Are Your Migraines Under Control?

What a strange question to ask.  Whenever a doctor or friend asks, “Are your migraines under control?”, I really never know how to respond.  To me, a “yes” answer to this question means that I don’t have migraines anymore, because I feel out of control when I do have them.  Therefore, to be able to answer “yes” would mean the following:

  • I never leave my house.
  • I never breathe air coming from my neighbors dryer that is venting perfumes from dryer sheets.
  • No one enters my house unless they talk quietly, avoid wearing fluorescent yellow/pink/green clothes or clothes with patterns that my brain can’t figure out, and remove all scents from clothes/hair/skin/armpits/etc.
  • I never consume anything outside my diet.
  • No city water treated with chlorine (see an upcoming post) runs through my faucets, showers, or clothes washer/dryer.
  • I never open the window shades to let in sunlight or light reflecting off of snow.
  • I never look at a computer screen, swipe across my phone, or watch the news with all of the banners moving different directions and cameras zooming in and out.  Watching the news is not really desirable anymore anyway, but that’s another story.
  • Never travel more than 60 mph so that my brain can keep up with all of the movement around me.
  • Never travel more than 1 hour from my home so that I can return easily if a migraine starts coming on.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Eat and take supplements on a precise schedule regardless of other commitments in my life.
  • Eliminate insomnia completely.

Since this is obviously not possible to achieve completely, I have decided that I have to look at the question “Are your migraines under control?” differently.  To me it means:

  • Am I doing what I can to minimize them as much as possible?
  • When I do get one, am I able to keep it from progressing into a multi-day ordeal?

To keep a migraine from progressing beyond 1 hour, I do the following:

  • I maintain a rigid diet which is under my control (also see here).
  • Increase vitamin C intake when the city is increasing its chlorine use in the water (see an upcoming post).
  • Allow myself plenty of time to sleep and pray that I will be able to do so.
  • Stop taking synthetic hormones.
  • Avoid going to places that I know cause problems for me (lighting, air fresheners, loud noise etc.)
  • Choose where I sit in large gatherings so that there is maximum airflow and ease of leaving if necessary.
  • When I do leave the house, I wear my visor and clips, take plenty of snacks in case I get stuck somewhere for a while, take earplugs which I put in at the first sign of excessive noise, and pack magnesium and ginger in my purse.
  • Immediately, take 25 to 50 mg magnesium glycinate and 550 mg of ginger when I feel the twinges of a migraine beginning.  Put in my earplugs. Head home.  Eat chicken nuggets drowned in yellow mustard (try searching “yellow mustard for headaches”).  Put an ice pack on my head and rest.
  • 1 hour – DONE – move on

Obviously, this still means that I don’t go very far from my home.  I haven’t figured that one out yet, and I haven’t successfully travelled without getting migraines yet.  However, I do have something that I can do for my migraines to keep them from being multi-day events.  Therefore, I feel that they are “under control” by my definition, and that is progress from where I was just a year and a half ago.

Anti-Perspirant, but NOT Anti-Migraine

Besides the obvious huge benefit of painlessness, a side benefit of having my migraines under control is that I can isolate a trigger if I do get a migraine.  In the past few months, I have had very few, but I want to share what I have found with the hope that you might benefit.

Antiperspirants trigger migraines for me.  I had been using Milk of Magnesia (more on this later), but recently needed to have the more reliable stick on some days that required me to go longer without a shower than normal.  Not knowing that this would end up being a trigger, I didn’t really think about the pain impact; I just used it.  However, I started noticing a pattern.  Every day after I used it, I had a migraine. Once I noticed this pattern, I quit using it, and the migraines stopped.  I now use only Milk of Magnesia no matter what my shower schedule is.

When I originally started having debilitating migraines, I tried everything I could come up with to make them go away; I’m sure many of you can relate.  Included in “everything” was using Milk of Magnesia as an anti-perspirant based on a passing comment from a friend.  It worked for me, and I thought, “I could use extra magnesium to fight this pain anyway.” At that time, I really didn’t know how much (if any) of an impact this was having on reducing my migraine severity or frequency since I had so many other triggers actively affecting me.  However, now I know.

