Monday, March 26, 2012

Migraines: Finding the Cause. Is it Gluten? Or Wheat?

I have battled migraines for over a decade now. Before me, my mother had them so badly that she would lock herself in her bedroom all day, only coming out to vomit. She saw many, many doctors and had lots of imaging done of her head and brain trying to find a solution, but never found any cause or relief. And now here I am with the same problem. I wrote about my migraines in great detail in this post last year; part of the reason I am carefully adding food groups back in as I transition off Medifast is to figure out what, exactly, could be the cause of the migraines.

You see, before I started Medifast, I had headaches every single day. Yep, every. The doctors were concerned. It's not "normal", they told me. They did all kinds of tests but found nothing wrong. Yet the migraines persisted. And then I started Medifast and they stopped. No more migraines at all! It seemed like a miracle to me. And even when I had 'off' days and as I have changed over to whole foods, the migraines didn't come back. But this week, they came back with a vengeance. I woke up with a migraine every single day this week, including today. It is almost debilitating. I have head pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, and sometimes visual disturbances. I take pain medication which sometimes helps take the edge off. But I have had to stop and wonder: WHY? Why now, why this week, what has changed that my migraines have come back full force? Why did I not have them AT ALL on Medifast? I don't think there is any 'magic' in those Medifast packets, so it has to be something that I had eliminated during that diet and have added back in now.

Now, to figure out the mystery.

I know it is not stress, lack of sleep, or allergies because I still had all those things while I was doing Medifast but the migraines were gone almost completely for two years.

I thought it could be soy withdrawal, which someone suggested to me on Facebook and the symptoms do fit, BUT I had the migraines before starting to use soy so there is something else going on here. Plus my mother didn't eat soy. I believe there is some genetic component that involves a food sensitivity.

I know it is not meat, fish, eggs, dairy, healthy fats, nuts, artificial sweeteners, or vegetables because I ate those daily while on Medifast and never got a migraine.

I know it is not fruit, because I added that back in weeks ago and did not have a problem.

So what, exactly, did I add back in recently?
1. Two weeks ago I added in beans and legumes.
2. One week ago, I added in grains.

Hmmm. Well, looking back over this week I see that more than just oatmeal was added. I had been considering adding grains back in (as that is recommended in Transition) and without actually making that decision, this week I ALLOWED myself to have a bite here, a little there. I had a couple of crackers one day. A slice of bread with dinner another day. A bit of pasta was the first wheat I added a little more than a week ago, which you may recall if you follow me on Twitter where I sometimes post my meals. In fact, my tweet was, "Casserole provided for dinner: chicken breast, pasta, peas, celery, other veggies in there, Parmesan. Will see if the pasta agrees w/me!" Huh. Well maybe it didn't agree with me after all, because after adding this stuff back in, the migraines returned.

Now I am starting to believe the migraines could be caused by wheat or gluten or grains in general. Maybe I have a gluten sensitivity, or grain intolerance, or maybe it's just wheat. Hard to tell! But since the migraines came back so strong and hard this week after having some wheat, pasta, and bread here and there, I am gonna go with the theory that the two are somehow connected.

Transition has been somewhat like an elimination diet for me, adding things back in gradually to see how they affect my body. I am going to take advantage of that! My plan this week is to pinpoint the cause of my migraines. The only thing I am going to change is to take grains back out. No more bites of pasta, slices of bread, or crackers. In fact I am not going to eat any grains at all. I have a notebook and am going to simply make a list of the foods I eat everyday and whether or not I have any kind of headache. If the headaches go away with the grains, then I will know. If not, I will go forward with cutting out beans and legumes, too.

Here's hoping this works!


Anonymous said...

Hello! Maybe someone has mentioned this food plan before but here it is: Kay Sheppard

I was around 318 pounds (my scale didn't go that high so I'm guessing) and now I am around 175. It is also gluten free and very reasonable portion sizes: 1 cup grains, 4 oz meat, 4 cups of veggies a day and so on. Has helped me a lot

Good luck!

