regular practice of consuming bitters until now.

Guido Masé

Recently I’ve been reading over an excellent book by master herbalist Guido Masé called “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”  Guido Masése is the chief herbalist at Urban Moonshine, a Vermont-based company that sells bitters and other exquisite herbal concoctions.  Guido is also a clinician at the Burlington Herb Clinic and teaches herbal medicine at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism and the University of Vermont.  As I discovered in the course of reading his book, he’s also a historian, expertly weaving together herbal lore, mythologies and historical context with his cutting-edge scientific understanding of plant properties. You can visit his blog, A Radicle, here.

How can bitters help those of us with migraine?

Because migraine is a chemical sensitivity issue, we need to not only reduce the number of chemicals we are exposed to but also support our body’s ability to manage, neutralize, and excrete environmental toxins (especially herbicides, pesticides, and chemical treatments sprayed on our food) and metabolic waste products via improved liver function and bile flow.  Bitters help us to do that. As Guido explains:

Let’s take a moment to examine the ‘detector’ our physiology uses to assess the degree of metabolic challenge that our food contains.  The bitter taste receptor is part of a family of proteins known as TRs (taste receptors).  There seem to be six different types of TRs and some degree of variation within each different type.  For example, the receptor for sweet flavor is one type of protein, coded for by three genes, and able to detect sugars.  The receptor for umami is similarly simple and detects amino acids (protein). Sour taste is mediated through two different receptor subtypes, able to detect hydrogen ions (responsible for acidity). We have a receptor for fats and another for salt (sodium). . . . But the bitter taste receptor family, known as the T2R receptor family, is made of over twenty different subtypes, coded for by some thirty-four genes, and able to detect over one hundred often completely unrelated chemical compounds. . . . Stimulating T2Rs has profound implications throughtout the digestive system and in the liver . . . For now, suffice it to say that getting the signal of bitterness on the tongue increases the antioxidant enzyme and bile secretions in the liver through the combined action of the hormones, such as cholecystokinin, and nerves, such as the vagus nerve.  . . . Interestingly, T2R receptors are found in many other tissues of the body, indicating that their chemosensory ability is not limited to the tongue.  . . . Researchers have discovered these bitter taste receptors in the airways of the lungs, and even in brain cells. (Source: “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”, Masé)

The liver is the central hub where most of our detoxification pathways are carried out – and picks up the slack from the detoxification that would normally be provided by an intact gut microbiome.  When our gut flora are out of balance and the bacteria that help us to detoxify are wiped out by antibiotics, medications, and environmental assaults, our liver has to work extra hard.  When the liver is overloaded, bile flow is affected (and with it, our ability to emulsify fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins crucial for health).  Reduced bile flow in turns can potentially lead to gallbladder attacks or stones.  (Conversely, one of the best ways to support the liver and gallbladder is to heal your gut – as outlined in the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol). Guido describes below how liver cells need stimulation and chemical challenge in order to function (unlike other kinds of cells, which simply need nutrition):

If we are talking about processing chemicals, we have to talk about the liver.  While many tissues in the body have the ability to produce enzymes and antioxidants that help to neutralize toxins, none compare to the four-pound sponge located no our right upper abdomen, halfway hidden behind the ribcage.  It is a tireless metabolic workhorse – but, curiously enough, if left alone it does very little.  Isolated liver tissue and isolated liver cells do not seem to do much of anything, neither synthesizing bile nor producing high levels of metabolic enzymes.  Researchers attempting to study how liver cells behave have learned that, in order to better replicate the conditions found in living beings, the cells have to be bathed not only in nutrients, but also in a cocktail of chemicals.  It is only then that they begin to act like their true selves. (Source: “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”, Masé)

What role does the liver play in histamine intolerance and overload?

