Ep 54 – “Let Food be Thy Medicine” to Prevent Migraines [Interview]

Ep 54 – “Let Food be Thy Medicine” to Prevent Migraines [Interview]
Live Fit Podcast

00:00 / 39:19

natural migraine reliefVonnie began suffering from severe headaches when she was a teenager. After numerous attempts to quell the pain she began visiting physicians and was told she has classic migraines.

Standard pain medication made her dopey and unproductive, which hindered her work and made it difficult and dangerous to raise children. Plus, she didn’t want to mask the pain.

Vonnie found a better strategy for migraine relief – prevention.

Hippocrites said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”

Vonnie spent about two years researching, visiting a naturopath, and experimenting to discover what triggered her headaches. She found natural relief in the form of prevention in her diet and exercise habits. She found that many foods she ate were triggering headaches and often lead to life halting migraines. She found that if she eliminated these foods and exercised daily she could prevent the headache from starting and even on the few times when she felt a headache coming on, she could knock it down pretty quickly with an aspirin.

Migraine Triggers for Vonnie

  • Hard cheeses (especially Swiss)
  • Any foods with tyramine such as: cured meats, some beers, red wine, fermented foods, and even yeast extract.
  • Strong fragrances like perfume, diesel exhaust, etc.
  • Red wine
  • Chocolate
  • Flickering lights

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Glenn: Hi Vonnie. How are you?

Vonnie: Well, I’m doing really well, Glenn, and thanks for inviting me. I’m looking forward to it.

Glenn: Good. Good. I really appreciate you getting on the show. I know you’re hesitant because you’re not a doctor or a professor. You haven’t written a book and so you don’t consider yourself an expert in this field but you’re a regular person, right?

Vonnie: I am regular person. Yes, I am.

Glenn: And you’re a regular person who’s been battling something that is really quite devastating.

Vonnie: Yes, it started when I was a teenager and I had a few headaches, which I now know were migraine. I didn’t realize it at the time. And then when I got into my 20’s with young children and a business, that my husband and I had just bought and we’re attempting to get up and going, they became much more frequent, and probably due to a little bit of stress and some lack of sleep. And I went to see my regular GP and said, “I’m having headaches.” And he’s, “Okay, we’ll put you on some pain meds.” And I tried that for a year. But it more than likely masked and made it really like I didn’t care so much about whether I had a headache or not but it wasn’t the best solution for someone with young children and a business to run.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: And after I went back to see him and made it of course a scan to make sure I didn’t have any brain tumour or anything. And kind of just left it, “Well, you have headaches.” I felt pretty lost with ‘I hope I don’t have to live with these for the rest of my life.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: When I would get one, it would be a three-day event of severe pain like someone put a coal in to your head and it’s just burning there and I would wrap ice around my neck and my head, then lock myself in the back room with total darkness, because light and sound and of course nausea was a huge issue of vomiting regularly for you know at least 24 hours. And it didn’t lead to a real quality of life. And so I was searching for what I could do. And went to – just on my own — I went to an allergist because they said, “Well, maybe you’re allergic to something,” and nothing real definitive there, And eventually, I went to a naturopath who did find out that I was very allergic to mushrooms as well as aged-cheese, specifically  Swiss cheese, which is you know really odd. I don’t know why I’d get allergies. And I had sensitivities to a few other things, wheat and corn. And so of course, I cut those out completely and experimented with other you know cutting out dairy for a while. And that didn’t seem to make a difference, and still is having the headaches. And so looking again, I went back to my GP and he says, “Well, maybe we can refer you to somebody…” And I ended up seeing head of neurology. And the day I showed up there, I, of course, was having a migraine headache and in tears. And he looked at me and he says, “classic migraine headache,” which generally is one sided. It’s either gonna be on your left side or your right side. Your light, flickering lights, perfumes… For me, it was also diesel, the smell of the diesel.

Glenn: Wow.

Vonnie: And where I am, there’s a lot of equipment that’s being around. And so I kind of locked myself in the house. He prescribed Imitrex, which at that time, was just injectable so it would be subQ in the leg.