From a practical standpoint, I’m sure you’re thinking, “what a mess.”  Milk of Magnesia is a mess, but I have figured out how to make it less of a mess, and the lack of pain from it is worth it.  Here is what I do:

  1. I buy unflavored Milk of Magnesia (MOM).  Scents bother me anyway, but who really wants to smell like wild cherries, strawberries, or mint?
  2. I fill the little cup that comes attached to the bottle with MOM and place it uncovered in my medicine cabinet.  The water evaporates slowly which leaves thicker MOM in the cup.  I dip a couple of fingertips in and apply it like a lotion.  As the MOM gets thicker, it is even easier to apply and faster to dry.  Once it is dry, I just add more MOM and stir it gently with a finger to blend in the drier clumps.
  3. When I need to travel, I do step #2 in a container that can be covered with a lid or pour MOM into a small travel bottle with a pop-up lid.  This bottle eventually gets pretty messy and has to be replaced, but these are inexpensive, and I really don’t travel much anymore anyway.
  4. I budget “drying time” into my schedule.  This is really only a few minutes, but it is longer than a stick.  It is also dependent on how thick your MOM is.
  5. MOM does leave a white residue which may be disappointing to those of you who like to wear no-sleeve shirts.  I either am really careful about how I apply it on no-sleeve shirt days or just don’t care and do it anyway.  Once again, the lack of pain is worth it!

Note that Milk of Magnesia as a replacement for standard antiperspirants may not work for everyone.  My kids are at ages that involve a higher degree of perspiration and odor, and it is not effective for them. However, they don’t have migraines either.  Therefore, they aren’t as motivated to make it work for them. I’m interested to know if this is effective as an antiperspirant for any of you suffering from migraines.  You might not feel an immediate impact on your migraines if you have other active triggers, but it might be part of the solution.

It’s Chemistry!

It’s been a while since I posted, but I do have some updates that I hope are helpful to someone.

I am still on the diet that I have been following while posting here with the following exceptions:

  • I have successfully added almonds back into my diet as indicated by some of my later posts.
  • I have eliminated Craisins because I was finding that my migraines became more frequent when I ate them (see modification of this granola recipe).

As I’ve noted previously, my migraines decreased in frequency and intensity with my diet changes, but they were still debilitating enough to make a major impact on my life.  So, I kept trying to figure out what else to do.  Some of my attempts are noted under the “Thoughts” portion of this blog.  None of these was a complete solution though.

My research indicated that more women have migraines than men, and that women on synthetic hormones (hrt and birth control) tend to have problems in this regard.  I have been on synthetic estrogen for 15 years and decided that it was time to stop.  Getting off of hrt is not an easy task, and the withdrawal can actually induce migraines if it is done too quickly.  While it was difficult, I noticed a gradual reduction in migraine episodes while I was decreasing.  In fact, even though I didn’t take my last dose until the first week of December, I hadn’t had a migraine since the first week of November.  And I still hadn’t had one until the last 3 days…….

Both of these last 2 migraines were caused by exposure to chemicals in the air.  The November one was due to a Glade air freshener, and this second one was due to a very strong cream someone near me was wearing.  By eliminating the food triggers and the hormones, at least I was able to tell that fragrances seem to be my remaining issue.  I have had no migraines associated with weather changes as I had previously considered.  I have also been able to tolerate more light than I had been, but I still do use my clip and visor at times.

My conclusion is that chemicals that get into my brain are the cause of my migraines.  The tyramine in foods, synthetic hormones, and fragrances (or associated tag-along chemicals) are the culprits. Eliminating exposure to these has been helpful for me, but it is not always possible.  In fact, my life is becoming lonelier as I am having to refrain from being around people with fragranced cream, laundry detergent, shampoo, hairspray, etc..  Unfortunately, this includes most people unless they make their own or use products that are TRULY fragrance free.

