My Personal Migraine Saga

Martie’s story: It was a dark and stormy night…no, wait that’s another story. My headaches started in college. If you’ve been blessed to never endure a migraine you may not be able to imagine the misery. Besides the incessant pounding pain and the accompanying nausea, every beam of light, sound, pressure and smell is yet another insult. I’d be totally wiped out for a day or two.

My doctors had only been trained to suggest the latest pain killer. None of the drugs helped but at least they upset my stomach. I asked one particularly sympathetic doc what might be causing the pain. He gave me a look that said “what planet are you from?” In spite of his shock, he did his best to respond to my odd request. He asked: Have you had your eyes checked? (Yes) Are you under stress? (Yes. I was always under stress but only had the headaches sometimes.)

More than a decade later I was still having some migraine episodes when I stopped in a health food store for a snack. On the counter I spotted an article about headaches mentioned on the cover of a Let’s Live magazine. While the article discussed mainly migraine triggers like aged cheese and wine, it was absolutely my very first clue that I might actually have some control over the cause of my distress.

So, one day when I was enduring a particularly awful thumper, in desperation I angrily swore off of food entirely as though it contained poison. After a day or so, not only was the headache gone, I felt better than I had in a long time…clearer, cheerier and more energetic. Knowing that I was definitely onto something, I sought out a different kind of doctor for guidance. Don Mannerberg, MD was an integrative practitioner before the term even came into use. With his testing and teaching and I was finally rid of the migraines that had slowed me down for probably 20 years. Dr. Mannerberg later moved from the Dallas area to somewhere around Austin. If anyone knows how to contact him, I’d like to thank him for starting me on such a satisfying mission.

About now you are probably asking what in the heck we did to cure the migraines. There isn’t space here but next week I’ll go into detail. If you know of someone with migraines (Hello Michelle?) please let them know to subscribe before next week. Hint: I can tell you that the “…pain in the rear” in the subject line isn’t just a silly play on words.

After my epiphany that food might somehow be related to those crushing headaches, I sought out an integrative physician. Dr. Mannerberg helped me discover and fix the following contributing factors. Although it is rather like peeling the layers of an onion and I didn’t necessarily tackle them in this order, I’ve ranked them here based on what I now know were the priorities:

Good bugs. Our friendly intestinal bacteria (a.k.a. flora or probiotics) perform many roles. Among them is to reduce toxins and protect us from the overgrowth of yeasts. I didn’t have a test then to confirm that I was out of balance, but looking back I can see the clues were there. For one thing, taking probiotics was one of the steps that helped. Also, and this is wierd, my first husband, Cornell (Andy’s dad) said once that my eyes were bluish most of the time but green at other times. I thought he was nuts especially when he said I was crankier the greener they got. Now I know that a toxic liver can make the eyes more yellow. Hmmm, blue plus yellow makes green. (Cornell, if you are reading this, I’m sorry I doubted you.) As you probably know by now, my favorite probiotic is Dr. Ohhira’s.

Food sensitivities. Although the foods that are traditionally pegged as “migraine triggers” did have some effect, other foods did too. Wheat and baker’s yeast seemed to be biggies for me but for someone else it might be cashews, celery or flounder. The food sensitivities were apparently one result of having yeasts in my system. When the intestinal balance was restored with probiotics and the appropriate yeast control diet, the sensitivities disappeared.

Mineral deficiency. I was short on several but must have been very low in magnesium because I also had bad monthly cramping. Magnesium is relaxing and apparently helps avoid the muscular and arterial contractions that can be factors in bringing on various kinds of headaches. Stress further reduces magnesium levels. It was such a big help that I’m sure it’s one reason I’m such a fan of this widely deficient and under-appreciated mineral.

Low thyroid. There have been anecdotal reports of hypothyroid being linked to migraines but only now is the connection showing up in the medical literature. The conditions appear together, but it will be a while before they know if low thyroid causes headaches or it is just another symptom of imbalances like those I’m discussing here. I just know that for me supplementing my thyroid helped the headaches.

Hydration. Getting enough fluid is protection against headaches for several reasons. An obvious one is that it helps flush toxins. One of the worst headaches I ever had was at the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby. (Now you know for sure I’m not 30 years old). My friends and I were in the infield in the sun away from water. Worse yet, the air was saturated with smoke—lots of it (much of it from wacky tabcky)! Look at that list above of contributing causes (and there are more). It is certainly no wonder that my doctors just wanted to write me a prescription. Chasing down those issues would take a lot of time insurance wouldn’t reimburse. Also, the very concept and many of the topics are outside their formal training. Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical rep is in their waiting room with the latest and greatest chemical alleged to suppress the symptom.

Ileocecal valve. This item may be in the category of TMI (too much information), but I’ll tell it anyway because it might help someone. This sphincter (ring of muscle) regulates the flow of food from the small intestine (where nutrients are absorbed) into the large intestine or colon (where waste is prepared for exit to the porcelain). On my quest to banish the headaches, a chiropractor determined that this sphincter was basically cramped in the “open” position. (He used muscle testing to identify the problem and showed me a massage technique I could use to close it.) Why this matters is that if toxic substances are allowed to flow back into the small intestine, they can also get into circulation. Once in the blood stream they can cause trouble anywhere. In my case I guess my weak spot must have been my brain. You can see how gas in the lower intestine could make matters worse.

Hormones. I pretty quickly eliminated all my pain except a headache that I could expect punctually every month. That was a pretty clear indication that it was hormonal and progesterone cream solved that final problem.

I was so amazed when I was able to rid myself of my decades-long battle with migraines that a big cartoonish light bulb went off over my head. I asked myself “what else does mainstream medicine not know how to handle this natural common sense way?” I now know the answer—a shocking amount! Look at that list above of contributing causes (and there are more). It is certainly no wonder that my doctors just wanted to write me a prescription. Chasing those issues would take a lot of time office that insurance wouldn’t reimburse for. Also, most of them are outside their formal training. Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical rep is in their waiting room with the latest and greatest chemical alleged to suppress the symptom.

Copyright 2011 and 2014 by Martie Whittekin, CCN

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