Glenn: Uhum.

Vonnie: And I would get literally the shakes knowing that I’m summing up with a headache, I had to give myself the shot.

Glenn: Wow.

Vonnie: And eventually, they had a pill. The only problem to that is when you have a pill, if you don’t recognize the signs of your headache coming on early enough, if you take that pill and you vomited it up, it is not gonna do you any good.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: Yeah. I also started exercising a lot more. I had one other health issue which was a little bit of osteoarthritis in my knees. And when I had gone for help with that, they said, “Well, bicycling is the best because it is a low impact.” And so I always… That was my first mode of transportation. I was like “Oh boy I get to ride a bicycle again.” And so I do that daily now. I ride a bike daily and I also do some hiking, a little bit of free weights because that’s important for your bones and just some yoga and some stretching. You learn to relax. You learn to take the days that come. And I am fortunate now to have probably a couple times a year, I get a headache. And knowing what will precipitate that and knowing the symptoms of that, I generally, when I start to get a headache, will take like a half of a pill. And if in 40 minutes it doesn’t knock it, I would know that this is going to be more serious. At which time, I would take just a 25 mg Imitrex.

Glenn: Uhum.

Vonnie: And generally, it does the job and I’m good to go. And it’s wonderful.

Glenn: Wow.

Vonnie: But it has been quite a journey of changing my diet to food that is not processed so I’m eating a lot of fruits and veg. And I do eat meat. It’s grass-fed. And we also have cows and chicken and fish. And so it’s things that aren’t processed. And it has helped me tremendously. I just feel more alive. And I feel actually better than I did probably 20 years ago. So, I’m really happy with the flow process of investigation. And it’s probably different for everyone what their triggers are and maybe what their food allergies are if they have them. So, it’s been an interesting journey.

Glenn: Yeah, it sounds like a really… Well, interesting is a nice way to put it when you describe the migraines. I’ve heard that before of how bad they are. I’m  fortunate enough to never have experienced it but you know the 2, 3 maybe four days laying in a darkened room, trending, you know flinching at every sound and beam of light and you know keep an ice on you — that sounds like a really, really horrible way to live. And when I hear what that’s like and for people who get those often, I you know — Excuse me for being bleak here — but what’s the motivator to stay alive, really. I mean, it sounds really horrible but you apparently have found a way through it and found what triggers it, which is fantastic. How long did this take from the time you saw the first doctor until you got to the point where you felt like you really had control?

Vonnie: Well, it took me two years just to get actually to see neurosurgeon who said ‘this is what you have’ and then it took another probably two years for me to figure out what worked the best for me. And I just have to go back to the bleakness of it. There were actually times when my head hurt so bad, I literally thought I was going to die. I mean I would have my husband come in and hold me because I didn’t know if I was going to be there in the next moment or not.

Glenn: Oh my god.

Vonnie: And, thinking you know should I be going to the hospital at this point. And fortunately, I didn’t need to go but I do know people who have gone to the ER for a shot or something to help them help them get through.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: So, I never enjoy hearing a person who says, “Oh my gosh, I have migraine” because unless you actually have one and have experienced it. The understanding of the pain a person goes through is kind of you know unless you have experienced it, you’re not gonna be saying, “Oh, yeah, a headache, I have those too.” And you’re like “No, no, the migraine.”

Glenn: Yeah, very different thing, very, very, very different. It’s you know the scale between the ant and a locomotive I think.

Vonnie: That’s honestly sometimes what it feels like running through your head, yes

Glenn: Wow, I am so sorry. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody that I know, anybody.

Vonnie: Yes, nor would I. Thank you.

Glenn: So from the time… So you said it took you two years to see the neurologist, that means you called up to make an appointment, and then they couldn’t get you in for two years?

