Thanksgiving

imageLove, security, happiness and health are the main  human conditions that I think most would agree are the most sought after. I have always been in awe of the ways in which God has bestowed his blessings in my life. I sometimes feel unworthy of the embarresment of riches I possess in the loving relationships I have with an unbeleivably functional and happy family, financial and physical security, and a general happiness and love for life. For sure, I have had much to be thankful for.

However, there is one of these main conditions that I have ever felt was not quite fulfilled. I have struggled with an invisible disease that brought me severe pain, disability, and despair. I think the worst of these is despair. It’s the anxiety of going to bed not knowing if tomorrow would be ruined by another migraine. It’s waking the next day to a dull ache around my eyes and realizing that the day will in fact be ruined by a growing pain that forces me to guess what the best treatment might be. Should I try Excedrin Migraine and hope that it somehow does the trick this time? Every once in a while the migraine doesn’t get too awful, so should I just tough it out and see if it goes away? Or should I just bite the bullet and take a prescription triptan that takes the pain away in my head, but leaves me among the walking dead?

I really hate to be so melodramatic about it, because I really hate obsessing over negative things or those things that cannot be changed. The only reason I mention it is to accurately paint a picture of how my health has improved since going on the ketogenic diet. It has now been eight weeks since I have been forced to take a “toxic” triptan. It has been four weeks since I have experienced a headache that was at all bothersome. Admittedly, I was a little worried that I was jinxing myself when I started writing about this and I would soon go back to the daily anxiety. If anything, the opposite has happened.

I am overjoyed every day that I wake up without a migraine and am overwhelmed with thankfulness for each passing week that I remain migraine free. Is this the cure that I’ve prayed for? Honestly, the jury is still out and only time will tell. In the meantime I’ll add one more thing to my long list  of blessings to give thanks for this holiday season.

Low Carb Pumpkin Pie Dip

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Every year I look forward to the flavors of fall and I refuse to miss out this year because I’ve gone keto. This dessert/appetizer has been a favorite of mine for the past several years and so easy to “ketogenize.”

The base of the recipe is cream cheese and pumpkin, which are both diet approved. The problem with the original recipe is added sugar. I’ve always tried to avoid sugar substitutes as much as possible, but now that I’ve discovered that sugar is basically poisonous to me, the substitutes are probably a better choice. Because I’m kind of new to cooking and baking with sugar substitutes, I set out to do my research to find the best tasting with the fewest health concerns. What I discovered is a new natural sweetener called Swerve.
It is comprised of Erythritol (a sugar-alcohol) that is derived from fermented glucose from fruits and vegetables, and oligosaccharides which are sweet non-digestible carbs that are extracted from fruits and vegetables. The oligosaccharides are classified as prebiotics and may actually promote good gut health.

The other problem with the original recipe is that it is a dip. What does a person on a low carb diet use to dip with? I love the thin ginger snap cookies that I used to have with it, but they are sadly no longer part of my life. My replacement? Walnut halves. Actually very yummy with the added bonus of a nice dose of healthy fats.

Ingredients:

1 8oz package of cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 can of pumpkin

1/2 cup of Swerve sweetener, granulated

1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of cloves

Directions:

Combine all ingredients together and blend with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. I like to use my Blendtec blender for simple, small batch recipes like this one. If using a blender, add all ingredients to the jar and pulse several times until all ingredients are combined and smooth. Serve with walnut halves.

Keto Crash Course

What is the Ketogenic Diet, anyway?

When I first found myself on this journey, I had never in my life heard of the ketogenic diet. After reading a little about it, It seemed very simple: eat a lot of fat, moderate protein, and as few carbs as possible. The fact is, it really is that simple. Follow those basic principles and sooner or later you will find yourself in a state of ketosis, in which you are fueling your body primarily with fat instead of carbohydrates. Burning fat for fuel produces ketone bodies that help prevent the build up of glutamate in the brain that wreaks havoc on the brains of many of us migraine sufferers.

Depending on what source you seek for information about the ketogenic diet, a different answer to specific carbohydrate/protein/fat ratio may be given. Also, different sources list different limits to the total grams of carbs allowed per day. I think the bottom line is that everyone is different and will metabolize differently. I started my experiment by trying to stay under 30 grams of carbs per day and replacing the carbs I would normally eat with fat.

