Quality sleep is important to your physical and mental health, but getting any kind of sleep can be difficult when you’re in pain. That’s especially true when you’re struggling with migraines. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to function optimally. Getting anything below that can significantly impact your mood and health. But how can you get quality sleep when you’re dealing with a migraine? Let’s take a look!
Know This Trigger
If you know that you commonly have migraines, make sure that you do everything you can to avoid triggering one before you go to sleep. That’s not a foolproof solution, of course, and it’s easier said than done. Consider keeping a notebook of your migraine times and triggers as much as possible to help you plan your nighttime routine around them. For example, migraines have a 50% chance of starting between the hours of 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., for those who suffer from chronic headaches. So be aware of when you can expect them, and aim to take preventative measures.
One of the most common triggers that can set us off as we get into our nighttime routine is circadian rhythm dysregulation and having a flipped cycle. Normally, we should wake up and within 30-35 minutes our cortisol(stress and energy hormone) should be sky high. As the day goes on our cortisol should start to drop down ending with a tenth the amount we would have in the morning.
If this doesn’t happen in the evening, we run into very big problems. Two of the most common causes of this cycle being flipped? Eating foods that are not balancing our blood sugar and staying too stimulated whether that be from work, emotionally or from screens.
Do you best to bring yourself into tune with the natural cycles of night and day.
Consistency is Healing to The Migraine Brain
It can be tempting to sleep whenever possible, especially if you’re struggling to fall asleep at night. However, it’s important to do your best to sleep at the same time every night, and that’s especially true if you’re struggling with a migraine. Start your nighttime routine early and try not to deviate from it. The consistency helps your body relax and ready itself for sleep even when you’re not feeling your best.
The migraine brain is one that loves consistency. It loves keeping things the same and keeping everything even and moderate.
The migraine brain does not do well with big changes or disruptions because it is already on the edge of its threshold.
Luckily as you follow the steps and guidelines through the Migraine Professional blogs you can easily bring yourself far below your threshold and heal your trigger happy brain.
Skip the Caffeine
No matter how much you enjoy a mug of coffee in the morning, it’s a good idea to cut out as much caffeine as possible from your routine. You don’t want anything to get in the way of your sleep, and caffeine can serve as a detriment. You don’t have to stop drinking it entirely – substantially cutting down could be enough to help make falling asleep easier.
With our constant go-go-go produce produce produce culture its very common that our neurohormonal systems will be burnt out. The biggest sign of it is dependency on a stimulant like caffeine. The problem is that caffeine is not a nutrient and doesn’t add to our bodies reserves to actually create energy. It creates an energetic debt.
At the end of the day, it takes more resources than it gives and even though that may work today, eventually our body will start asking for the debt back.
See our video to understand the connection between coffee, feeling great and rebounding here.
These oils are essential
Aromatherapy is an all natural, home remedy that’s been used for centuries to help with various health issues, and aid in relaxation — and people still practice aromatherapy today! Consider investing in quality essential oils and giving them a try. Rub them on your temples before bed, to promote relaxation and soothe your pain.
My favourite oils to use for relaxation are frankincense, lavender and myrrh. They are easy to use and go great with a relaxing epsom salt bath.
Use the Right Pillow or Mattress
Having a supportive pillow and mattress are vital components for getting a good night’s rest, and helping with chronic pain. Additionally having a proper bed structure can help you maintain a better sleeping position, and one that prevents tension in your head at night. If you’re wondering which type of mattress would be most beneficial for your needs, take a mattress quiz to determine the best mattress for you based upon your unique sleep style and personal preferences.
Unplug for the Night
Sometimes, electronic devices can make migraines worse. Consider unplugging for the night and leaving your phone or computer out of the bedroom. Devote the room to sleep and relaxation. You might be surprised at how much it helps.
Our body can take 1-2 hours to properly adjust to darkness and wind down. For millions of years we have been dependant on the amount of light in the environment and we are tuned to it. If it’s daylight outside, our body doesn’t wind down. Similarly, if the blue light given off of electronics is not shut off, our body continues to be artificially stimulated.
This prevents cortisol(stress hormones) from dropping and allowing our sleep and repair hormones from turning on. Sleep is our brains detox time and we need to take advantage of that if we want to be resilient.
Do you know what the ideal pillow and mattress to support your sleep are?
The absolute frustration of another migraine hitting and ruining another day, week, month is unbearable.
We need every tool we can find to give us the clarity that we need to able to work on the deeper parts of healing a chronic disease like fixing our hormones, correcting neurotransmitters, healing our mitochondria and restoring our gut function.
And for some people, it’s a piercing that does it. At least while it heals.
In this article, I’m going to be discussing the complete guide to tragus piercings and how migraine and headache sufferers are using it for relief with little side effects.
Why does getting your tragus pierced work?
There are two main piercings that are being used in the migraine and headache communities. The daith and the tragus.
Daith is by far the more popular one and it seems to be the more effective one as well. You can see our article on daith and tragus piercings for migraines with reviews here.
But for some people getting their tragus pierced is what helps.
The picture below shows you where the tragus and daith are:
Some say that these piercings work only because of placebo but there are reports of migraineurs receiving relief after piercing for cosmetic reasons and not anything health related at all.
But there are two more likely explanations.
#1 These piercings go through Arnolds nerve which is connected to the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve stimulation devices are actually used for the treatment of epilepsy, depression and migraines.
There is even an FDA approved vagal nerve stimulation device called the Gammacore which we wrote about here.
So if you have poor vagal tone, this may be why it helps so much but there are also more effective exercises you can use that have far less safety concerns which I outline in the article here.
#2 These piercings may be working on acupuncture and acupressure points and as we know acupuncture can be just as effective as some medications.
But this is an entire system of medicine and to reduce it down to one or two points really does not do it justice and it is always better to get the real thing done.
I discuss both of these in the video on tragus and daith piercing reports below.
How to get your tragus pierced properly + Big concerns
Because the tragus piercing goes through a thick piece of cartilage it can take a long and annoying time to heal.
But, even more fun is that it is reported to be one of the most painful piercings as well.
Generally, far more painful than the daith piercing.
We have to do what we have to do, especially if we want to try something that requires little work on our part.
The biggest concern with these piercings is infection and long healing time.
Make sure to follow these tips during the healing phase as closely as you can:
– Monitor for any reactions to the metal, generally titanium is one of the better and less reactive types
– Keep the area clean and avoid going into public pools or places with excess bacteria
– Use a piercer that is diligent about their sterilization and cleanliness techniques
– Be careful not to get the piercing caught on clothes or to fiddle with it too much
– If needed clean the area twice daily with soap/water or a saline solution instead of alcohol
– Avoid sleeping on the side you pierced
– Plan for the 3 to 10 months it may take to heal a cartilage piercing
One of the catch 22s of the daith and tragus piercings is that for some people, when the piercing is fully healed, their migraines come back. It is as if the pressure point is not being sufficiently activated anymore and cannot do its job.
Piercing healing nutrients
Along with avoiding irritating the area or getting it infected we want to give our body extra nutrients to heal.