Taryl said...

I started getting more headaches when I went to the transition phase of my particular plan, too, which recommended adding starch back in. And sure enough, pretty much any gluten grain caused me to feel icky or made my head pound. Beans, grains, and sugar are just not for me, unfortunately, and unfermented dairy has its own problems (I get acne and flare ups up dermatitis thanks to that, bummer!). Calories and nutrition issued aside, these foods just don't play nicely with me. It's a bummer, I LOVE oatmeal, but oats cause issues, too.

White rice is about the only 'grain' I seem to be okay with. It's not allergenic for me, but I still get my starch fix.

Sue said...

My daughter had very serious headaches. Treatment by the docs at Jefferson Headache Center in Philly totally worked. It changed her life. Maybe you could consider it:

Anonymous said...

WebMD has a list of migraine trigger foods here.

I think you have been eating several foods on the list including cold foods and ice cream.

Lyn said...


True, but I was eating even more cold foods, iced shakes, etc when on Medifast and never got a migraine. That is a great list though, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Lynn, your migraines may not necessarily be just food-triggered. I've been diagnosed since I was a child, and one of the biggest triggers for me is environmental pressure. This time of year is horrible for repeat migraines in my case, simply because of the varying weather (sunny one day, cloudy the next, rain, then sun, etc.). It's good to try and identify triggers wherever you can, but don't drive yourself crazy trying to eliminate too many things, or too many at once. Your sleep habits, hydration, hormones, and myriad other things (many beyond your control) all play a part - for true migraine sufferers, there is rarely a single identifiable reason they get migraines.

I currently take a daily preventative, and also have abortive and "rescue" medications - the daily helps a lot, the abortive is there to hopefully stop a migraine when I feel one coming on, and the "rescue" is my incredibly potent pain-reliever when all else fails. If you are diagnosed, and not currently on a decent medication regime, I would urge you to see your doctor.

Oh, and while I'm sure you're tired of book recommendations (:D), consider reading "The Migraine Brain". It was written by a Harvard Med School neurologist (she runs the headache clinic) who's also a migraine sufferer. There's a lot of great information on common triggers, explanations on how migraines are more than just headaches (it's actually a neurological disease), and helpful strategies for coping. Structure and monotony are great for migraines - common bedtime/wake-up times, eating at planned intervals, etc. Little things can really make a big difference.


Anonymous said...

I think you should tell these concerns to the Medifast people. Perhaps they have heard the same thing from other clients and could give you an answer. It would be interesting to post your question about vanishing migraines on a Medifast support group. Gluten does make sense though. Gluten is so bad because it turns to sugar right away. It makes sense that the sudden sugar spike could affect the migraines.

Anonymous said...

Is Medifast gluten/wheat free?

Definitely test the food sensitivities. I think that my gut reaction to your eating (long time reader/rarely comments) is that you do seem to react with physical pain whenever you eat breads/baked goods/etc. I think you have often attributed this to sugar rather than wheat, but it's worth looking into. I know it made a difference for me. About 6 months ago, I discovered that I have a wheat or gluten sensitivity. When I don't eat wheat for a few days, most of my nagging aches and pains go away. If I eat wheat again, my back starts to ache and the next morning, it hurts to walk on my feet. Cutting out wheat made me realize that all those "I'm 30 now" aches and pains were actually allergic reactions. It's awesome to be pain-free for almost 6 months!

While searching out more information on how to live a healthy gluten-free life, I discovered Paleo. At first I thought it was crazy, but circumstances forced me to give up dairy, so I was nearly there anyway. I decided to give it a chance.

Paleo has changed my life. I don't believe I will ever go back. I am happier than I have ever been and I don't say that lightly.