Here’s the problem. What can I eat? I know fat, but how? I mean, am I supposed to just open mouth, insert butter? I love guacamole! Avacados are loaded with healthy fat, so yay! Wait. No chips, you say? Bummer.

My clumsy start

After reading all I could about going keto, I picked one Saturday morning to get started. I decided to get a supercharged start with a “bulletproof coffee.” Many of you reading this will know what that is, but for the rest of you, it is coffee blended with one tablespoon of coconut oil and two tablespoons of butter. I downed my heavenly fatty coffee in about 15 minutes. One hour later, I was at a child’s birthday party bent over with stomach cramps. My body was not prepared for that much fat on an empty stomach.

Another problem was that my pantry was not prepared. I literally had nothing that I could eat. After the first week I had lost 3 pounds because I didn’t have any convenient calorie/fat dense foods. There’s actually nothing wrong with using your own body fat as fuel to feed your brain and body ketones, and for many people weight loss will be a welcome side effect of the ketogenic diet. For me, I needed to figure out a way to eat a lot more keto compliant calories per day.

Despite my slight bumps in the road, I found myself very quickly in a state of ketosis. How do you know if you are in ketosis? The answer just might be my “inner science nerd’s” favorite part of this whole journey. There are several ways to test for ketosis: blood, breath, and urine. Urine testing is all I’ve tried so far, honestly because it is so easy and cheap. The problem is that it will not always give you as accurate of a reading. If you have had any diuretics like alcohol or coffee, the ketones will be very diluted and the test may show very low levels of ketones. On the other hand, if you are very dehydrated, the test result will be very high ketones. Despite its shortcomings, I find the urine test to be very helpful and easy. The brand name test strip kit is Ketostix, but I have found that Walgreens sells a store brand in a value pack.image

Finding my way

I started experimenting in the kitchen and came up with some great recipes and meal ideas that I could live on and actually enjoy! I went to Costco and stocked up on giant bags of nuts and healthy oils like avacado oil. It became second nature to remove carbs from meals and replace them with healthy fats. I’m pretty sure that I gained all of my 3 pounds back on a sugar free cream cheese walnut dip that I created. So yummy!

A little later, I slowly started adding more and more carbs back into my diet every day to test my limits. What I found is that I can have up to around 40 grams of carbs per day, and as much as 75 grams of carbs as long as I am also supplementing with MCT oil or exogenous ketones. MCT stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides. Medium Chain Triglycerides are very ketogenic, meaning they go directly to your liver to immediately produce ketones. Supplementing with exogenous ketones is a little different in that you are literally feeding your body ketones rather than asking your body to produce ketones based upon what you are eating. I like to cheat on the diet more on the weekends, so I will just increase the amount of supplements on those days.

As a point of reference, there are approximately 13 – 15 grams of carbs in one slice of sandwich bread or one flour tortilla. There are 25 grams in one slice of Pizza Hut medium hand tossed pizza. One banana has a whopping 27 grams of carbohydrates! Sadly, I haven’t had much fruit since I started my diet. I do eat lower glycemic berries and all sorts of vegetables. Some starchy veggies like carrots have more carbs, but I don’t compulsively count them in my daily total. I usually try to keep my obvious carbs like grains and potatoes to less then 20 grams per day to give myself padding for all of the hidden carbs in “non-carb-obvious” foods.

My results

I have been following a ketogenic diet now for about 3 months. I had some cheat days, but I’ve mostly stuck to it very well. I have had a few migraines in the past 3 months, but compared to the almost daily headaches I was suffering, it has been an enormous improvement! The best part is that I haven’t had to take nearly as many of the horrible triptans to make the headaches go away. The few headaches I did get were much shorter in duration and almost all went away without prescription medication.

Other than my migraines greatly improving, I also noticed that my brain fog that I’ve experienced for the past 7 years has mostly lifted, and stopped having daily 1:30 pm carb crashes. All in all, I feel like my whole body and brain simply runs better. I compare it to different types of fuel for our cars. I think my body was made to run on premium instead of unleaded and I’ve finally found my premium fuel.

Migraine Miracle?