Vitamin A (Liver, peppers, carrots, orange fruit)
Vitamin C (Citrus and sour fruits)
Zinc(Shellfish, mollusks, nuts and seeds)
Enzymes(Citrus, raw foods, pineapple, papaya)
Other minerals (calcium, magnesium, silica)
Avoid turning your piercing into an antenna
Of course we want to avoid exposing ourselves to EMFs and turning our piercing into an antenna for all of the frequencies floating in our airspace by using natural substances as soon and often as possible.
At the end of the day we need to find short term relief but we also have to ensure that we are getting to the root of some of these problems and addressing the underlying causes that so commonly keep us stuck and in pain even when we are on the right medications. This is where we shine and do our best detective work, teaching you how to heal your brain.
We focus on fixing the root causes that so commonly create central sensitization, inflammation, stubborn pain and immune dysregulation.
This is why I have created the 10 steps program as a way to begin addressing the entire picture of causes, triggers and stressors on your brain. In this program I cover 10 massive areas of impact over 10 modules sent to you 1 week at a time. Each module has extra tips, tools and techniques to give you a holistic understanding of the commonly available tools you can take advantage of to take stress off of your brain.
Click here to learn more about the 10 steps program.
Have you had your tragus pierced? Did it work for you?
There’s no doubt about it, something is going very very wrong with our culture. The dysautonomia cases I see are often late stage migraine cases. It is the people who have had migraines for a long time that have only been approached with medications…
It is almost a part of the progression of migraines when they are not dealt with properly in the same way that fibromyalgia can be. As the brain is more and more affected, the immune system becomes more and more dysfunctional and our nervous systems functioning breaks down more and more, we get dysautonomic and we fall into a massive pain and flare cycle that perpetuates itself.
Luckily, we can see this cycle coming from a mile away. Even 10, 20 or 30 years away the symptoms start to show. In this article I will be covering how to understand and empower ourselves with dysautonomia, connect it to migraines and then cover some simple vagus nerve exercises.
How can we understand dysautonomia in a way that empowers us?
Dysautonomia is a term that is used as an umbrella for a number of different conditions where our autonomic nervous system dysfunctions.
We have two parts to our nervous system:
The motor side that controls our movements and musculoskeletal system
The autonomic side that controls everything else including heart rate, breath rate, pupil constriction and dilation, digestion, blood pressure and temperature
Basically, the autonomic nervous system controls everything else that we do not consciously control.
But there are two parts to the autonomic nervous system:
The sympathetic(fight, flight, or flee) side
The parasympathetic(rest, digest and repair) side
Our body is constantly taking in information and determining how much into one side or the other we should be.
If a tiger attacks us, we become very sympathetically dominant and our blood sugar increases, adrenaline gets released and our body starts to burn and mobilize resources to fight it or run.
When it does this, it turns off things that we need in the long term like detoxification and digestion.
This is great in the short term but terrible long term.
In the long term we want to be parasympathetic dominant. We want to live in our rest, digest and repair nervous system.
This is the nervous system that cleans the house, breaks down food and absorbs nutrients, keeps our immunity regulated properly, repairs tissues and allows us to think clearly.
If we think of it in terms of traditional Chinese medicine and the yin/yang then the parasympathetic is the yin and the sympathetic is the yang.
The yin or parasympathetic is what gives us the energy and resources to be yang. The yang is what takes those resources and spends them and breaks down tissue so that hopefully when you are mostly yin again you can repair and the tissue can become even stronger.
This happens in a perfect world where we are healthy, have nutrients that support repair and aren’t stuck in an inflammatory cycle.
But in reality, our bodies get beat up all of the time and we are in a constant stressed out go-go-go mode that drives us into the ground.
Small stresses here or there are not a problem and we can usually bounce back but when we go through things like:
Early childhood trauma that programs our nerves to be on high alert
Long bouts of continued stress
Trauma or grief
Then our body can be sent into a cycle of inflammation, oxidation, catabolism and blood sugar dysregulation.
Normal Vs abnormal nervous system response
In a normal and healthy individual, you get stressed, your body releases a massive amount of resources to help you and you can meet the demands of the stress.
Once the stress is over, your body turns off this release and goes back into calm, cool, rest, digest and repair mode.
In an unhealthyindividual this stress response doesn’t get shut off properly, it’s abnormal and continues for too long and the balance gets broken.
The feedback systems our body and brain have to turn the fight of flight system off break.
We become hyper excitable, anxious, nervous, jittery, wired and tired. And so does our brain. It becomes hyper sensitive to stimuli that are normal, regular every day things.
This happens all too often and is a sign our balance between the two is breaking.
Primary vs secondary
Generally there are two types of a disease that can present:
Primary that happens “by itself” and for “no reason”
Secondary that happens as the result of something else going on
The problem is that our systems of assessment are not very good. A GP will on average only spend a few minutes with you and this is nowhere near enough to understand what is going on in your body, mind or environment.
This often ends with many many disorders being classified as “primary” and having no cause when in fact there are many dysfunctional systems going on and a disease progression process coming on long before this disorder came to be.
Health isn’t as cut and dry as it’s often made to be and we need to understand that our influences from birth have a far greater role in our health than our genes.
Where should we be looking?
Instead we need to look into our body systems and try to understand what is happening from a functional, holistic and integrated perspective. As we now know, everything that is happening in the body is affected by everything else happening in the body.
Ex. The brains health is dependant on the guts health…
Our gut health and brain health are both dependant on our emotional health
And then coming full circle, our emotional health is dependant on our gut health.
So we need to look at all of our systems and then have someone help us look at underlying factors if we are still in pain.
We not only want to look at the systems that are having issues whether that be digestive or hormonal or nervous or musculoskeletal…
But we also want to look at how we think, breath, move, eat, drink and sleep.
We want to look at our environment for toxicants and at our social/familial exposures for stresses.
This is when we start to unravel the “mystery” of why we are sick because, to be honest, if we just look at the system falling apart and the diagnosis we are given, we can feel like it’s a mystery and feel lost.
Connecting dysautonomia and migraines
So how can dysautonomia create migraines and how can migraine create dysautonomia?
If we speak in terms of symptoms then they cannot. Symptoms cannot necessarily cause dysfunction other than compensations.
But if we speak in terms of how can the dysfunction of our nervous system(dysautonomia) and how can neurodegeneration(migraine) cause each other, then we are looking more at physiological processes and how they affect each other because of their connection to each other.
One of the easiest ways dysfunction of our nervous system can contribute to migraines is the deregulation of our intestinal tract, the food that we put in it and any infections that may be lurking.
If our nervous system is not properly innervating our gut to maintain tight control over what is happening, the 100 trillion + organisms inside can become opportunistic quite quickly.
That list of a few foods that triggers our migraines can quickly grow into 50, 80, even 100+ foods creating an immune reaction.
Likewise if our brain is constantly inflamed and in pain then the very fabric of our nervous system begins to fall apart.
We become inflamed and then the damage of inflammation creates more inflammation and the damage of that inflammation creates even more inflammation and so on.
We enter into a vicious cycle of self perpetuated inflammation even if we begin doing “everything right.”
It can take a long time to shut off the response once we stop throwing gasoline on the fire.