I have found magnesium supplementation to be helpful when I do start having head pain.  However, it works best if the exposure to the fragrance is limited to a short time.  Once a migraine is full blown, magnesium dulls the pain, but doesn’t completely halt the migraine with all of its other symptoms.  My main course of action in these cases is to clear my schedule for a couple of days, hunker down with ice packs and ear plugs, and trust God.

I have not found stimulating the daith region of my ears to be of much help, and I’m glad I was able to determine this before having the piercings.  I get temporary minor relief by massage of the area, but it is not significant and does not consistently work for me.

I don’t plan any diet changes as this point.  Someday, I may be able to add more foods back in, but I simply want to enjoy having more pain-free days for now.  My hope is that, over the next few months, my body will adjust to the lack of estrogen and the migraine days will be far between.  I’ll post updates as I find out!

Maple Granola

Quinoa Granola

 

Although Pumpkin Granola is the one we go through the fastest, here is another great one that doesn’t have migraine triggers.  We used to add Cranraisins to this recipe, but discovered that these are major migraine triggers for us; the granola is a great snack without them though.

Maple Granola

Quinoa Granola
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla

  1. Optional step:  The quinoa can be rinsed and toasted in a skillet to give it a “nuttier” flavor.  However, this is time consuming and not necessary in my opinion.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  4. Place granola on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees in 10 minute increments until dry (approximately 30 minutes depending on your oven).  After each 10 minute increment, stir the granola to keep the edges from burning.  Once the granola is almost dry, turn the oven off, prop the door slightly open, and allow the warmth to complete the drying process.
  5. Although we have never added hemp hearts to this recipe, we are experimenting with them and plan to try this at some point.

Roasted Vegetables with Quinoa Rice

Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Rice pic

This is one that my kids ask for every week!  I had a hard time getting a picture that does this dish justice, but it is definitely a “go-to” recipe for migraine avoidance in our family.  We love it served by itself or as a side to steak.

Note: I freeze zucchini and yellow squash cubes during the summer when it is plentiful to use through the winter for this dish.  Squash will be soft after freezing, but it works well in this dish.  Our favorite is the yellow squash, but the zucchini just keeps on coming all summer long, so we end up using it more often.

Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Rice

Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Rice pic

2 sweet potatoes
3 small gold or white potatoes
4 large carrots
1 small to medium zucchini or yellow squash
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed
olive oil
garlic cloves or powder
basil
sea salt
1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup quinoa
2 cups broth

  1. Cut all vegetables into 1/2 inch cubes and place in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Drizzle olive oil lightly over the vegetables and toss.
  3. Sprinkle with garlic powder, basil, and sea salt.
  4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until tender.  Sometimes, we remove the aluminum foil halfway through the baking cycle if we desire the vegetables to brown.  Check for tenderness with a fork.
  5. Once the vegetables are in the oven, cook the rice and quinoa in the broth in a medium saucepan.  Leave the lid on after it finishes cooking until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Serve vegetables on top of the quinoa rice.

 

 

Barbecue Sauce for Chicken

barbecue-sauce

I always thought tomato sauce and onions were essential in any recipe for barbecue sauce, but here is a recipe that we have worked out without these migraine triggers.  We enjoy it with this potato recipe.

Barbecue Sauce

Makes 1 cup sauce, just right for shredded chicken from 2 breasts

barbecue-sauce

1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup molases
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 cup distilled white vinegar
1/6 cup honey
1/8 tsp. oregano
1/8 tsp. thyme
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

  1. Blend all ingredients together and pour over shredded chicken from 2 breasts.
  2. Stir to evenly coat and serve warm.

Controlling the Vision Superpower

Those of you with migraines probably have experienced extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, etc.  I’m not sure if these superpowers are the causes or the effects of migraines, but it seems that they can be both.  It just seems to be all wrapped up together when the “beast inside is awakened.”  The desire to avoid the triggers at all costs is as intense as the misery they cause, limiting my involvement in work, leisure, church, and social gatherings.  However, the desire to figure out how to be able to participate is also strong.  As a result, I have spent much of this summer trying to figure out how to wrestle with the Vision Superpower.