Miserable Beginning

My migraine story began about 8 years ago around the time I got married in my late 20’s. It wasn’t so bad at first. It started as what I thought were just bad headaches that just wouldn’t go away until I slept it off. These new headaches usually didn’t come around more than once per month. Finally, I told my doctor about them and also told him about my family history with migraines, so he gave me a sample of Imitrex. He told me that if it works, then I am having migraines. About an hour after I took it, my arms felt numb and I felt like I had a heavy weight on my chest. I also felt spacey and tired the rest of the day. But, no more headache. Migraines diagnosed.

For the first few years, it really wasn’t terrible.  I had a really bad headache about 12 days per year. Anyone can handle that. However, starting about three years ago following the birth of my second son, the headaches started becoming more frequent and severe. I would have bad months having 5 or 6 migraines, but then it would get better and I would go 2 or 3 months with only a few. Still, I managed okay, taking triptans like Imitrex with horrible side effects to kill each migraine.

Starting a year ago, everything changed for the worse. I went through a period of 8 weeks having a headache of some intensity for 5 out of 7 days per week. That’s 40 out of 56 days. That period of time was one of the darkest, most desperate times of my life. I finally made an appointment with a neurologist to explore daily preventative medications. Over the course of the next 6 months or so, I tried 3 different medications. They all worked okay on the migraines, reducing my almost daily migraines to only one per week or so. However, they all came with a list of side effects that made me question if they were worth it. I was still suffering one day per week with a migraine and bad side effects from the medication daily.

Coming into the Light

While all of this was happening, my interest in fitness was evolving. I discovered that I loved high intensity interval training (HIIT) and learned about all of the benefits, which I will dive into in a later post. In my research, I learned that HIIT can increase human growth hormone by up to 771%.  Wow. I’m not getting any younger, I could sure use more of that! Through further searching and browsing, I learned that intermittant fasting (IF) can also increase human growth hormone, so I decided to give it a try by ending my last meal by 6:30 pm and starting my first meal the next day at 11:30 am.  After almost a month of IF, I realized that I was feeling really good and didn’t seem to have as many migraines. Was it the increased HGH? I wasn’t sure, but I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

Putting the Pieces Together

At some point during my reading about IF, I learned about a metabolic state called ketosis in which the body uses fat as it’s primary energy source instead of glucose. Intermittant fasting promotes ketosis because glucose is depleted in the body and switches to body fat as its energy source. Cool, but what does this have to do with migraines? After more searching, I came across several studies including this one about twin sisters who saw significant improvement in their migraines while following a ketogenic diet. I also came across this landmark study that found that many migraine sufferers have a variation in a section of DNA that helps control the neurotransmitter glutamate. These migraine sufferers are prone to glutamate buildup in the brain. When too much glutamate builds up, it becomes excitotoxic and kills neurons. My research has taught me that there are many other common neurological conditions caused by excitotoxicity.  These include but are not limited to multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, ALS, HDHD and epilepsy.

The ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920s as a popular treatment for children experiencing epileptic seizures. It fell out of favor in the 1960s when prescription medications were developed. The recent studies about migraines are showing to be similar to diseases such as epilepsy in that they may be caused by damage by excitotoxic glutamate buildup.

How does the ketogenic diet control glutamate buildup? First, we need to know where glutamate comes from. Dietary carbohydrates are converted to glucose for fuel, which promotes the production of glutamate. When following a ketogenic diet, we drastically reduce our carbohydrate intake and replace with dietary fat. When fat is our primary fuel source, ketone bodies are produced and promote the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is not excitatory like glutamate and helps to control the buildup of glutamate.

Miraculous Results

I have been experimenting with the ketogenic diet now for 3 months. My results have been extraordinary. I have not been an entire 3 months completely migraine free, but the improvement was remarkable. The few migraine attacks that occurred always seemed to follow times when I gave into temptation and relaxed my intensity on my diet. I am still learning my personal carbohydrate limits and how to use ketone supplements at times when my resolve is not so strong. My intent for this blog is to share my knowledge and personal experiences with the hope that it will be a blessing in other migraine sufferers’ lives. I plan to share meal ideas, recipes, fitness and supplementation information.

I also hope that this site will become an online community for migraine sufferers learning to control their condition naturally.  I would love to hear from you!