See this video where I explain everything in detail around dysautonomia and migraines.
How can we see them coming?
Our body is constantly “speaking” to us.
Constantly trying to convey what is going on inside of it and whether what we are doing is favourable or not.
Long before a disease develops, we have symptoms.
For most people unaware of their bodies signs, these symptoms are just regular every day things that hold no meaning.
But things like feeling tired around mid afternoon, having chocolate or sugar cravings, being a little gassy, mood swings, having to have that coffee daily, developing fat around your organs or having PMS are all signs you are in the early stages of system break down.
These symptoms are actually very common, but they are not normal.
You want to look at areas of your life where you don’t have optimal functioning and areas where your functioning is not normal. (Remember common is different from normal)
For example, a burp after a meal may be normal. Burping for an hour after a meal is not.
Having a period is normal. Having PMS is not.
Pooping a soft fluffy log once a day without strain is normal. Filling the toilet with offensive diarrhea daily is not.
What do we do?
There are many things we can do today and right now. Many will cost us nothing but our time or energy, and this is where we should start as we begin building ourselves back up. This is where the 10 steps program comes in.
But we have to make sure we have strong vagal tone above many other things.
Our vagus nerve runs from our brain into our organs and is a super highway of information, most of which is going from the organs into the brain for processing and interpretation.
We want to keep this vagus nerve toned much like we would a muscle.
It needs exercise!
Evolutionarily, we would constantly be exposed to scenarios that would tone our vagus nerve but because we now live sedentary, comfortable, indoor lives where everything is brought to us, this doesn’t happen anymore.
This means we need to force it.
5 Dysautonomia Exercises that strengthen the vagus nerve
Of course before starting or changing anything see your healthcare provider for information and advice.
I will not be too left brained about these as your body and what it responds is individual to yourself and I invite you to listen to it.
Regular cold exposure is what we evolved with
The cold is an incredible tool, especially because it makes us so uncomfortable. Much of our chronic illness and the break down in our brain is because we have lost the stimuli that our bodies evolved with. We did not evolve to sit on a couch or have 3 square meals or be warm all year long and it shows in how fragile our bodies have become.
Of course, the cold is such a powerful tool that in many cases it should be worked up to. It is a stress to be in the cold so we want to make sure we work up the dose and have the resources to recover after it.
Staying parasympathetic while in an ice bath or cold shower is a skill in and of itself, but almost free to do and takes little to no time. You have no reason not to.
Practice Breathing daily
Breath is our ultimate tool for controlling the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It’s a great way to pump your body and tone your vagus. See this video for some simple breathing exercises.
Gently gag your way into vagal tone
For this, you can use a tongue scraper or toothbrush.
Simple reach farther and farther down your throat until you gag.
You’ll know you’re doing it enough when your eyes begin to water.
Gargle at maximum intensity
A heavy and hard gargle with as much effort as possible. This should be a sprint of gargling.
Hum your heart out
Singing and humming is a great way to tone the vagus nerve, you just have to do it at maximum effort and to exhaustion to force your nerves to grow and connect.
These should be repeated 4-5 times daily for the first 3 weeks to notice an effect, especially with severe dysfunction.
But of course, they are no replacement for a whole and balanced program including all of the different factors that add stress on or take stress off of your body.
For that, the 10 steps program is the absolute foundation for brain health. Click the link to begin.
Do you have both dysautonomia and migraines?
Let me know in the comments below and how they progressed for you.
Every few days a migraine sufferer will come to me and say, “They tested me for everything, blood, CT, MRI etc and it all came back clear.”
It can make it look like there is nothing wrong with you and that you’re absolutely fine.
In some cases like the MRI, you probably are.
But if you are experiencing chronic headaches, dizziness, hormonal problems, fatigue, weight gain or brain fog, you need to step into the world of integrative medicine.
The sad reality is that our medical system is amazing at dealing with injuries and acute care, but absolutely horrendous with chronic disease.
Learn why this is so and how to fix it in this article.
Testing is problematic
The first part that we need to understand is that the testing done through the standard medical avenue is skewed.
Most labs will base their reference ranges(which tell you what is normal, high or low) on the averages of their testing population.
First off, not only is chronic disease in the general population sky high with 133 million americans experiencing at least one chronic condition…
But the lab testing population is an even more skewed population, the majority of them being ill and many severely.
If the range of “normal” is based on a sick population, this gives us a sick normal.
Instead we want to be looking at functional medicine ranges for disease and pre-disease signs so that we can support the individual before they have a problem and address the systems that become dysfunctional when disease starts progressing.
We want to look at optimal and this is where a functional medicine practitioner is the best resource.
They help test the body systems that break down before a serious pathology has developed. They support your body so that it is not so overburdened with systems breaking down that it has to create symptoms and eventually disease.
By understanding that we need to look at optimal reference ranges as opposed to the standard we can come to healthier conclusions about what’s going on.
Pro tip: Many conditions are not thoroughly screened enough such as with thyroid disorders
Often times it will only be Total T4 Total T3 and TSH that will be tested but we need much more than just this. We also need to know our Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Anti TPO and more! Conditions, their tests and the treatments used have really been whittled down and don’t serve our chronically ill population well enough because of it.
You are not a brain, and a neck, and a liver, and a heart…
There is a big disconnect.
You go to a GP.
He sends you to a neurologist, a rheumatologist and an endocrinologist.
Each of them functions within their specific area of expertise but then it doesn’t circle back.
It often doesn’t circle back.
100% of the time if you are experiencing a chronic disease you should also be sent to a nutritionist, personal trainer and someone to help you deal with all of the things that go on in your head and your heart that aggravate or cool all chronic diseases. This usually doesn’t happen either
But still, you need someone to bring it all together with you. Someone to spend the time to check in on your exercise program, dietary regimen, supplemental protocol depending on what body system is affected and to test you for underlying causes that keep the entire mess rolling…
But it just does not happen…
If you’re lucky you may find a more holistically minded integrative practitioner.
Often that might be a chiropractor, acupuncturist, naturopath or a functional practitioner like myself.
But it’s not as easy as that, they need to spend the time and have an understanding of each of these areas and how they come together to affect each other.
What is the most important system to address first?
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems balance is definitely up there.
But maybe the gut as well.
It could also be trauma if these issues have really deep roots.
You want to find out what exactly it is for you, remember that the pains we experience are often a symptom of something deeper. I go into detail in this in our how we address headaches video here.
You broke inside(systems) long before you broke outside(symptoms)
There’s actually a step by step process for this in the general chronically ill person because the body cannot simply be forced to do things.
We know that if we force our body to act or react, it usually comes with negative consequences and symptoms/side effects.
It needs to be supported.
the body has spent millions of years developing its systems from being a tiny little bacteria into the massive 10 trillion cell organism that is host to 100 trillion microorganisms.
It knows what it’s doing and it just needs the right support with some gentle stimulation to do it.
It begins with the burnout. As I talked about above, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems control everything that goes on or does not go on in our bodies.
If we are constantly in our sympathetic or fight or flight nervous system… If we are constantly being stimulated, stressed, go-go-go and overactive, then our body and its systems are too.
