Have you ever wondered if sugar may be the cause of your migraines? I have suffered for 18 years with intense, cruel, head throbbing, want-to-cut-off-my-head, migraines. It started around the time I was in college. And I have no idea why I started getting migraines so early in life even when college wasn’t that much of an issue for me.
My recollection is that it was when I was involved in a car accident that had me whiplashing more than a few times. I was taken to the E.R in a neck brace on a stretcher.
I don’t think I had any other life altering physical event that could have initiated the dread my life was about to become. Nevertheless, I continue to search for the real cause instead of placing blame on an accident.
Living with Migraines
Until that day, I soldier on. In the early years, I did not identify these incidents as migraines. They would last a few days, throb and shoot out painful pounding inside my head. They would usually start on one side and make trips around my head.
Some days choosing to be everywhere on my head and then sometimes, just right behind my eyes. As the years went on, they increased in intensity and length of time. I recall the worst of my migraines lasting more than 15 days at a time. And some days, they would last 3 days. I don’t think I have ever had a one-day migraine.
As I got out of college and started working in Corporate America, I would continue to work even with a migraine. As an immigrant, there was almost never a good reason not to go to work. Especially for what some people casually refer to as a headache. Not going to work meant potentially being let go and having to leave the country.
Yes, it was that bad, that scary, and that real. The life of an immigrant in the U.S.A, is not as easy at it may seem.
1. The Evaluation Phase
Anyways, back to migraines. I learnt to push through the pain until I really couldn’t. Puking my guts out wasn’t even the worst reaction. Losing partial sight in one eye for about 72 hours was major. Having auras, where I didn’t understand were a symptom too. And then the catch-all, stress being another trigger.
I evaluated foods I was eating, stress that was consuming me at work, family stressors, and the list goes on. A neurologist I saw at the time (and currently still see one) told me to try all the different migraine meds out there. I tried quite a few that were in rotation for about 5 years.
Some of them had weird side effects like forgetfulness or becoming delusional. And also, they didn’t work. I took it on myself to start documenting everything I did or ate, in spreadsheets for months. Without being able to find a clear cause, I stopped and went back to the one medicine that did work for me – ibuprofen.
The anti-inflammatory agents in the pills helped relieve the pain for short bursts of time. Extended use of ibuprofen is not good for the body so I needed to find another way.
2. The Elimination Diet + Results
In 2014, my cousin has introduced me to this health diet only for the purposes of trying to do something different in our diets. It was a 45-day diet that had you cook and eat vegetables, lentils, legumes, and remove everything else like processed foods, fruit (optional), wheat products, rice, sugar, and a few others I can’t remember today.
a. No Migraines for 45 Consecutive Days!
At the end of the 45 days, I noticed that I hadn’t had a migraine in all those 45 days. I was in pure shock. I didn’t know what part of the diet helped me, or what part of the diet that I stopped, worked in my favor. In the reverse process of elimination, I started reintroducing items into my diet for a week at a time.
Wheat/gluten was first. No issue except tummy bloating, which I could live with. Then rice. No issue. Then processed foods like chips. No issue.
b. The Fruit of Life
Then fruit and, BAM! I got a migraine 30 minutes later and ended up dealing with that for a week. I stopped fruit again and tried a piece of chocolate (haha, yea dumb). Again, another migraine that got triggered but I popped some ibuprofen at the onset, and it went away. I kept trying various sugar products – both processed and natural, and played with the amounts.
Sugar was definitely triggering the inflammation in my blood vessels. This was in turn causing my body to tense up and stay in pain. As a constant, since 2014, every time a migraine is triggered, if I don’t catch it during the onset or if I go above my sugar limit I will have a migraine for no less than seven days. Saving the sugar limit detail for later in this article.
I was used to traveling and dealing with it, once even messing up a trip I had planned for my parents to Hawaii! I had to stay in bed for most of that trip. My mom massage my head in the backseat of our rental while my dad was patiently waiting to go see Pearl Harbor. Sigh! F*&K migraines!
3. The Analysis Phase
What I have learnt since those blessed 45 days in 2014, is that sugar in its truest form is not good for my head. This includes the concentrated amount that fruits provide, which all contribute to my migraines. Most of the sugars have been cut out of my life with an exception to the quantity my body will accept without revenge.
I have figured out with years of experimenting that in a day, about 10 grams of sugar (spread across the day) is all my body is willing to accept without going bat-sh*t crazy. Fruits in larger amounts are a definite trigger.
However, half-inch cube of dark chocolate or a Hershey’s kisses (just one kiss), does not trigger a migraine and my body remains happy. I continue to work on my intake of sugar and some days I don’t have any at all. But that does not mean I can have 20 grams the next day, which will trigger the beast to come out.
4. It’s Not in Your Head
I have had many discussion with my doctors on the effects of sugar on me and that I know for a fact, that they trigger my migraine. None of them cared to listen as much as push newer drugs on me. As a last resort, I told my PCP whom I had been going to for 10 years. His response? “It’s all psychological, it’s all in your head.”
That was the last time I went to him. If you are going through any sort of debilitating migraine, know that you are not alone. There is a community of us out there and many forums from where you can try remedies. I will provide links at the end of this article.
And never let anyone including a doctor tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about or worse yet, feeling. Conventional doctors treat the symptoms not the cause. So, while you may get relief (which is great), never give up your quest to finding out the cause of your migraines.
5. The Search Continues…
As I move onto more traditional eastern medicine, foods, and Ayurvedic healing, I hope to find out the underlying reason why my body is having such a reaction to sugar. Because in all honesty, I do not believe that sugar is the culprit, it is just gas to the fire.
On the flip side, removing sugar is helpful in more ways than one. It is the devil in the foods, and the cause for a lot of diseases (including feeding cancerous cells) and conditions that research continues to reveal. So the plus side to all of this is that my body is potentially healthier, right?
I do not know for sure but I do know that in the first month after my 45-day diet, I did lose 9 lbs.
I do miss eating a whole apple or pear. But, I can have most of a banana – so that’s a plus. I treat myself to a quarter inch piece of chocolate when I haven’t had any other sugars and that makes me happy. I haven’t enjoyed a full piece of birthday cake since 2014, or had more than 2 teaspoons of ice-cream that seem like heaven to me. Coke? What Coke? I would love a fizzy glass bottle of coke to be the death of me. Just kidding.
If you do get migraines, I feel you and I hope you find the answer we are all looking for. Just remember that the more we share with those suffering along side us, the faster we are to finding one or many solutions to our various types of migraines.
And while migraines can be the reason why we do not enjoy the things we want, put in the work to find your triggers. And put in time to do the things that may help. Using a neck sling, meditating, walking or running to reduce stress, all work in your favor. It may be time consuming but take the time to do that upfront so that you have more migraine-free days to enjoy later.
As promised here are the support groups that you can lean on while you figure out how to control your migraines.
Take care of yourself, poppet. You are not alone.
While I am not an expert, I can try to help. What questions do you have about your migraines?
Featured photo courtesy of unsplash.com
Article last updated on August 28th, 2021