It is estimated that between six and eight million people in the UK suffer from regular migraines. And women are twice as likely as men to suffer from them. These figures are only rough estimates though as it is believed that as many as 50-60% of people who suffer from migraines never visit their GP. The average migraine sufferer (if there is such a creature) will have approximately 13-15 attacks a year.
Staggeringly, migraines cost the NHS more than £1 billion per year. And what is particularly frustrating is that in the vast majority of these cases simple dietary modifications can prevent them from ever occurring again.
The condition can be absolutely debilitating for sufferers. Symptoms range from seeing flashing lights, vomiting, severe headaches (usually down one side of the head) and even partial loss of sight in severe cases. These attacks can last for a few hours or even for days on end.
The vast majority of migraines can be directly linked to food intolerances. The main two culprits are wheat and milk. These may account for approximately 80-90% of cases. What is also interesting is that in a large proportion of migraine sufferers (40-50%) they have the bacteria helicobacter pylori living in their stomach and intestines. Other fairly common triggers for migraines are a poorly functioning liver as a result of alcohol consumption, too much caffeine, too much saturated fat in your diet and a lack of water (you should aim for approximately 2 litres a day – more if exercising). The weather, high stress levels and poor sleeping patterns can also exacerbate the condition.
Below is a list of some of the worst and best foods to eat if you are a migraine sufferer. Just keep in mind though that everyone is different. A food that triggers a migraine in you may not cause symptoms in somebody else. I suggest that as well as modifying your diet around the below foods, you also keep a diary of the foods you are eating until your symptoms are completely eradicated.
Common Migraine Triggers
- Cheese, dairy, milk and wheat are among the most common triggers. Many sufferers also report migraines developing after consuming citrus fruits, peanuts, crisps, biscuits, corn and chocolate.
- Avoid all processed and refined sugars – found in all processed foods!
- Avoid artificial flavours, colours, preservatives and anything else that is not natural.
- Avoid or limit animal fats and other foods that contain hydrogenated fats.
- Reduce the amount of animal proteins and meats that you consume (and also eggs). We know from lots of research that those who eat dramatically fewer saturated fats experience dramatically fewer migraine attacks.
- Another common trigger that people don’t know about is associated to infrequent bowel movements. When food is sat in the intestines, certain bacteria can easily convert tyrosine to tyramine. Tyramine can then circulate in the body and trigger migraine attacks.
- Two great fruits to eat on a regular basis are papaya and pineapples. Both have enzymes that help the body digest foods. This will help keep you regular and prevent tyramine build-up.
- Incorporate more turmeric into your foods. It is one of the most potent anti-inflammatories in the world and known to reduce the symptoms of migraine attacks.
- Try and aim for at least nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day (opt for organic if you can). This will ensure your fibre intake is above 35 grams a day and that the amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds circulating in the body are greatly increased.
- Dehydration massively exacerbates migraines. Ensure you drink a minimum of two litres a day. More if you are exercising.
- Make your own wheat free bread.
- Drink more herbal teas.
- Stress less (try yoga) or listening to relaxing music.
- Try green juices if you aren’t already.
As more and more of us are becoming sicker and fatter than ever before, the NHS and other healthcare systems throughout the world are starting to buckle under the immense pressure. Many of these diseases (diabetes, heart disease, strokes and certain cancers etc, etc) that are crippling our economies and healthcare systems are both preventable and in many cases reversible. Yet we continue with the ethos of “a pill for every ill”. This approach is unsustainable and will result in healthcare systems that are no longer free at the point of entry.
It is slightly encouraging though that even in the NHS there are now rumblings of the word “prevention” rather than cure. While it has taken a recession to bring about a glimpse of change, there is still a long way to go. And frustratingly, in many corners of the NHS, prevention still means the use of medicine and drugs.
Every year doctors are writing well over a billion prescriptions in the UK (that’s over 2,100 every 60 seconds). And many of these prescriptions are labelled as preventative medicines such as statins. Statins dwarf all other prescriptions and since coming onto the market Lipitor has generated eye watering profits of well over £870 billion. Yet study after study have proved that these medicines offer little benefit unless you already have advanced heart disease. Yet we continue to push these pills to people who only have a small risk of developing heart disease rather than advising people to remove or reduce animal products from their diets (cholesterol only comes from meat, dairy and eggs). It’s a similar story where preventative cancer medicines are used. Herceptin is used as a preventative breast cancer medicine, yet again, studies have shown that the drug is largely ineffective at preventing breast cancer, unless you are unfortunate enough to carry the Her2 gene. This haphazard approach has seen profits skyrocket and the drug is in the top fifteen profitable drugs in the world. Tamoxifen and Raloxifene (block Oestrogen production in the body) are also routinely prescribed as preventative medicines with little evidence that they actually reduce breast cancer rates.
Again, why not advise women to avoid meat, eggs and dairy (the reason why women have high Oestrogen levels)? By reducing animal proteins, you also reduce the growth hormone IGF-1 in your diet (a known risk factor for causing breast cancer cells to grow very fast). Women who adopt this approach in countries like Japan have 50 times fewer breast cancer incidences.
Similar illogical thought processes can also be seen with Alzheimer’s. One of the biggest risk factors for developing the disease is long term elevated blood pressure. But instead of investing money into campaigns to educate people to reduce their blood pressure through dietary and lifestyle modifications, the money has been invested in preventative drugs like calcium channel blockers. So again, instead of treating the underlying cause, we are just masking the symptoms with drugs.
In my eyes, a health care system should always look to fix the underlying cause of a disease. If it’s not doing this then it will always fail and costs will spiral out of control. Diseases are not a deficiency of medicines, they are a deficiency of vitamins and minerals. Ironically, the “preventative” drugs that doctors are prescribing are actually robbing the body further of vitamins and minerals and compounding the issue. This is a scary precedent we are setting for ourselves. We are beginning to proceed with medical systems where normal fit and healthy people will be prescribed with numerous daily pills to prevent diseases. Yet, free, safe and far more effective dietary changes are being ignored, mainly because the whole system is conducive to profit over real health. And if the media continues to produce misinformed news on the subject, confusion will continue to engulf the public and the pharmaceutical industry will continue to become ever more profitable. But at what cost?
Anyone with half a brain cell knows that true prevention is better than any cure a pharmaceutical company can produce. Yet we continue with investing vast sums in drug research rather than investing some of this money into true preventative research and its associated educative public campaigns. All the time this continues we will continue to destroy our current healthcare models and eventually yours and my families will no longer be afforded with free healthcare at the point of entry.
Dr Michael Greger talks about this very subject in one of his must watch videos
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