They choose to win the fight that is going on right now and sacrifice being able to take steps in the long term war with healing.
This is where it begins.
Whether that being going to sleep too late or waking up too late
Not making sure we are receiving enough daily direct morning sunlight
Not eating in a calm environment
Overdoing workouts and expending more energy and breaking down more muscular tissue than you have the resources to repair
Holding on to inflammatory emotions instead of releasing them and forgiving yourself
Constantly being stimulated and keeping your mind running on a hamster wheel at 100%
Breatheing like you are battling a tiger
Drinking stimulants because of dependencies or low energy
These all add up.
They all shift you over into the sympathetic side of the nervous system. The survival side.
The thing is, if you’re chronically ill, you cannot live in that survival mode.
You have to push yourself and every single little win you can get to switch over.
To become parasympathetic.
To live inside of rest, digest and repair mode.
Your gut-brain bugs
It often begins there. Not always, but often. Sometimes it can begin in the gut.
But the burnout just begins the roll of being chronically non well, it ruins your lifestyle patterns, gives you cravings that make it hard to eat a healthy diet, makes you moody, reactive and emotional…
And it compromises the health of your gut.
We know the massive gut-brain connection through the vagus nerve and know that if it’s destroying your sympathetic/parasympathetic balance, it’s leaving your gut susceptible.
It leaves you wide open for invaders.
Not only does stress and the sympathetic mode leave the mucosa that protect your gut weak, it also shuts off your first and foremost main protection against any pathogens.
This is your first and most important line of defence against pathogens, but it also either sets your digestive system off on the right path…
It dumps a bunch of undigested food into your gut that then becomes a breeding ground for the very organisms we are trying to protect ourselves against.
Parasitic and pathogenic gut infections are not just a third world problem. They are a first world problem as well and can lie under the radar in some cases without any symptoms for years.
Until the stress builds up too much and they get the opportunity to grow.
Or until another undigested batch of food comes through and they can slowly take over more and more of the gut…
Dealing with them is not easy, especially in a chronically compromised individual.
Not only are they tough to get rid of but when you are trying to get rid of them their die off will clog up your bodies ability to function, shooting up inflammation levels and aggravating every symptom you have.
But it is 100% necessary.
The only way you can do it is if you:
Chew well enough and have a strong enough stomach acid, bile and enzymes to break down the food
Eat just the right amount of food for you based on your genetics with a healthy balance of nutrients/calories
Top up your hydration levels and make sure you have the minerals to support gut integrity
Strengthen your vagus nerve through exercises
Make sure your MMC or migrating motor complex which moves food through the bowel works properly by ensuring you have 6 hours between meals at least once a day which is often at night
Have a highly varied vegetable rich diet so that your good bacteria can eat and create short chain fatty acids to help calm your immune system down and feed your brain
And then we have to bring in the clean up crew to undo the problems caused by being so sick and having multiple systems crashed.
Fixing your weak brainstem and mitochondria
This is where we support the bodies and brains ability to reduce how much oxidative and inflammatory damage has been caused.
We take the burden off of our systems of detoxification, we make sure that our nutrient profiles are optimized so that the brain and tissues can repair and clean themselves of any backed up problems.
As our body becomes burnt out and chronically sympathetic and as our GI system breaks down and we can clean ourselves out as well, we begin building up toxic by-products.
These by-products are created in the mitochondria of every cell and the mitochondria of our brain cells are very susceptible to damage from them.
The brain needs a gentle program to continue nudging it along so that it can deal with this burden slowly and steadily.
When the waste gets removed, the brain can then begin to build better and stronger brain cells.
This is where we need our nutrients like:
Fatty acids with a balance of omega 3-6
Smooth and steady supply of carbohydrates and sugars
The full spectrum of minerals like those found in our sea and Himalayan salts
Amino acids from the proteins we eat
Enzymes from eating live and living foods
Vitamins and co-factors from eating rich organic and wild fruits n veggies
This is making it simple and easy to understand on a practical and actionable level and what I do for clients who are experiencing brain pain that they’ve tried everything for but it still will not go away.
The combination of dietary and lifestyle medicine with the right testing and a scrutinizing eye using the right references ranges makes all the difference.
Once you know the problem and dysfunctional system, it’s easy to use powerful supplemental programs that make things move along much more smoothly and quickly.
It all really comes down to being listened to and understood by your healthcare provider.
Being adequately heard, tested and then supported as your body starts reversing through the disease process sounds easy on paper, but few practitioners are present for their patients and this is why I created Migraine Professional.
As a way to break the noise and get to the truth of the brains many cries for help.
I also created a presentation explaining why migraines are so problematic, what is missing in how we assess them and what we can do right now to take a better approach in healing ourselves.
Digestive issues were one of the roots of my migraines. At the time, I had no idea they were connected but they are what drove my brain right into pain, my senses into over-excitation and my body into the ground. Apple cider vinegar was a part of my journey back. In this article, I will be covering how apple cider vinegar and acid reflux are connected to migraines and headaches and what we can do about them.
So, what is apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar is a vinegar made from apple juice. But this is not just any vinegar.
It has been supported by research to help with:
Blood sugar control
Apple juice is turned into alcohol and then fermented into a vinegar, producing acetic acid.
The best brands are organic, unfiltered and contain the “mother” which you’ll see as a little murky substance in the bottom of the vinegar. Like Bragg’s apple cider vinegar here.
Vinegar can kill all sorts of pathogens and this is helpful to us on our journey for a strong gut.
Why apple cider vinegar? + Benefits
Apple cider vinegar is amazing for killing all sorts of pathogens and this is helpful to us on our journey for a strong gut. We want as few of the bad guys and as many of the good guys living in our intestines as possible so we always want to make sure we feed them well and maintain a balance.
It also has an amazing ability to regulate blood sugar is incredible and well studied for:
It also improves one of our major risk factors for migraines and headaches…
Some studies have showed that if you have apple cider vinegar with a meal it can improve how quickly you get full and end up eating less food throughout the day.(4)
It has also been shown to help reduce belly fat in the obese with 15ml leading to 2.6lbs(1.2kg) and 30ml leading to 3.7lbs(1.7kg) of weight loss over 3 months.(5)
Some research is also coming out to show it may have an effect on heart disease as well which is yet another migraine risk factor we want to avoid.
See the infographic below for a number of ways you can add apple cider vinegar into your routine.
3 Keys To Apple Cider Vinegar With Migraines, Headaches and Acid Reflux
1. Using it for acid reflux is the opposite of what you think
The prevailing wisdom that’s been told for years and made billions of dollars off of us with through antacids and proton pump inhibitors is that acid reflux is caused by too much acid in the stomach.
But we need to understand that any time we are stressed, our stomach actually reduces stomach acid because it reduces digestive function.
Our culture is in a chronic state of stress and this is by far our largest killer so we have to factor this into our digestive health.
It is actually much more common that our feelings of acid reflux are caused by not having enough acid and eating poor quality Standard American Diet type foods.
Low stomach acid is much much more common than high and it shows in our societies ability to digest foods properly and maintain a strong gut.
Stomach acid needs to reach a low enough pH to empty into the intestine, if it doesn’t it will stay in the stomach and this can actually end up creating a fermentation like process that creates lactic acid.