Alison Vickery addressed this in a blog post on that exact topic (“What if This Was About the Liver?“).  In this post, she describes her recovery in terms of the following steps 1) address any gut dysbiosis, 2) Reduce toxin exposure, 3) eat a high protien, nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet, 4) rebuild with specific foods and herbs, and 5) consume liver protective and regenerative supplements.

I have dramatically improved my histamine tolerance, and put my mast-cell activation type symptoms into remission, and dropped by 2/3rds my inflammation markers, by supporting my liver. And it makes sense that the liver plays a role in histamine intolerance. Histamine is not just disassembled in the gut by diamine oxidase (DAO). It is also disassembled in the liver by histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT or HMT) where it is in high concentrations. Why would HNMT be in the liver? The liver disassembles ALL inflammatory material including histamine released from mast-cells, along with a long list of chemicals manufactured by the body and those ingested. (Source)

Bitters: The Poison Antidote

The development of bitters came from the idea that if the body is regularly stimulated with a bitter or poison challenge, it will be better able and more used to processing an unexpected or unwanted poisonous assault. Historically, the creation of bitters is credited to Mithridates Eupator of Pontus, who reigned over what is now Turkey from 120 – 53 BC.

Mithridates. Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=408281

Mithridates had an urgent incentive in developing them as an attempt to prevent himself from being poisoned by his feuding and murderous family.  At age 14, his father was poisoned to death and his mother took control of the kingdom, sparking his interest in discovering a poison antidote. As Guido Masé describes it,

The young prince hit upon an interesting idea: perhaps, if full doses of poison could kill, then smaller doses might strengthen him against death.  Simply employing plants that tasted like poison but were not toxic themselves (like the root of high mountain gentian) might do the trick.  Mithridates retreated from palace life for a period and apparently delved deeply into venom brewing and antidote crafting, because when he returned, both his mother and his brother were poisoned and died.  The prince became king, married his sister, and set about building an army – all the while looking over his shoulder, fearing the murder in his evening meal, but confident that the regular use of his antidotes would keep him alive. (Source: “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”, Masé)

Mithridates’ poison antidote concoction likely involved a mixture of bitter and aromatic plants.  He experimented extensively with monkshood and nightshade, gentian, calamus, iris, parsley, carrot seed, and various resins, gums, and tree saps mixed with aromatic plants such as ginger, cardamom, and rose in smaller portions. He tried his concoctions on himself in order to discover proper dosages and build up a tolerance.  His primary aim was to create an antidote so powerful that it could reverse the effects of a poison administered by a scheming relative and save his life.  To help him with his task, he consulted with herbalists, shamans, and professional poisoners, where he learned to extract venom from vipers and use poisons from fly agaric mushrooms. (Incidentally, both venoms and magic mushrooms have been used successfully to combat chronic headache).

We Used to Eat More Bitters

During the Industrial Revolution, when many people moved from the countryside to cities to work in factories, the diversity of plants in the average person’s diet began to drop:

This change was slow at first, with many folks still connected to the country and the wild, bitter botanicals such a life offered.  Inevitably, after a few generations, however, families picked fewer dandelion greens in the spring, relying less on foraging for supplementing their meals.  Instead, for most people, the supplement became an extra helping of carbohydrate.  And while we blame so much of our modern public health concerns on the rise of sweet in the Western diet, we can’t forget that at the same time we handily eliminated much of what was bitter and wild in our food. . . we have decided that our diet should be free of uncomfortable foods, foods, that are wild, bitter, fibrous, weedy, or otherwise challenging. (Source: “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”, Masé)

The impacts of this change not only to consumption of sweeter foods but also less consumption of bitter foods had profound implications not only for the health of our bodies, but also the health of the land.  With more fields dedicated to the production of carbohydrates, we have seen a huge addition of chemical additives to the ecosystem.