Vonnie: Well, basically it wasn’t that I couldn’t get in for two years. It was kind of they didn’t know what to do with me. And I’m not sure why because it seems so cut and dried once they say you give them the symptoms but it was like “Well, we know you don’t have a brain tumour. And we know you don’t have allergies. And we don’t really know what to do with you in case you have headache.” I am not really sure why somebody just didn’t come out and say, “Well, you have migraine headaches.” And I know it was early on around the time that I would seen by the neurologist that they actually had come out with the Imitrex where they could actually you know give you something to help the headache. And to be honest with you, I don’t know if up until then, they actually had a medication that was specific for you know a migraine because they do have you know like maybe Tylenol migraine or something like that but it’s not the same class of medi–

Glenn: No, not at all.

Vonnie: Right. Right. And so I’m not real sure why it took so long and or if they thought maybe I was “So, here’s the lady that has headaches” and a headache is invisible.

Glenn: Right, you can’t really understand.

Vonnie: Yeah, when you complain about it, it’s like “Well, it’s all in her head obviously.” But the symptoms of you know the vomiting and just sensitivity to light is real, classic of what it can be. And so I would suggest anybody who has any symptoms like that, to see somebody who can get them help probably a little bit sooner and maybe it was me because I didn’t pursue it as hard as I should have thinking “Well, there is nothing they can do for me” but I don’t give up easily.

Glenn: Good.

Vonnie: So yeah, it was worth chasing, definitely. And I don’t mind… I do have a restricted diet. I mean as far I put restrictions on me because I do not want to eat the things that would you know; basically I see it poison that would cause the headache. And I function just fine. Life’s good.

Glenn: Now, I’m thinking of some the people out there listening and a lot of people are really – what’s the word? — resistant to give up certain foods that they really love. They just feel they have to have a particular food or to that… I don’t know, maybe it’s part of their being, their personality. I’m not sure but some people are really attached to certain foods. And I don’t think…. And there’s probably some people out there say “Oh just eat what you want and take an Imitrex.” Would that work for you?

Vonnie: Oh no, that would not work for me. I prefer to be a medication free, first of all.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: And secondly, to me it’s really important to be eating right. And I gave up sugar which basically is in the package foods. I still eat fruit, while there’s you know people could say “Well, there’s sugar and fruit.” Well, it’s a natural sugar.

Glenn: It’s different.

Vonnie: Yes, it’s completely different. You hit the nail on the head, Glenn, when you said a lot of people – it’s easier for them to take a medication than change their diet.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: But, for me for me it’s easier to change my diet. It has other benefits as well. I mean it didn’t just make me have less headaches. I have more strength and energy. It kind of took care of the little bit osteoarthritis that I had in my knees. It’s basically gone. I don’t know you know that maybe it’s just in my head but it helped me in so many other ways. It would be I think beneficial. It’s a mindset—

Glenn: It is.

Vonnie: –that you say it will make me better. And it is great.

Glenn: Well, I’ve heard the arthritis or joint pain, many times, being relieved from people who give up eating wheat. So I would say that’s probably the source of that relief right there.

Vonnie: Right, because I did. I gave up wheat. And I noticed that the corn, I might be able to have a few kernels of popcorn you know once or twice a year. But if I was to eat that regularly, I would be back as being headachy. And it is amazing how just a small of something too often. And I do make wicked sourdough bread though. So, it’s a wholegrain sourdough bread.

Glenn: So, you can it that?

Vonnie: Yes, I make that myself so it’s one of my little treat that I have once in a while, I don’t eat a lot of it but…

Glenn: Interesting.

Vonnie: Yeah, that’s just something I eat once in a while. And, so there are times you know you think “Yes, I can eat that” but when you have a reaction to it in a negative way, it’s like “Okay, no thank you. I don’t want that anymore.” And it becomes almost a fear. For me, it became a fear like I don’t want to touch that food again.

Glenn: I understand. If you can place a direct correlation between a certain food and your headache, that is going to be a huge deterrent. And my guess is that a lot of people are not as aware or are not able to tie those together as well as you have. And that’s why they have not yet found a natural solution and they end up taking the medication. So have you always—

Vonnie: Go ahead.

Glenn: Sorry, go ahead.

