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!

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:)

 

Migraine Control: Fragrances

Several weeks ago, I had one of my worst migraines following a visit to a doctor’s office.  A Glade Plug-in was running in the waiting room, and I smelled it the instant I entered.  I requested to be taken back to a different waiting room with the hope that I could avoid the pain that these little tormentors have caused in the past.  This fast escape wasn’t fast enough or far enough though.  Even though I spent less than 5 minutes in the waiting room, I had a migraine that lasted for the next 5 days.  Evidently, people had smoked in the waiting room since I had last been there, and the doctor didn’t want the room to smell like smoke.  This thought just blows my mind!  Isn’t smoking inside a public place prohibited?  Why not deal with the root cause of the problem rather than just cover it up with neurotoxins and carcinogens.

Seriously, air fresheners contain formaldehyde (which is a known carcinogen), xylene (a neurotoxin), toluene (known to cause kidney and liver damage), etc.  In this article, manufacturers claim that the levels of chemicals that are emitted by air fresheners, laundry detergent, fabric softener are “not known to cause any problems.”  Well, let me testify – it’s a problem for me!  Other migraineurs also have this problem as reported on migraine.com.

Lavender growing in my garden

Lavender growing in my garden

Lavender wands

Lavender wands

There doesn’t seem to be much I can do about the world outside of my house with regard to fragrances, but here are 3 things that I do at my house.  First, I enjoy natural scents such as lavender.  I enjoy growing it in my garden and using it to make lavender wands to bring inside my house.

Secondly, I use shampoo, conditioner, and cream from National Allergy Supply.  These products have no fragrance or masking fragrance and have the double advantage of not causing allergic reactions or migraines for me.

Lastly, I make my own laundry detergent so that I’m not carrying a migraine-inducing fragrance around with me all day long.  The recipe for the laundry detergent included below does include borax which is noted to cause skin and respiratory irritation for some people, but I haven’t had these problems.  The amount used is so minimal per load, and it is washed out by the washing machine.  I also try to minimize the amount of time it is heated on the stove by making sure that the water is already simmering before I add it.  And – there’s rarely a perfect solution to a problem.  We just do the best we can.  Here’s the plus side:

In the same way that water tastes like nothing, my clothes smell like nothing:)

It Smells Like Nothing Laundry Detergent

1 cup water
1/4 bar grated Kirk’s Fragrance Free Castille soap
1/4 cup Arm and Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda)
1/8 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

  1. Fill a 2.75 qt. (or so) container (like a pitcher) 3/4 full with hot water.
  2. Heat the water in a small saucepan until simmering.
  3. Add the castille soap and stir until completely dissolved.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until completely dissolved.
  5. Remove from the heat and add to the pitcher.
  6. Fill the container the rest of the way with tap water and allow to cool.
  7. Note that the detergent will thicken over the next few days, but not completely turn to get as with other similar recipes.  This is already thinned so that I pour from my pitcher into the machine.  I use 1 to 2 Tbsp. per load depending on the load size.
  8. When your clothes are finished, smell NOTHING:)

I Absolutely Know

I absolutely know how many of you feel.  You may think that because my focus is posting recipes and encouraging messages about how well my migraine diet has worked that I don’t still experience migraines.  Sometimes some of them are still pretty bad.  The past couple of weeks have been particularly challenging for me.  Many things besides foods still trigger my pain.  Many of them I cannot control.  That is why I am so glad that I am able to control my diet, which has reduced the severity of most of my migraines.  However, there isn’t much else I can do that really makes the pain go away.  Many of you experience exactly the same thing.  We’ve been to many doctors and tried many treatments to no avail.

I’m writing this post in the midst of much pain, because I want to testify for you how I make it through.  This pain (and the dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and the superpowers of severe sensitivity to sounds, smells, lights, touch, and some tastes) bring me to a point of utter helplessness – in myself.  The fact that there isn’t much that I can do to relieve the pain is very humbling.  This is exactly where God wants us to be so that we realize that we need something bigger than ourselves.  Sometimes, I feel that I need a parent’s lap to crawl into like I did when I was a child.  I need that lap and the enfolding arms to just make it all better.  This is what God provides through faith in Jesus Christ.  He just wants us to accept this gift He offers.

God absolutely knows how we feel.  He does not take delight in our physical or emotional pain, but He does use it for something good.  He promises that He will do this.  It’s just that His definition of good is very often different from our definition of good.  This is similar to a child who might think that eating 30 cookies would be good for him, but the parent knows better.  I’ve wondered what good could possibly come from feeling so much physical pain.  While I now trust that I don’t need to know, it is still helpful to me to reflect on how I have seen Him work and consider what He might still have in store.  I admit that this reflection is probably not something that I would have done if I wasn’t going through this trial.  He knows that, so He allowed the trial.  Awareness of God’s care and His promises to do so in the future is what helps me persevere.

Here are some of the ways that I have seen good come from this trial.  There are probably 10,000 other good things of which I am unaware.