I have ALWAYS struggled with negative thoughts (I hate my life, I can't do anything right), even when I am not clinically depressed (and I've been diagnosable and treated 5 times in 15 years). These negative thoughts occur regularly, every day. Being a good Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy patient, I have learned how to argue with those thoughts, arrest them, distract myself, all the necessary things, but the thoughts never went away (and, of course, only grew more negative/severe if I was clinically depressed), but they never went away, no matter how much I argued.

A month of paleo and I my negative thoughts are now situational instead of chronic and now have unbidden HAPPY thoughts (I love my life, wow, this day is awesome) ALL DAY LONG.

This may sound weird, but I have NEVER experienced unbidden happy thoughts on a regular basis (even when I was first falling in love or when cuddling a newborn). I can't say that I'll never be depressed again (time will tell), but I cannot describe the difference in my everyday life. Imagine just how much extra mental energy I have now that I don't have argue with my unbidden thoughts all day. The difference in my life is astounding. I never expected it, and I am thankful every minute of every day for it.

I love being gluten free, and I love paleo! I hope that you also discover any food sensitivities that are affecting your quality of life!


AprilA said...

Hi Lyn,
My understanding is that there's often a genetic susceptibilty.
I just regret it's taken me this long to understand that my mother's discovery that wheat caused her migraines (and stubborn extra 20 pounds) for 40 years, has great significance for my different set of symptoms. (Oh, and I got 80 pounds!)
I wish you the best with working out which way forward is going to work best for you. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm following your every word because I also have migraines. I took an internet test on migraines and got a 100%. I know A LOT about migraines but not how to prevent them. Hope you find the answer for both of us! Sherry

Anonymous said...

In 4 days I will have had a headache for 2 years non-stop with migraines on top. For a while the migraines were happening every two weeks until a couple of mths back, every time I ran it triggered a migraine. Am seeing a physio who diagnosed Cervical Disc Protrusion and wear and tear on my cervical spine.

Treatment is ongoing but so far my daily headache has lifted a bit. I've had one migraine that started late afternoon just over two weeks since the last. I did my neck tractions (stretches) and iced the back of my neck before going to bed. In the morning the migraine was completely gone with no pain meds. A miracle. During one session the physio touch a point in my neck and said that's where your headache is. Felt like he was touching the headache.

I've also had relief in the past from losing weight but now I'm wondering if that was more because I felt good and held my posture better, thus helping my neck?? not sure. Anyway couldn't see this without posting.

Tiffany said...


With migraine triggers remember that several are not immediate. You can eat them and the migraine might not come on for several days or even a week. I remember them telling me that when I was trying to find my triggers. So if you for example had a migraine Monday, it could have been from something you ate and maybe continued to eat from Wednesday.

With Medifast, not all options are wheat or gluten free, so unless you just happened to be wheat and gluten free on Medifast that would seem to be the trigger either. Unless of course you ate only gluten free Medifast. Then there you go!

I am getting tested for a gluten allergy myself.

Bunpoh said...

That's really smart, rotating things out to see what it is. Yeah, you weren't getting them on Medifast, so I don't think the pressure/environmental causes or cold foods thing is it, either.

I get migraines too, but haven't had them in a while. I would totally believe they might be grain/starch/wheat or gluten related.

I know for SURE the things that will always trigger them for me: nitrates/nitrites, (so all cured meats with heavy amounts of those things - the stuff cured with celery salt instead never does), sulfites (in cheap wine), aspertaime, MSG, and usually Sucralose, and I don't eat anything containing any of those for a large variety of other health reasons, too.

Good luck, hope you narrow it down.

Michelle said...

Hi, Lyn.
Anonymous (the last one) brings up what I was thinking as a possibility - you've not just added grains this week; you've added back PT. Maybe consider being assessed by your physio to see if at least some of the migraine action could be from "cervicogenic headaches with migraine features". Whenever I try to add in upper body work, even with just a 1kg (2.2lb) weight, lift boxes that are heavy, twist the wrong way, or even sleep the wrong way, etc., these screaming headaches happen. There's ongoing research apparently, but one of the more popular hypotheses is that the neck muscles spasming causes nerves in the neck to press on the trigeminal nerve, causing the head pain.