This lactic acid will then come up and create the sensation of acid reflux.
Its easily misunderstood but worth a try for your particular situation to see if you need more acid.
Apple cider vinegar is an easy way to get this acid, same with the juice of a lemon taken immediately before and immediately after a meal.
Depending on how much acid you are creating and how big the meal is, your perfect amount may be more or less.
Apple cider vinegar is very strong so you may want to dilute it down if drinking or simply add it to food like a non vegetable/canola oil mayonnaise or a salad dressing.
2. Apple Cider vinegar is a digestive powerhouse
Not only is apple cider great for digestion because it supports our stomach acid, cleaning up of bacteria and regulation of blood sugar which are all essential gut supports, but it also contains prebiotics because of the fermentation process required to make it.
Prebiotics can be thought of as the foods that our microorganisms eat.
Where as we might eat a vegetable and get calories and nutrients from it, that vegetable also contains fibres that our body cannot breakdown and absorb.
So what ends up happening is our gut bacteria eat these fibres and break them down, allowing them to maintain balance and give our gut microbiome strength.
These gut bacteria will then create postbiotics from these prebiotic fibres which help modulate our immune system and improve our oral tolerance or the ability for our body to tolerate foods.
These are all essentials in maintaining a strong gut, strong immunity and strong resilient brain.
3. Your Gut – Brain Axis will thank you
When we want to create and keep a happy brain, we need to understand our gut-brain axis and take steps to improve it.
Apple cider vinegar helps us do that.
Our gut-brain axis is the massive super highway of nerves that sends messages from our gut to our brain and vice versa.
A majority of this happens through the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is incredibly important and making sure we have strong vagal tone and keep the nerve toned makes sure that when our brain is in rest and digest, so is our body.
The vagus nerve actually has a 9:1 afferent to efferent signalling from the gut to the brain. This means that is sends 9 times as much information to the brain than the brain does to the gut and it signals how important gut health really is.
Not only that but our brain is also 90% immune cells and only 10% nerve cells.
With our gut being where the majority of our bodies immune system sits, when things go wrong in the gut, they play a huge role in the brain.
By improving our acid reflux by reducing poor quality foods and figuring out if we actually need more stomach acid…
And by using apple cider vinegar to support our blood sugar, weight loss, cholesterol, digestion and gut-brain we have an incredible new, and more whole approach to the causes of our migraines or headaches.
But there are some precautions we need to be aware of.
When to avoid apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar(ACV) needs to be cautioned in 3 different situations but of course before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet you want to ask your doctor.
The three are:
Histamines play a large role in a percentage of the migraine population but it’s by no means all of them.
The downside is that because ACV is a vinegar and the result of a fermentation process it is high in histamines so if you have histamine issues, you may want to steer clear of it.
As with any new substance you want to gauge your reaction to it and be careful because it is a vinegar and contains strong acids. It is likely too acidic to drink on its own without dilution and long term use should be supervised.
The last and final precaution is around stomach ulcers.
Because you are adding acid to your stomach it may aggravate any stomach ulcers you have.
But I am not one to leave you hanging as stomach ulcers may be a sign of bacterial infection.
It is often that bacteria like H pylori will burrow into the stomach lining and cause inflammation, contributing to gastric ulcers.
Not only that, but these bacteria can actually neutralize any stomach acid that we create, leading to this problem with acid reflux and making it more complex than just fixing stomach acid.
This is where I would run specific laboratory tests out of my highly trusted and accurate lab as one of my clients.
I’ll help you figure out what’s going on, run the tests to find out what’s causing your gastrointestinal issues and then teach you a protocol to deal with these bugs. But of course we will also look at everything in the greater scheme of migraines and headaches and educate you as a whole.
If you’re looking for help getting to the root cause feel free to join me for a call here.
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There are some amazing diets that have been used for migraines and headaches including the oligoantigenic diet. But ketosis is an easier way to go about supporting our brain so that it can repair and stop triggering headaches. In this article, I will be discussing 3 amazing reasons to go into ketosis with the ketogenic diet for migraines.
What are the ketogenic diet, ketosis and ketones?
The ketogenic diet is a diet that makes the body enter into ketosis where it begins relying on ketones(fat) for energy more than sugar/glucose.
This is done through a ketogenic style diet which focuses primarily on fats and proteins as well as low to no sugar vegetables.
The break down will generally end up being under 5% of your total food containing carbohydrates.
The foods to largely avoid on the ketogenic diet include:
Starchy vegetables like potatoes, roots and tubers
High sugar fruit over the daily amount
Processed and packaged foods
It is important to dispel the myth that Fat = heart disease
This was a highly marketed tactic used by the food industry to sell low fat and fat free foods that ended up causing the same problems they were marketed to protect against like obesity.
What you do want to do is avoid rancid fats, excessive PUFAs and omega 6s as well as conventionally raised meats.
Eat your foods whole like nature created them. Every single cell and neuron in our body and brain is made of fat and requires fat. All of our sex and stress hormones are made from cholesterol, we need it.
Why is ketosis so beneficial for the brain and specifically the migraine brain?
A study with migraine sufferers put on the ketogenic diet found that 90% of them had a reduction in the frequency of their migraines.
Ketogenic diets have been used for over a century to treat patients with epilepsy because of its effect on the brain. Epilepsy is closely related to migraine with aura. New research is starting to find that ketogenic diets are useful for more than just migraine and epilepsy but also things like cancer.
Reason #1 Ketones feed the brain
Ketones are an essential fuel for the brain we have relied on since the very beginning of our evolution.
Our liver stores sugar/glucose so that it can maintain a smooth supply to the brain but it can only do this for about 24 hours in a healthy individual. After 24 hours the reserve is depleted and the body has to switch over.
It begins taking the fat we have in our body and breaking it down into ketones which then circulate in the blood that brain uses for fuel. Ketones are brain fuel.
Ketones have been found to reduce glutamate levels which is one of the main neurotransmitters implicated in migraines. They have also been found to reduce oxidative stress which is the one common connection behind all migraines.
Reason #2 Ketogenic diets balance blood sugar
One of the most important benefits from my perspective coaching those with migraines is that the ketogenic diet balances blood sugar.
It may also allow you to go longer between meals with less strain on your blood sugar levels.
As we know, skipping meals or fasting is the largest reported trigger of migraines partly because of how it affects our blood sugar levels.
In a normal and healthy individual we can make the transition between burning sugar/glucose and burning ketones fairly easily with little aggravation to the body.
But in a metabolically compromised individual and especially those with migraines, missing a meal is a recipe for disaster partly because the transition from burning glucose/sugar to burning fat is enough of a strain on the body that it pushes us over our threshold.
Instead, on a ketogenic diet we continue burning fats from one meal to the next, leaving our blood sugar with few spikes and drops, giving our body ease in one of the pillars of brain health, blood sugar balance.
Not only does it balance our blood sugar which takes a massive burden off of our brains, inflammation and hormones but it also helps fight obesity which is an independent risk factor for migraines.