Vonnie: I was gonna say and it is a time-consuming process of eliminating certain things until you agree and do something and realize that that’s the issue. So, it is a little bit of time-consuming but it’s okay. In the long run, it’s worth it.

Glenn: Have you always been this in touch with your body? Or have you developed that sense? Because the reason I said that is I work with a lot of people that they are just sort of a separate. Their head and brain is completely separate from their body. And it’s almost like a remote control or maybe even some people even more connected to their car than they are at their own body. Have you always had this close connection? Were you an athlete when you were younger?

Vonnie: I was actually, in fact, that’s how I got some of my osteoarthritis from a sports injury and probably not as a real youngster but I was fortunate enough to have a mother who you know canned food and grew a garden. And so I ate well early on as a youngster. And then probably as a teenager, I got more into the junk food and of course you know it didn’t be as healthy as I should have been. But, I’ve been pretty — for the last 30 years, I’ve been pretty in tuned with what makes me feel good and the connection between eating right and having energy to do the things you want to do.

Glenn: So you’ve been then eating this way for about 30 years you’re saying.

Vonnie: I have.

Glenn: Well, you definitely nailed it. How often do you get headaches now? Let’s say migraines, how often?

Vonnie: Migraines, possibly 2 to 3 times a year. So, there are less and less and less. And I’m hoping I outgrow them completely. — two to three times a year, I can put up with that. I can do what I want.

Glenn: That’s great. I think that’s wonderful. Are they as bad as they once were? Or are you still in a cave for three days?

Vonnie: No, most of the time if I have to take some medication for it, I can control it from the onset. In the last two years, I remember having one of being in a cave for a week, or if not for a week but just a day. It was… But that was a circumstance of probably extreme stressed because my father-in-law had died and my son was heading off to Afghanistan. I think I just couldn’t stress out over it. So, yeah, unfortunately I didn’t give him a very good goodbye.

Glenn: Oh that’s too bad. But he came back and everything’s okay?

Vonnie: He came back. And he’s wonderful, yes.

Glenn: Fantastic. That’s good to hear. If I’m hearing you right, when you do have migraine now, you can pinpoint it to something that didn’t go quite as planned so either you let the stress build up or you ate something you shouldn’t have. Is that correct? Or do they ever come about, you have no idea why?

Vonnie: Rarely does it come about as I don’t know why, because one of the things I neglected to mention – and it’s very, very important to me — is that I get an adequate amount of sleep.

Glenn: Yes.

Vonnie: For me about seven or seven and half hours of sleep a night. And so if I sometimes if I stay out too late and sometimes it can be a combination of the three — you know staying up too long, not getting sleep I need, some extra stress and eating something I probably shouldn’t have. And sometimes that happens and I have tried to eliminate it is any type of sauce that’s in a package which I don’t use any way, but if I go to a potluck or a wedding and you know they have all these wonderful foods here. And if I accidentally take a mouthful of something I shouldn’t have, I will know it. And so I migrate toward the fresh fruits, veg and I stay even the processed meat, the nitrates and nitrites. I have a very sensitive system, I think. And so, just knowing that, I stay away from them but like you see sometimes there’s a slip up.

Glenn: Which leads me to my next question. It must make travel and eating out and going to events, like you just said, weddings and vacations, very difficult?

Vonnie: Well, I plan ahead is what I do if I’m travelling. And I actually just got back from a week in Ireland, which I was thrilled over. I packed food to start with. I always make sure that I have enough packed for a day in case you know the plane’s delayed or something like that. It’s just a matter of selection. There’s always things available to eat. It’s just being aware of which ones you can. And there’s many times, you can go to the grocery store and just pick up some apples and cheese and I just have to make sure it’s the right kind.

Glenn: Soft cheese.

Vonnie: Yeah, and so It’s matter of planning; I travel a lot more than I used to, in fact. And there has been time for having on vacation and I have gotten a migraine and it probably is more due to the lack of sleep. Because if you’re going over sleep, obviously that’s a sleep deprivation there. And so in my mind, I know what can happen, so you prepare as much as you can.