  • My pain helps me to understand the pain of others.  If I wasn’t going through it myself, my testimony above would be harder for you to accept.  Also, the depth of pain and the relative relief I have found through diet changes is what inspired me to start this blog with the hope that something might be helpful to others.
  • Feeling so physically awful has caused me to think about death and trusting God to care for my family whenever my day comes.  I’m learning to accept that I can’t hold onto my kids forever.  I have loved being with them so much that I didn’t think that I could bear to let them become independent.  However, as I have become less able to do things, I am learning to be glad that they are increasingly able to do so.
  • These physical ailments are like little tastes of Hell that make me appreciate that I will some day go to Heaven instead.  I absolutely know this because of my faith in Jesus Christ.  The suffering makes me increasingly aware of the value of Christ’s sacrifice which is exactly what God wants me to focus on.  The glorified body that I will have for all eternity far outweighs the painful body that I have now.  I can wait for this comparatively short time to experience what is yet to come.

Food Triggers

I never realized how easy it would be to discover which foods trigger my migraines.  I’m not referring to the process of figuring out what to eat instead, which has required a lot of time and hard work.  However, determining the scope of what I am dealing with has been so easy that I don’t know why a medical professional didn’t suggest it sometime during the 15 years that I have been struggling with migraines and looking for help.

For a really long time, I didn’t realize that foods were even an issue.  I just kept going to doctors and physical therapists thinking that the rabbit trails we were going down with exercises and medications must eventually work, because these people knew about this stuff I was paying them to know about – right?  I did have a doctor recommend that I stop eating wheat, which reduced my overall body pain, and for that I am thankful.

About 5 years ago, chocolate became something that I didn’t want after I had a hallucination within an hour of eating it.  Caffeine decided that it no longer even wanted to stay in my body – or maybe it was my body that didn’t want the caffeine in it anymore after 20 years.  I literally just couldn’t “stomach” it anymore.  The logical part of my brain reasoned that human-created substances added to food simply couldn’t be good for me since God designed my body and the food that that would fuel it.  So, I stopped eating processed foods.  While elimination of wheat, chocolate, caffeine, and additives helped with my overall health, I continued to have migraines, vertigo, heart palpitations, fatigue, periods of brain fog, and severe neck and upper back pain.  At this point I really didn’t think that other foods could trigger migraines since I was still having them after eliminating some foods; I don’t know why I considered chocolate, caffeine, and additives to be “foods,” but wheat certainly is:)  So, I mistakenly thought that foods were not a problem for me.

However, as I discussed here, last fall I remembered someone telling me a long time ago that she couldn’t eat tomatoes since her head always hurt after she ate them.  Internet searching revealed many lists of foods that have the potential to do this.  So, I made a list and eliminated 3 or 4 of the items – I still had migraines.  I eliminated another one – I still had migraines.  I had to conclude 1 of 2 things – either food was not the issue or I hadn’t found all (or any) of the triggers yet.  Since I had spent 15 years in the “food isn’t my trigger” camp, I decided that the other conclusion was worthy of consideration.  As Buchholz points out in Chapter 4 of his book, “Heal Your Headache,” it is very difficult to figure out which foods trigger migraines without eliminating everything on the list at first to gain pain control.  Once this has been achieved, one food item at a time can be attempted to see if it triggers a migraine.  In this way, if I have a migraine following a food trial, I’m not left wondering, “Was it the beans I had 2 nights ago, the banana I had for breakfast, or the cheese in my salad dressing?”  I know exactly what to target, because there is only 1 thing it could be at any given time.  Admittedly, weather changes and fragrances are also triggers for me, but I simply don’t try to reintroduce a food on a day that these things are also present.  Now, weather changes and fragrances are the only triggers I have, and the resulting migraines no longer include vertigo and heart palpitations:)

The detective work involved in figuring out triggers is neither quick nor pleasant.  However, it is quicker, less painful, and more conclusive when the potential triggers are eliminated all together and reintroduced one at a time.  Some people may even find that no foods are triggering their migraines!  However, if you’re still having migraines, wouldn’t it be great to know for sure?  What if there is a food trigger in there waiting to be rooted out so that you could feel better able to do what you are called to do each day?

I don’t know if the following information is helpful to anyone, but it is a list of where I currently stand with my food triggers.  My recipes reflect this list.

Wheat (not currently able to eat)
Chocolate (will never try to reintroduce!)
Caffeine (will never try to reintroduce!)
Additives (not currently eating any)
Dairy (not currently able to eat)
Nuts (eat a small portion of almonds 1x/week with this recipe – my treat:))
Eggs (1 migraineur in the family is able to eat, but the other is not)
Beans (will never try to reintroduce because this is a vicious trigger for me)
Onions (able to use broth that contains onions, but I don’t eat onion otherwise)
Citrus (not currently able to eat)
Raspberries (not currently able to eat)
Tomatoes (not currently able to eat)
Apples (not currently eating but plan to try again soon)
Bananas (not currently able to eat)
Yeast (let homemade yeast bread sit 24 hours before eating or freezing)
Vinegar (only able to eat distilled white vinegar)
Soy (not currently able to eat)
Avocados (not currently able to eat)
Alcohol (haven’t had in a long time and don’t plan to reintroduce)
Corn (successfully reintroduced:))