Putting migraines in the same category as other manageable headaches is the most invalidating thing you can do when talking to someone who suffers with migraines. Migraine is a neurological disease that significantly decreases the sufferer’s quality of life. Compared to headaches from dipping blood sugar or a hangover, migraines are debilitating. My colleague, Katie, describes her migraines this way: “the feeling like your head is about to explode and that you better get in a dark and quiet room real fast.”
With unpredictable timing and duration, lasting anywhere between hours to days, plans can get derailed in the blink of an eye. It’s difficult for those of us who are lucky enough to be migraine-free to comprehend the sudden plummet into misery that requires separation from light and sound just to provide a little relief from the throbbing pain.
If someone receives a warning sign that a migraine is en route, it might be with a flash of light, a blurry visual spot, blind spots, or tingling in the face or an extremity. Some call this an “aura”, which may precede or accompany the migraine. Symptoms vary from person to person. While Katie doesn’t get an aura, she describes the additional unwelcome symptoms of nausea, dizziness, extreme light and sound sensitivity, pressure, and extreme exhaustion.
Naturally, migraine sufferers hunt for both a remedy and a formula for what triggers their migraines. When it comes to treatments, what works for one person may not work for another. (And by “works” we mean helps relieve or shorten symptoms, but to date there is not a treatment that can universally stop the migraine in its tracks.) For most, there is a period of trial and error before finding an individualized combination.
Katie has landed on a regimen that can provide slow relief most of the time: a cup of coffee, lots of water, pain medication (as often as it’s allowed), a dark and quiet room, and a nap. However, this doesn’t always help, and when it hasn’t, she has ended up in the emergency room (1.2 million emergency room visits each year are due to acute migraine attacks).
When it comes to potential triggers, the news is similar to information about remedies – it’s highly individual. What one person feels is a trigger might not be to someone else. And like remedies, what is a trigger one day may not be a trigger another day. For example, a client of mine felt that dark chocolate triggered his migraines, but every once in a while he would end up eating some dark chocolate without it resulting in a migraine.
Katie has determined that red wine is pretty likely to trigger a headache – a headache which may or may not lead to a migraine. She describes all alcohol as having trigger potential, but for her red wine is ranked at the top of the list. But avoiding red wine isn’t a solution for Katie’s migraines – it’s only one way she decreases her risk. She gets hit with debilitating migraines about once each month.
Migrainers are understandably desperate to find tools to help avoid and treat the agony of migraines. The potential for food as a treatment aid is something many have looked into and written about.
Let’s take a look at the claims about food and migraines.