Glenn: Right. Right. So what would be some foods that you would take with you? So you just flew to and from Ireland, what did you take with you on the plane?

Vonnie: Okay, I took several apples actually. I took a little bag of blueberries. I took a walnuts and almonds. I actually pack and this sounds probably silly but I put some oats, just regular oats. In with some seeds, chia seeds, some hemp seeds because that’s some good proteins. And at any airport, you can buy yogurt so you just mix that with yogurt and eat it.

Glenn: Nice.

Vonnie: I’m not real… I don’t do a lot of like the little nutrition bars or anything like that. Most of it is just stuff I kind of toss together. I carried that with me. And actually on the plane, if I didn’t have any yogurt with the oats, I can just ask for a cup of hot water and dump it on and have like a little hot cereal. And I don’t count on me, airline food as something that I’m going to be eating. You know a lot of it… They can bring me some and I would… And I usually order a special meal ‘coz you can do that.

Glenn: Right.

Vonnie: It’s just planning is the biggest thing. So then on the return, I bought some cheese. You have a harder time coming back to customs with any fruit and veggies.

Glenn: True. But if you’re in Ireland, there’s lots of your cheeses there, especially goat cheese–

Vonnie: There’s excellent cheese in Ireland.

Glenn: –and sheep cheese.

Vonnie: Uhum.

Glenn: So I was gonna ask about the yogurt, it’s probably pretty difficult to find yogurt that’s not full of a bunch of sugar, you know any kind of sweet yogurt. If you get anything other than plain yogurt, which I find very difficult to locate in the small single serving packs, especially at a place like an airport. It’s in a grocery store, sometimes you can get it like that. But the big ones are easy to find in grocery stores but small convenience areas, it’s tough because I don’t like those yogurts that are full of jelly. And they’re just way too sweet.

Vonnie: Right. I agree with you, Glenn. It was difficult. It depends on the airport. There have been times when I had no issues at all just to find. And lot of times, what it is, is the yogurt on the bottom and then they have a separate little cup, the granola on the top, which I throw away because it’s full of sugar.

Glenn: True.

Vonnie: And then just the bottom part of the yogurt is the Greek yogurt, unflavoured or natural, because I agree with you that most of the yogurt you find are sugar-filled. I don’t eat those. I did have a hard time finding one when I flew through Atlanta. But in Ireland, that’s all they… I’m not gonna say that’s all they have is the regular yogurt but it’s much more readily available there. And, actually Portland airport has a pretty good selection of the non-flavoured, unsweetened –

Glenn: That’s terrific.

Vonnie: Yeah, there’s a couple little stands.

Glenn: That’s good to know. That’s really good to know. I don’t travel very often so I’m not as up on the foods that are available in airports, but I know that I’ve had. It’s been easier lately to find healthy foods but I don’t have the restrictions that you do in for the reason that you do but I still like to eat like you do. In fact, I was… while you tell me everything you can and cannot eat, I’m thinking everybody should eat like you. I think—

Vonnie: Oh good.

Glenn: –everybody would be a lot healthier if they did eat like you. And imagine all the issues and ailments and sicknesses and pains that would be eliminated. And they probably aren’t even aware. They just have them for so long they think, “Oh that’s just the way it is” or maybe they pop pills to get rid of these pains whether it’s headache or knee pain or whatnot, when all they really need to do is eliminate a certain food or a certain compound or chemical that’s in some foods that their eating. I think it’s great.

Vonnie: Right, that’s a very good point, Glenn. Because And I think even some of the age-related diseases, people look at and say, “Well, I’m just getting old.” “Well, no, you probably need to change your diet.” So I think that would be something for anybody who has anything that they think possibly could be helped with food to investigate that.

Glenn: Well, I can hear the argument already for the what you just said when someone’s getting old, they think “Oh this is just the natural course of things.” And you would suggest changing their diet. And their argument would be, “But I’ve always eaten this.” But as I’m sure you’re aware that you can become sensitive to certain foods. The more you have them, maybe you just can’t tolerate it anymore.

