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.

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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.

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!