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.

7 Common Blind Spots in the Management of Migraines

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #1: Fermented Foods & Probiotics

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #2: Bone Broth & Collagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #3: Methylated B vitamins

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

I was always suspicious of methyl B12 as a stand-alone supplement, because I’ve personally experienced migraines triggered by B12.  Multiple clients of mine have repeatedly mentioned that they also get migraines from methylcobalamin. I have come across some evidence that B12 can be toxic in the presence of glutathione depletion.  Glutathione is our most powerful and abundant antioxidant in the body, and migraineurs are generally low in it. (As it turns out, triptans – the most popular drug for the treatment of migraine – also cause oxidative stress in the liver and thereby deplete glutathione, at least in rats).

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Masterjohn:

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

Dr. Ben Lynch

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

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

Dr. Albert Mensah

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

Marlene Merritt, LAc, DOM, MS Nutrition

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #4: Excessive Vitamin D Supplementation

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

Dr. Carolyn Dean explains:

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

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

Chris Masterjohn explains his hypothesis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #5: Insufficient or Wrong Kind of Magnesium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #6: Ingestion of Cinnamon

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Spot #7: Ingestion of Cayenne or Chili

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Note About “Triggers”

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

 

 

 

Hypertensive Essential Oils for Migraine & Headache (DIY)

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.

As we know, migraine for many of us is triggered by vasodilation  – which means blood vessels impinge on nearby cranial nerves in the neck leading up to the head.  This blood vessel dilation is responsible for low blood pressure and a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain.  In order to constrict our blood vessels and improve blood flow to the head, we need vasoconstrictive (ie, hypertensive) essential oils.  And it turns out that there are many more oils aside from the classical headache treatment using peppermint oil that can help us, which Mother Nature has so kindly provided!

In this blog post, I want to 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. My friend Lauren over at AroMed essential oils noted to me that all of the oils chosen in this blend are also great for digestive issues.  No surprises there, since most migraines are digestive migraines!

So Which Essential Oils are Hypertensive?

The research into the properties of most of these oils is seemingly straightforward, but we need to keep in mind that many plants are adaptogenic – meaning that a single plant can respond to us in a way that is not static, but rather catered to what our particular imbalance is.  For example, some plants can raise blood pressure in someone with low blood pressure, and lower blood pressure in someone with high blood pressure. Neat, huh?  Seriously folks, plants are magical, kindred helpers!  This adaptogenic ability of some plants may explain some of the discrepancies when reading about an oil being both hypertensive AND hypotensive.

From my research, I’ve read that the following oils will help to constrict blood vessels and thereby raise blood pressure: grapefruit, black pepper, frankincense, cypress, orange, rosemary, peppermint, basil, thyme, balsam of peru, hyssop, geranium rose, and holy basil. (I’ll be sure to add to the list as I uncover more research).

Here’s my personal take on the recipe:

I believe that true Folk Medicine is medicine that is created by and accessible to the people – which is why I am sharing my own personal blend here for those of you who like to make your own products rather than buy them.  Feel free to tweak the ratios of the oils presented here and share what you’ve learned in the comments below if you feel called.

3 parts organic grapefruit essential oil
3 parts organic black pepper essential oil
2 parts basil organic essential oil
1 part organic rosemary essential oil
1 part organic peppermint essential oil
1 part organic frankincense essential oil
2 parts or more organic olive oil (depending on how concentrated you want this)

I decided to make my blend with 20% organic olive oil.  Why?  Who want’s diluted essential oils?  Well, because of the fiery quality of the peppermint and because some people are more sensitive to straight essential oils when applied neat to the skin.  Everyone’s different, so I’ve added organic olive oil to the blend to buffer some of the intensity of the oil while applied topically, but keeping it potent enough to be very aromatic and effective simply by inhaling.

The olive oil doesn’t serve here as a base carrier oil though – it has many therapeutic properties.  I’m madly in love with olive oil, and here’s why: olive oil is high in oleic acid, which increases DAO by 500% (thereby helping to bread down histamine, but only relevant when ingesting).  It’s been demonstrated that olive oil raises serotonin levels, and that just the smell of olive oil can positively affect blood sugar and satiety. A phenolic compound contained in virgin organic olive oil, named oleocanthal, shares unique analgesic and anti-inflammatory characteristics with Ibuprofen.

Olive oil has also been shown to reduce neuro-inflammation from pesticide exposure in rats. That might be why consuming some olive oil will help to eliminate migraine symptoms if you happen to indulge in something made with wheat flour from grain doused in roundup or other pesticides. I’ve personally noted a big difference in my reaction to wheat, and I wonder if this is due not to the gluten in wheat, but to different farming practices for wheat grown in different regions. (Wheat grown in damper regions is more likely to be sprayed with roundup to “finish” the wheat, since roundup is a dessicant and will dry kernels out evenly.  Roundup is also regularly used on oats, barley, and beans for the same reason – even though these are not genetically-engineered, roundup-ready crops).

How to Use the Oil

Although I am not marketing my blend for internal use due to liability issues, the oils are organic so they are therapeutic grade – and I know that some people (such as myself) are comfortable with using organic oils internally and probably will.  In my own case, I have used this oil blend successfully to mitigate some brain fog that I got after indulging in a bowl of spicy New Mexico green chile.  I placed a single drop of this blend on the roof of my mouth in the area where the soft palate begins.  This is also an area right below the pterygopalatine ganglion (also known as the sphenopalatine ganglion). Stimulation of this ganglion has recently been shown to diminish cluster headaches. The fibers that go through this ganglion also go through the trigeminal nucleus along with the trigeminal nerve. The vagus nerve goes through the trigeminal nucleus as well. The glossopharyngeal nerve may also be affected by essential oils placed on the palate. This nerve innervates the partotid gland, which is directly responsible for vasodilation.  All of the nerves mentioned here are implicated in migraine.

Important Note: One reason that I am not recommending this oil for internal use even though many could and might benefit from it that way is because grapefruit is known to affect many pharmaceutical medications – the juice, at least, can increase the absorption of the drug into the bloodstream.  I have no idea if the compounds in the oils would do that too, but if you are on meds, it is best to be cautious ingesting this oil or drinking grapefruit juice or eating grapefruit.

To use the oil aromatically rather than topically, place 4-8 drops of it onto a tissue or your hand and inhale until symptoms improve. For migraine at night, place the tissue near your pillow and sleep on your side to breathe the aroma continuously.

 

Don’t want to make it yourself? You can get the blend in our shop!

Vasoconstrictive Blend of Organic Essential Oils

For those of you who aren’t really into DIY, I’ve made my blend available for sale as a service.  Buying all the oils in bulk to produce your own blend can get expensive, so if you don’t want to go that route of investing upfront in all the oils, I’ve done that for you.

We’re so excited to make this essential oil blend available in our shop after receiving great feedback from those who tested it out for us. This blend of oils can help to alleviate brain fog and headaches and reduce the severity of migraines. It is a great tool to have on hand while you are working to heal your gut with the SimplyWell Migraine Relief Protocol (at which point, you shouldn’t need this oil anymore!)

How nice of Mother Nature to make all this medicine available to us!

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

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

 

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]