So, how do you block the light enough to be able to think past the sensory input but still allow enough sensation in to be able to see what you are doing?  Axon Optics and Theraspecs propose that blocking a certain wavelength of light is the key issue for migraine sufferers.  Eager to explore the option, I ordered an indoor pair and an outdoor pair of lenses to try over my current prescription glasses.  I found that the indoor pair did help to reduce the intense feeling of light from the sun coming in the window, computer screens, and headlight glare on the road at night.  The outdoor pair did not help AT ALL when outside.  The sun was still simply way too intense; I needed major light blockage of more wavelengths to be able to survive outside.  Both pairs were extremely heavy and uncomfortable to wear over my prescription glasses.  Axon and Theraspecs do not offer refunds for glasses with prescription versions of their lenses.  I have a complicated prescription, and my optometrist always works with me to get the lenses correct before I complete payment.  So, I turned to him next rather than end up with a non-refundable pair.

For the outdoor glasses, I tried 2 different pairs of prescription sunglasses.  The first was a wrap version that is commonly used for sports, like biking.  These felt fantastic, because the gasket material that is used to block sweat for bikers served to seal out all light from the top, bottom, and sides for me.  The glasses were also very dark, blocking a high percentage of many wavelengths.  The problem for me though was that the distortion of the bent prescription lenses was so severe that I felt like I would kick into my migraine-induced vertigo with the slightest movement of my head or eyes.

Next, I tried safety glasses with prescription sunglass lenses.  These weren’t as ugly as you can imagine; they were actually very sporty.  The great part was that it appeared as if a major portion of the light from the sides would be blocked by the side panels.  In the trial pair, the lens portion was as flat as my regular glasses giving me the impression that I had finally found something that would meet my needs.  I was surprised when I tried on the pair with my prescriptions though.  Evidently, prescription lenses are thicker than sample lenses which caused the frames to bend in a way that they wouldn’t even stay on my ears.  I gave up on prescription sunglasses at this point, went back to my old Jonathan Paul Fit Overs, and decided that I would do my gardening in the evening rather than the bright afternoon sun.  BTW – the Jonathan Paul Fit Overs, are lightweight and block a good portion of light, but they just seem to be too big for my narrow face.  It’s the best I’ve got for now.

Chemistrie ClipMy indoor option hasn’t been as difficult.  I now have new prescription glasses with tiny magnets in them that match to magnets in rose-colored clip lenses from Chemistrie.  The Theraspecs website states that all rose-colored lenses aren’t necessarily blocking the correct wavelengths for migraineurs.  However, my own logic tells me that there is probably a wider band of wavelengths that could help as demonstrated by the fact that Axon’s lenses are pink-ish and Theraspecs lenses are orange-ish.  I have found that my Chemistrie clip lenses (rose-colored) have reduced my pain when shopping in big box stores with flourescent lights, working where glare is present, looking out the windows of my house, and worshipping at church where the chandeliers can cause problems for me.  I do note that they do not work with my computer screen, because I basically just see rainbows.  I don’t think that I had this problem with the Axon Over-Rx during my trial of them.  However, the Chemistrie tinted clip is amazingly easy to put on, take off (leaving me with just un-tinted prescription lenses without the clip), and store in a slim sleeve for the next use.  It is also helpful in many situations that used to cause me problems.  They are darker than I had expected (block around 50% of the rose wavelength), but I am actually finding that I like it this way.  When I need the blockage, I’ve got it!  When I don’t, I can get rid of it quickly and easily.  An added bonus: the clips are much more attractive than the Over-Rx:)

Visor and clipI saved the best for last.  The least expensive and most helpful tool for conquering the Vision Superpower is this visor from Scala.  Wow – this thing blocks light in EXACTLY the way that I need it to.  It is much much more effective than any hat or visor I have tried yet.  The band is very soft so that I don’t initiate any head-squeezing-migraine-coming-on kind of feeling. I find myself wearing this……..all……..day………long……..sometimes, because it blocks the direct light from bulbs overhead without preventing me from having enough light on my tasks.  My recommendations are to purchase the navy blue so that you don’t have reflection from a lighter color and to remove the “lovely” bow that is attached to the back by a few simple stitches:)