Corn farmers applied 57 million pounds of glyphosate (Roundup), more than 51 million pounds of atrazine, and some 20 million pounds of other herbicides in 2010.  By comparison, all the herbicide applied to potatoes amounted to about 4 million pounds, of which more than half was actually fungicide. (Source: “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”, Masé)

The sweet flavor does very little to activate the gut (instead, it activates reward circuitry in the brain). This wasn’t as much of an issue in the past as it is now, since many sweeter foods were usually consumed in whole plant form along with the other bitter elements in the rind or peel and their respective benefits. However, our current penchant for sweet processed foods and lack of consumption of bitters is wreaking havoc not only on our digestive tracts but also on our environment in the form of Big Ag.

My Personal Use of Bitters

Currently my practice of ingesting bitters involves small amounts of neem powder placed on the tongue a few times throughout the day (the lovely neem plant is featured at the top of this page). Some traditional herbs for migraine, like feverfew, owe some of their effectiveness to their very bitter flavor. Since I am breastfeeding, I have opted out of taking larger quantities of neem or any other bitter plant, as it reduces milk supply.  However, simple stimulation of the taste buds with even very small amounts of bitter plants is a sufficient prompt to get the liver primed to detoxify other substances that enter our bodies via food, water, air, and pharmaceutical medications.

So, while we and our livers are currently inundated with no shortage of chemical assaults, most of them are foreign substances compared to the toxins that our liver evolved to process (which included toxins from bacteria, the bites of venomous insects and animals, or directly from poisonous roots, barks, leaves, seeds, and berries).  Perhaps by using the bitter plants which our liver is more evolutionarily designed to be stimulated by, we can help it to process the new chemicals that are relatively new to our environment. (Source: “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants.”, Masé)

Like Mithridates, we do need to be vigilant in order to avoid being overwhelmed by our big bully family members – corporate polluters who care more about power and profit than the health of the whole.  Regular intake of bitters can help us to be more resilient to the world we live in.

Lower-histamine Carob Almond Fudge Recipe (Chocolate Substitute)

Okay, so carob doesn’t taste like chocolate.  But it does taste amazing, and its color, flavor, and texture will satisfy you in a similar way – and without all the problems that chocolate causes as a major migraine trigger.  If you’re not sensitive to lectins, oxalates, or maple syrup, this treat may be for you.

Carob is the powdered flour of the locust bean, which is a great source of riboflavin and B6, especially.  It’s also high in calcium, copper, potassium and manganese – all supportive to those with migraine. Unlike chocolate, it contains zero caffeine.  It appears that one potential reason why chocolate is such a migraine trigger is because it contains phenylethylamine. The phenylethylamine will compete with histamine for its degradation, leading to an overall higher histamine load.  Carob is also free of theobromine, theophylline, tyramine, anandamide, and oxalic acid.

Carob is made through a fermentation process, however, which is why I am calling this a “lower histamine” recipe.  While this dessert will certainly add less to your histamine load than eating chocolate will (by a long shot), those who are stuck in chronic migraine and brain fog should probably hold off on making this recipe until they have stabilized more on the SimplyWell Protocol.  Those who only have migraine once in awhile are very unlikely to be triggered by this fudge.

What’s great about these little bites aside from the fact they are delicious, is that they are packed with good fats (butter and coconut oil) that will feed your healthy gut flora.  Carob is naturally sweet, so you’ll notice the small amount of added maple syrup in this recipe.  It’s texture is sublime, and it’s easy to make! So, on to the recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup butter (or more coconut oil if you’re vegan)
  • 1/2 cup creamy natural almond butter (roasted or raw are both fine)
  • 3/4 cup carob powder, sifted
  • 5 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoon2 pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

Directions:

  1. Line a very small loaf pan (4″ x 8″) with plastic wrap for easy removal.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until smooth.
  3. With a spatula, scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth out.
  4. Freeze for about 20 minutes, or until solid.
  5. Slice into squares or pour into a mould and enjoy! Store leftovers in a container in the freezer as it melts quickly at room temperature.

This recipe has been adapted from a recipe found here at Oh She Glows