See our video on ketones and migraines here:
Reason #3 Ketogenic diets done the right way remove many migraine triggers
A ketogenic diet is not only a great way to feed the brain ketones and balance our blood sugar but done right it is also perfect for removing trigger foods.
Some of the most common trigger foods that would or should be removed are:
Grains especially gluten containing
Low fat dairy
Ideally during the ketogenic diet we are eating high quality pastured and grass fed meats along with low carbohydrate vegetables and then healthy poultry, dairy, nuts, seeds and oils depending on your individual triggers and what you are sensitive to.
When is the ketogenic diet not right for us?
As with any “diet” there are some situations where ketosis may not be right for us and especially long term.
We need to understand that our bodies and migraines are individual to ourselves and this is the best way to go about fixing our pain.
Just because one migraine sufferer does great on a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn’t mean you will. Same goes with ketogenic diets.
4 areas we want to figure out for ourselves with our own bodies and guided help are:
1. Depending on your genetic profile and if your ancestors are closer to the equator or from the colder more polar regions you may process fats differently. If your ancestors are from africa, the middle east or southeast asia type areas where it is warm all year long, you will do better converting plant fats into the animal fats our body uses. If your ancestors are from polar regions where the ground freezes in the winter, you’ll likely not be as good at this plant to animal fat conversion and you will be better suited for eating animal fats and saturated fat.
2. The same applies with some genetic predispositions to hold onto fat instead of burn it. This may be influenced by the foods that you eat which try to store any extra food that you eat as fat incase you go through a famine or period of no food. Evolutionarily this is an adaptation but may not be the best for you right now.
3. We also want to understand that fiber is an essential part of feeding our gut microbiome, the 100 trillion bacteria in our gut that keep us alive, feed us nutrients and help us function. Fibre is the food of these bacteria and removing all of our fibre may not be the best idea which is why eating plenty of vegetables is important.
4. How strong is our keto flu?
The transition between eating regular often high carb meals and ketosis can be rough. This is why it is not advised to do it without guidance and to not do it abruptly.
Ideally you would slowly transition by lowering your carbohydrates at each meal over days or weeks while increasing your proteins and fats until you enter ketosis naturally and can re assess or else you may run into what is called the “keto-flu.”
The keto flu is what happens during the transition stages between carbohydrate and ketone metabolism. In a normal healthy individual this may not be much at all and may just present as some cravings or moodiness. But in metabolically compromised individuals like those with migraines, it may temporarily aggravate your migraines, give you extreme cravings, mood swings, insomnia etc.
This is all part of the body “healing” as it readjusts to what it was evolutionarily always doing. We did not always have food available to us and especially not carbohydrates in such regular intervals like we do today.
But we have become largely dependant on carbohydrates and this has given us imbalances.
During this transition and into ketosis it’s important to understand that our body will first off dump lots of sodium and water weight. Some people may lose up to 10 pounds of excess water that their body has been holding onto and even though this is great for weight loss it also comes with sodium loss so we want to make sure we replace our minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium through something like this electrolyte supplement.
Along with the loss of minerals our body may even drop thyroid hormones to protect itself in this transition so we want to be careful if we have any thyroid problems or slow metabolism.
And along with the drop in use of insulin because we are not spiking our blood sugar our body may also increase cortisol levels which may give us more energy and clarity but can give us issues if we have any kidney or gut problems to begin with so we always want to be careful.
How to do a ketogenic diet with migraines the right way
First and foremost we have to make sure we get assessed by a nutrition specialist to understand how our body will react to these changes and any precautions we need to take.
After that we want to make sure we are covering any holes in our nutrition and supporting our transition.
This can be done through taking a high qualitymultivitamin, supplementing for electrolyte balance and using exogenous ketones to give our brain fuel while our body learns to break down fats.
If you exercise you may want to supplement with creatine to help keep your muscles from burning glucose/sugar.
Slowly increase your fat intake from healthy animal sources like pastured, grass fed and wild meats.
Slowly increase your healthy plant based sources of fats and make sure they are not rancid, hydrogenated or high in omega 6 like vegetable oil.
Supplement with MCT oil and coconut oil to help smooth out the transition because medium chain fats are broken down into energy quickly and easily.
Use fat sources like cold water fish, olive oil and nuts and seeds depending on what your body does well with.
Make sure to get high quality sleep to ease the transition and support your bodies detoxification as any weight and fat-trapped toxins get released.
Use foods like fibre and activated charcoal to make sure excessive toxins are bound up and transported out of the body when released.
While transitioning use lighter exercise.
Always rotate any specific diet as your body does not fit into any dietary mold and your needs are your own. Going out of ketosis and onto carbohydrates may be beneficial temporarily especially for hormones and is often done through cyclic ketogenic diets.
Continue avoiding any known trigger foods as your gut and immune tolerance is specific to you and making sure you stick to whole foods will ensure the best results. Avoid highly processed and packaged foods as their chances of containing rancid/oxidized fats are high.
By following these simple principles and guidelines such as those in the food triggers guide you will have the best chance at achieving a successful ketogenic diet, transitioning to ketosis and feeding your brain with what it needs to stabilize and heal.
For more information on food and migraine see our Food Triggers Guide here.
Do you have experience with the ketogenic diet and migraines? Let me know.
Cervicogenic headaches have become one of the most common and annoying headaches known to man because of their connection with the muscles of our head and neck including our back (trapezius, rhomboids, levator and latissimus). But the cervicogenic ones can be some of the easiest to deal with as well. In this article I will discuss what cervicogenic headaches are, what you absolutely must know about them, how to support your exercises so that you’re successful as well as some simple cervicogenic headache exercises.
What are cervicogenic headaches?
Cervicogenic headaches can be explained simply by breaking up the word into its roots:
Cervico – neck
Genic – created
So cervicogenic headaches are neck-created headaches.
Generally these headaches are those that are started by or contributed to by tension and pain in the neck.
But all of our muscles are tied together and so the muscles or better known as fascia that wraps over our skull are affected by the tension or pain in our neck.
As above, so below.
The muscles below our neck in our back including the trapezius, rhomboids, levator and latissimus are all responsible for contribution to the neck and head pain as well.
Pain in any of the systems connected to the nerves coming out from our neck can be responsible for the pain we feel in our head and these headaches.
But we also need to understand that all of our nerves “hold hands” and because of this we can have nerves above or below also affecting our cervical nerves.
This is one of the reasons we should have both a skilled physical therapist like a CHEK practitioner but also a health coach supporting us with our health and pain.
Absolute must know and understand about cervicogenic headaches
Even though the name cervico-genic headaches implies that these are neck created headaches at the end of the day our body is not this isolated.
Of course, we need to make sure we get our atlas and axis vertebrae checked, which are the very top two vertebrae of our spine…
We also need to look above and below the neck to find the source of the problem.
If these cervicogenic headaches were caused by an accident then it may be as simple as doing the exercises below and having your atlas and axis checked.
But if these have developed over time and are “idiopathic” without known cause then we need to take a more functional and holistic approach to it.
For example, often our cervicogenic headaches will be caused by imbalances in our posture that have developed because we, just like everyone else, are doing our work below us ,usually at poorly designed desks, chairs and computer stations causing our head to come forward and our lower back to flatten out.
