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.
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!
I started a ketogenic diet for migraines about the same time as you did, June 2015. It has been miraculous for me as well. I have had migraines from age 9 (now 35) and they got really bad for they last 8 years or so (at least one a week plus feeling bad before and after); I was about to go to the dr. for Topamax, but met a friend with epilepsy and she was having success with keto for seizures, and starting researching keto to discover it is totally scientifically legit as a therapy. My brain started stabilizing right away (about 50% better) but after 4 months I started getting huge gaps between migraines, about 1.5-2 months. It has been 3 months now for me with zero migraine symptoms, not even a little bit. I am a biochemist, so I have been trying to research the biochemical story of why this works, and I the best theory is that neurons are not getting quite enough energy from glucose all the time, but ketones circumvent the problem and get the neurons enough energy to stabilize after firing. I made a how-to guide to share with others as well, because every day without a migraine is miraculous to me and I want to prevent migraines in others!!!
Hi! Thank you for your comment! I haven’t blogged in quite a while because things got so good for a while that I stopped obsessing over migraines (imagine that)! I have run into a bit of a rough patch just in the last month or so, but have not given up on the diet. I love hearing from others who also believe so deeply in the ketogenic diet as a treatment. There are not very many of us yet, but the numbers and awareness seems to be growing.
I am so happy to read your story. You sound very similar to me! Mom of 2 boys struggling with daily headaches! They got more severe after my second pregnancy… I’m struggling trying to get into ketogenesis (or a state of producing ketones). I’m close… just not consistent enough yet. I’m so hopeful after reading this!