I get them so badly that I vomit, can't stand light or noise, can't sleep or eat or work or study. I have neurosurgeon approval to take a high dose of diazepam (Valium) to relax them muscles & I also take maintenance doses of the NSAID ibuprofen, & visit my physio if I can't get on top of an episode within a couple of days (yes, they can go non-stop for days).

Not saying your migraines aren't food related, but if you can't find the source, but if you can't resolve them, I'd suggest being assessed by your physio (preferrably during an episode).

Very best wishes. Hope you can get on top of the pain very soon now.

Suzanne said...

I have never had migraines. And believe me, I know that is something to be deeply grateful for!

I read in the comment thread of one of your previous posts that someone suggested the movie "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" on Netflix or Hulu.

There is a small part in the movie where one woman decided to do a 10 day green juice fast. Her goal was not weight loss, she was not overweight. But she had suffered from migraines all her life. After the 10 day fast, she never had another migraine. She said she planned to do the juice fast regularly (a few times a year), but those juice fasts are awesome. People do them and get freedom from medication--for lots of different health issues.

I am guessing that the causes for migraines are not the same across the board, and everyone's personal health issues are different. But I'd be surprised if a juice fast didn't help the migraine thing a lot, for anyone.

(I personally have done 2 juice fasts--one back in October for 18 days, and one in February for 7. I felt absolutely amazing the entire time).

lisa~sunshine said...

I'm going to agree with others in that you have had gluten/wheat in your medifast foods.. I highly doubt they are all gluten free.. so it seems weird that it would be a intolerance to them...

Now I will say I started having migraines when I increased my carbs.. when I increased my carbs was when I had my first optical migraines and after time.. they stopped... I also noticed them to be around the time I ovulated as well..

It could also have something to do with your meal timing.. and how many carbs per meal you are having now.. compared to on medifast..

Have you been tracking your macros to see how many carbs you are taking in now compared to on medifast.. because if before medifast you were taking in higher carbs and had the migraines.. then went on medifast which controled the carbs.. and the migraines stopped.. it would makes sense why you would get them when you tried to go back on your plan with medifast when you fell off the plan.. You may have thought it was due to starting medifast again but maybe it was due to your body getting rid of the excess and moving onto a lower carb level..
Just a thought..

I know I got caught up in the hype of the gluten intolerance.. wheat thing.. but if you don't have that issue.. it's best to not eliminate them.. I know over time of increased carbs.. things have gotten better for me.. I'LL be curious to watch your progress... Hopefully it's not just a certain food like you think... I think the hardest thing is understanding that if you downsize wheat.. don't downsize carbs in general because how can you tell if it was from the wheat? extra/higher carbs? or just hormones/ or other things?

I think it's hard to pin point things like this and it's easier to just do what works for your body the best.. Best wishes to you.. I'm proud of your progress in moving into a more healthy lifestyle.. Keep up the wonderfull work..

Lyn said...

Yeah, I was definitely *not* gluten free on Medifast. I wonder if the amounts matter though. It would be a very small amount of gluten in the Medifast meals, versus a large amount in a slice of bread. Or maybe it is just wheat, or perhaps it is carb levels or soemthing else. Hard to say. I think it is going to take some time to figure it out. I sure hope I get relief this week by cutting the grains back out.

Jane said...

Good luck! I know how hard it can be -- I am gluten free and mostly grain free -- just this last weekend, I had a few grains, and I can tell the difference! I also think I am having problems with beans too, which sucks cause I love beans!!! I hope you can figure it out!! I've had bad headaches all my life, some food related, some not. Sigh....

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

I never thought of that triggering mirgraines!!

Steelers6 said...