For every degree that our head comes forward it causes our entire body to have to compensate and adds weight and tension to our neck musculature.
But there is also a missing ingredient to the general approach of physical therapists with their treatment of neck and head pain…
We have to make sure core function is working properly and integrated.
This is where we come into viscero-somatic-inhibition.
Viscero – organs
Somatic – body
Inhibition – Turning off
When we experience viscero somatic inhibition our organs turn off our body.
More specifically our organs, if inflammed or overloaded will turn off sections of our abdominal musculature.
The easiest example of this is when a woman gets her period. If her body isn’t balanced her core will often turn off, her belly will get distended and her back will hurt.
This is the uterus overloading the parts of the nervous system that are feeding it and causing an entire section of the spinal cord to compensate.
So as much as we need to support the muscles of our neck and back and balance them with breathing and core functioning, we also need to address lifestyle and nutrition to turn off sources of inflammation in our organs or we may keep running into the same problem over and over again.
Supporting cervicogenic headaches
How do we go about this?
Core functioning and posture is the basis for a strong neck and keeping those pesky neck headaches away.
We want to first get away from any reasons for inflammation in the gut and organs and then support them so that they can do their job properly.
After that we will get into cervicogenic headache exercises and correcting posture.
The basis of a healthy, happy and non-inflamed gut is a great nutritional strategy.
This is often best done through a paleo type approach high in plant and pastured animal foods.
You want to make sure your blood sugar is staying balanced with meals and this can often mean avoiding grains, starchy foods and excess fruits.
An easy recipe for your foundations is to make sure you eat:
3 cups of full colored vegetables or berries each day
3 cups of cruciferous vegetables per day
3 cups of leafy greens per day
Add sea weed and other sea foods for trace minerals and their high nutrition
1+ times a week include an animal organ into your meals
3+ times a week include a food high in glycine like bone broth, soups with bones, tendons and ligaments
Only eat pastured and grass fed or wild meats
Include soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds throughout
Above and beyond this we want to make sure our hormones are balanced so that things like menses don’t throw our body into so much inflammation it causes pain and shuts off our core.
But there is also the massive problem of dysbiosis(imbalanced gut bacteria) as well as fungal and parasitic infections in the gut which needs to be tested for by a high quality stool test and dealt with.
This along with liver inflammation which can come from environmental toxins like BPA, phthalates, heavy metals etc. Can also be tested for and dealt with accordingly.
Lets get into the exercises.
Cervicogenic headache exercises
One of the first places we want to go is correcting our posture and this is almost impossible if we sit with poor ergonomics for 8 hours a day at a desk or in a car. We have to find ways to support our lower back curve and avoid having to look down because this brings the head forward.
Using something simple like a lower back support and lifting your screen is an easy way to take tension off of here.
Before doing any exercises or changing anything make sure to see a physio, chiropractor or osteopath and get a full assessment.
As neck supportive exercises we want to use this circuit:
Start by taking the tension out of the back of your neck which keeps your head forward
This is done by putting your chin to the top of your chest and then using your hands to lightly pull your head forward and hold. You should feel a light stretch in the back of your neck. Hold this for 60 seconds as you need a long static stretch to take the tension out of your muscles.
Then work on strengthening the front of your neck which holds your head up right
See the video below for neck strengthening exercises
We want to make sure our core is functioning properly, and often this will get dismissed as being something we do not need to worry about because if our core wasn’t functioning we wouldn’t be able to stand.
This is a giant misunderstanding and a big part of why the fitness industry is full of fit sick people and perpetuating myths around “flat stomachs.”
We have two separate sets of core functioning, our inner unit and our outer unit.
They are both highly integrated into breathing and with every breath, our stomach should be expanding out.
This does not happen in stressed, overwhelmed and fearful individuals or individuals with organ inflammation that prevents the diaphragm from pressing upon and massaging the organs.
The majority of people experience an inverted breathing pattern and this is showing compromised core functioning.
When we breathe, our shoulders should not be raising up and into our neck.
When we breathe, our diaphragm which is a muscle under our lungs should be going down into the abdomen, creating negative pressure in the lungs causing us to inhale.
For the diaphragm to be able to move down our abdomen needs to expand out.
If our inner or outer units are holding tension, this will not happen and instead our breath will go up into our necks and shoulder, triggering fear and stress receptors, reducing breathing capacity and adding a load of strain onto the neck.
This tension can come from many areas some of which are:
Poor core function
Social and cultural perceptions about “flat” stomachs
Fear, stress or anxiety
A pattern that has not been retrained
For a simple neck exercise see the video below:
And the last and final piece is to make sure you stretch out your upper back and pectoralis(chest).
When we sit in poor posture our lower back will flatten out and upper back will over curve to compensate for our head coming forward.
But as our head comes forward our shoulders will often come forward as well causing our chest muscles to shorten.
We can work on both of these areas easily using a foam roller and rolling out our upper back as well as our chest and using chest stretches to open the front of our body up.
By using these corrective exercises and stretches combined with postural and ergonomic correction as well as the dietary, respiratory and inflammatory support you will be so much more successful in improving the quality of your headaches compared to if it was only an exercise based approach.
We always want to approach the causes, support the systems that need it and give our body a little push in the right direction. At Migraine Professional it’s a no brainer that we always need to approach our health holistically.
Headaches and migraines are terribly painful in and of themselves but when they have the pulsating or throbbing quality to them they can be unbearable. It can drive you mad with each beat. Luckily, as long as we know what they are, we will know what to do about them. In this article, I will cover what can be causing pulsating headaches as well as what to do about them.
What are pulsating headaches?
Pulsating headaches are a broad way to characterize our headaches known by their throbbing, aching or pulsating nature.
They feel as if the veins or arteries in your head are pulsing with each beat and this may be on top of the already painful head or as the main pain. The pain comes and goes fairly quickly, repeating over and over again.
There are many causes and some of them serious so if this is out of the ordinary for you or if you have not been to a doctor for it then medical assistance should be your first go-to.
What is generally happening is that when the body triggers its headache or migraine mechanism it will dilate blood vessels to bring more blood, oxygen and resources to the brain. This combined with the incredible sensitivity caused by some headaches can then make the dilated blood vessels and pulsing of our heartbeat aggravate our headache. The brain itself does not actually have any pain sensing nerves but the meninges which supply blood to the brain and cover it do.
What causes pulsating headaches?
There are many different causes of headaches that pulsate as this is only a symptom and does not point to a disease or an etiology(cause).
For these it is best to get your doctors opinion and a diagnosis so that you are assured that you are safe and it is nothing more serious.
Some signs it may be more serious include:
A new type of headache
Change in your headache
Headaches after injuries
Headaches with a fever
Speech, vision, sensation, personality or motor control changes
Sudden and unusually severe
What are some alternatives we can try?
First and foremost whenever we have a chronic headache that our medications and standard treatment don’t satisfy we need to go and get functional medicine testing. This is a deeper and more comprehensive form of testing looking at what’s going on with your various body systems.
Our body systems are all connected and depend on each other. Often when we correct the body system going through dysfunction or stress, the pains and symptoms we experience go away. On the flip side if we simply do things to hide the symptoms, mask them and get rid of the pain, we can continue with the condition for years and decades..