Vonnie: Uhum. It’s an ongoing process. My investigation probably won’t stop until the day I die because there is always something that a person can learn, about what you’re eating and there’s also new advances in how they diagnose things. And they have really just come out with well maybe migraines are a brain disorder. So I’m thinking, “Where do we go with that?”

Glenn: Well, I guess you could say yes, they are a brain disorder but, yeah where do you go with that and what exactly does that mean because something’s causing it. Something is not right because not everybody has migraines. It’s not a normal way to be so something’s wrong somewhere.

Vonnie: Right.

Glenn: And since the pain is in the head, the chances are that it’s up there somewhere. But I am no expert so I can’t further this part of the conversation anymore. But what I would like ask is any suggestions for my listeners out there who have migraines or maybe just have frequent headaches or bad headaches maybe not to the extent of a migraine, but what would you suggest they do first to try to figure out what they can do about it with their, you know I’m thinking of nutrition of course not necessarily doctors or drugs.

Vonnie: Right, the first will I always suggest that if you’re hunting for reason for something, if you were to do this on your own is to eliminate a food group say, “Okay, I’m gonna eliminate wheat because that seems to be the thing now with the…”  So eliminate that, and see if it makes a difference in how you feel but you’re gonna have to do it for a couple a week for at least to feel any benefit from them. And it’s also difficult because sometimes the self diagnosis can be accurate or not accurate. So it’s pretty much a trial and error thing to – like I said, some people are allergic to strawberries or seafood. And generally they know it but I mean if they’re really allergic, they will you know going to  anaphylactic shock.

Glenn: You’re right, in the extreme cases but if they’re just sensitive to it like which it sounds like you are with everything but mushrooms—

Vonnie: Uhum, and cheese, right.

Glenn: –and cheese, then you… it’s not as an extreme overreaction but you know a headache coming on a few hours later, you know it’s still worth looking into.

Vonnie: Right. And so that’s what I would suggest. You basically would need to write down what you are eating and when you get a headache, look back at those things and “Okay, so maybe this is what I’ll cut out” and see if that helps. And depending on the frequency of the headache, if you had it daily, then if you cut it out in a week’s time, you should be able to tell. But then again, I’m no expert on it.

Glenn: Right, you know what works for you, what did work and what continues to work and as you said, it’s a continual discovery process because you still get headaches now and then. So they were chances are triggered by something. Well okay, not chances are. They were triggered by something. And whether it’s food or stimulus-related, you may not be able to tell but you’re constantly seeking it out.

Vonnie: Right. Yes.

Glenn: Are you are you working with any physicians on this?

Vonnie: No, I’m not currently.

Glenn: Okay, but you did for a while and see… Did the naturopath lead you in the direction of allergens or allergies and sensitivities?

Vonnie: Right, and actually that was my probably my biggest help, for me to go forward on my own because he was extremely helpful in being able to tell me that, “Okay, these things you are allergic to, and these things you have sensitivities to.” And so that was the biggest step for me in being able to then discover on my own like I said to trial and error, what worked.

Glenn: Right. Well, that’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing this with us, Vonnie. I think you will definitely help shed some light on some issues people are having. I really hope that they follow your advice and take the natural path first. Maybe they can eliminate all medication, maybe they never have to go to that extreme. And you know ‘coz there is no medication that is really adverse effect free. They do some harm and in one way or another. Aspirin will eat a hole in your stomach. And Tylenol can damage your liver. And so even these over-the-counter drugs if taken in excess, which if you have a headache every day, you take aspirin every day, that’s enough to give you an ulcer.

Vonnie: Right, exactly so let our food be our medicine.

Glenn: Exactly. So anyways, once again thank you very much. I really appreciate you sharing this. I love talking with you. It was an honour. And I love hearing that somebody has really found a way and proven that food can be your medicine and you don’t need to suffer. You just need to plan ahead. It’s as simple as that.

Vonnie: Exactly. And thank you, Glenn.


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