"They" say gluten can do that, but I know you had some gluten in medifast. I wonder if it is somehow different/more. Someone suggested talking with MF about it; might be helpful.

I know you keep close tabs on things, and I wonder if the horrible headaches are always associated with your cycle.

I hope you get head pain relief & some answers soon, dear.


Taryl said...

At least for me, volume does matter. I can have a cracker or two with no issues, sometimes a slice of bread if it has been fermented before baking (properly soaked grains are much easier for me to digest) but larger volumes of normal baked goods? Bad ju ju. When I eliminate for a long period of time I can eat more before my sensitivities are triggered (elimination diets have actually cured a few of my sensitivities, like eggs, where after getting rid of them for a few months I can now have two a day and not get systems), but that isn't the case with all of them.

Just food for thought. One of the reasons I am such a fan of the Perfect Health Diet I linked to awhile back and paleo, in general, is because the foods are low-allergy for people with sensitivities to sugar, grains, and some dairy like me. It is just a much less inflammatory way of eating, in addition to being satisfying and sustainable for me to eat longer term. And because it eliminates most of my trigger foods, I can have them at Easter brunch or whatever and not have an issue, because they aren't in my daily diet. My exposure is limited enough not to flare me up or cause cravings, and my daily food is immune-friendly for me. Your mileage obviously may vary.

timothy said...

you may simply just have to avoid most grains , if that makes you feel better then do it. some bodies simply cant do well on a so-called balance diet. it's a little known fact thatmany asians are allergic to rice. do what works for you and skip the rest. your body will tell you whats good for you, that food "plate" (instead of the pyramid) is a medical "guess" . i know most vegetables cause me severe bloating and gas and when i try them they taste bad/bitter so i hardly eat any at all, yet i am healthy as a horse.

Anonymous said...

I get horrible migraines, which may or may not be related to my tumors. That said, I've learned (at a very prestigious hospital, seeing a top specialist on headaches) that hormones are a huge trigger.

When I do Medifast, I think the soy balances my estrogen levels. I did not suffer from them while I did MF. And my headaches got worse as I got closer to (early) menopause. I got terrible ones on birth control pills. Mine also are hereditary (my grandmother got them).

I would suggest going to the best headache specialist in your area (a neurologist who specializes.) I take a preventative medication every day and it really helps.

Good luck!

Hugs, Maria

Anonymous said...

I suffered from migraines for years, then at age 27 had a stroke. I was finally diagnosed with a patent foramen ovale.....turns out there is a big link to migraines. To make a long story short, I had my PFO closed and no longer suffer from migraines. There were times the migraines would come and go, when they came they were bad. Here's a interesting clip:


Beyond Willpower said...

Thank you for posting this! I am gluten free, I was gf for a year and in that year had not sinus issues and no migraines (which used to be a usual thing for me) and then for two months I Slipped up and started eating gluten again. (I stopped to help with fibromyalgia pain) and I started having headaches and sinus trouble again. I knew the sinus was connected but didn't even think about the headaches! They are gone now that I am back to being gf.

Good luck. My blog has gf recipes. :)

Harbaugh Clan said...

I also suffer from migraines. I have been suffering since I was 16 years old and I have gone from one a month to now over 15 a month. I use Imitrex which works wonders however I am becoming immune to this after 15 years of taking this drug. The only thing that now works are the injections at this point. What amazes me is in all of these years of seeing specialist, and doctors no doctor has ever said, lets take a look at diet or do an allergy test. I just had an event in my life. I started with plain white rice and add one item of food at a time back into my diet. I also found out that I am allergic to wheat. I have now Eliminated wheat and gluten from my diet and I have had one headache in the last month! If you are a migraine suffer I know this is a long process but we all know what they do it us and it is worth it! Ask to be tested for allergies, a food intolerance may be the cause. Now I also know that this is one trigger, the pressure in the air, hormones, also give me a migraine. However, if I can reduce one or more migraines a month, it is worth it to me.