Fibromyalgia is one of the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed and mistreated conditions known to man, right up there with migraine. Luckily, as long as we don’t fall into the commonly held medical view of fibromyalgia we can actually begin to address it through what has been clinically found to work incredibly well. Throughout this article I will explain why fibromyalgia is so poorly dealt with and what we can action-ably do about it through 3 profound discoveries.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia diagnosis is one of the trickier diagnoses because there are no tests or scans that can be done for it. It is based on the patients experiences of pain and symptoms but sometimes a physical exam checking tender pain points will be done.
It is known that patients with fibromyalgia have a total of 18 points all over their body that are tender when pressed, and this is one of the diagnostic criteria as well.
See the picture below for the 18 pain points(9 pairs) that are commonly associated with fibromyalgia.
Significantly more patients with chronic migraine headaches were diagnosed with fibromyalgia when compared with those with chronic tension-type headaches (66.9% versus 25.7%, P < .001).
1. Pain and symptoms over the past week in the required areas plus severity of these symptoms:
– Waking Unrefreshed
– Cognitive (memory or thought) problems
– Some other general physical symptoms
2. Symptoms lasting at least three months at a similar level
3. No other health problem that would explain the pain and other symptoms(This is where we run into issues)
There are many issues that come with these criteria the most important of which is that they are so broad and general that a massive number of people can be lumped into this category and started on medication without looking at any other causes which bring me to the next point.
In number 3 we are becoming dependant on a doctors ability to assess and diagnose every system in our body and any dysfunction in it with what is regularly just a 7 minute visit.
This is nowhere near enough to assess one of the most stressful and connecting factors in fibro as well as migraines which is gut dysfunction and specifically gut infection, intestinal permeability(leaky gut) and dysbiosis(imbalanced gut bacteria) which can present with little to no digestive issues.
Common Connections Between Migraines and Fibromyalgia
Migraines and fibromyalgia often come together and as much as 100% of fibromyalgia patients will experience a migraine and 50% will have them regularly.
In 100 fibromyalgia patients screened, chronic headache was endorsed by 76% of treatment-seeking fibromyalgia patients, with 84% reporting substantial or severe impact from their headaches.
But not only are the head pains and general fibro symptoms connected.
There is also:
– Generalized pain around the body, in joints, muscles and digestion
– Fatigue and low energy levels with an inability to maintain quality of life
– Sensitivity to all manner of stimuli from simple touch and pain all the way to Environmental Intolerance(EI) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity(MCS)
– Depression and anxiety which often come with reduced confidence and self esteem
– Sleep Disorders specifically with a disruption in ability to enter deep sleep states
– Cognitive issues like brain fog(fibro-fog), loss of memory for names, numbers and activities
See the infographic below comparing Fibromyalgia patients that have migraines and that do not have migraines and how often other health conditions came with them.
3 Profound Discoveries Connecting Fibromyalgia and Migraine Headaches
1. Central Sensitization
When our body is continually having to go through pain pathways it becomes sensitized to them and “travels” them much more easily.
As an analogy the more often a route is taken in a forest the more likely that the route will become a path as it will be easier to travel than routes not taken.
Practically this can turn stimuli that are not painful into feeling as if they are. Something like a breeze may be perceived as shocking pain.
The easiest way to understand how sensitization occurs is through the threshold theory which applies to both migraines and fibromyalgia, can be seen in the video here.
Threshold Effect – Our body adds up the stresses that are put on it. As these stressors or triggers get added up we get closer to our threshold. Our threshold is the point at which our body cannot maintain a normal state and can no longer compensate for the stresses/triggers. When our levels of these stresses cross the threshold we are highly susceptible to triggering migraine or fibro pain and we become centrally sensitized. This means that our central nervous system becomes sensitive to all other stimuli and so then any stress or stimulus that gets added on after our threshold becomes exponentially more sensitive/painful/damaging.
Originally central sensitization was thought to be only related to the sensing of pain but has now been found to relate to all senses.
Some examples of stressors that can contribute to central sensitization are:
As an example we can think of our fibro and migraines as a river. When this river begins overflowing with symptoms and pain we might think we need to damn it up to stop the symptoms and pain…
But to effectively take the load off of the fibro/migraine river we need to damn the tributaries which all converge and turn into the river.
We need to dam the stressors that are contributing to the sensitization as opposed to the symptoms coming from becoming sensitized as much as we can.
The standard held belief is that central sensitization can occur as a primary issue and seemingly “out of nowhere” and all the blame gets put on the body and genetics. This is simply not true as per the above stressors many of which have been found to be the linchpins in this process.
2. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and Intestinal Permeability “Leaky Gut”
The next most important factor in Fibromyalgia is making sure we understand that there is a massive connection between it and gut issues.
The simplest way of understanding it is that when our gut is infected, leaking or overrun we can have a massive amount of toxins from these coming into our body. Wherever they land or end up in the body will end up shooting up signals that there are foreign particles there. This can cause the immune system to activate in those areas and the nervous system to create inflammatory messengers leading to pain signals.
This adds to our already centrally sensitized nervous systems or pushes us over the edge/threshold and leads to trigger.
Not only this, but if our nervous system is creating inflammation signals so that these particles get dealt with and issues gets resolved, if the particles keep coming and the issue doesn’t get resolved, the inflammatory signals can actually further create sensitization in our nervous system…
On top of all of that, if our nervous system around the body is secreting inflammatory messaging molecules these can get passed the Blood Brain Barrier(BBB) and activate the immune system in the brain which will further increase pain sensation and sensitization.
30-70% of Fibromyalgia patients are found to have concurrent IBS
Originally this was called the HPA axis for Hypothalamic, Pituitary, Adrenal axis.
But as medicine and science advances and we finally have the research that backs the clinical experience we have found that the entire glandular system is dependent on all of its parts.
HPTTEAG stands for the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid-Thymus-Enteric-Adrenal-Gonadal axis.
These are some of the highly important glands that function within the body to maintain homeostasis and balance.
When something like our circadian rhythmsare thrown off it changes the functioning of the hypothalamic pituitary glands which then trickles down to all of the other glands in this axis.
The same goes with if we overstimulate our adrenal glands with stress, stimulants and sugars then the compensation patterns will trickle all the way up and down affecting the other glands and their hormone production.
Glands are the master regulators of the body and they control the show so to speak.
As more and more of our glands have to compensate for stresses that are going on chronically we experience a mixing of signals from them.
This leads to massive confusion in the body and BIG danger signs.
The body doesn’t know how to differentiate types of danger and instead adds them up.
This leads to overcompensation by our fight, fright, flee mode known as the sympathetic nervous system and undercompensation by our rest, digest and repair nervous system known as our parasympathetic nervous system.
Our ability to rest, digest and repairbreaks down and we are stuck in fear, burnout and overwhelm.
We have to switch this cycle back over and take the burdens off our HPTTEAG axis by:
But along with these 3 profound discoveries and the amazing wealth of information and actionable items in those links there are also some simple and clinically study tools we can consider with our healthcare providers.
What else can we do?
You always first and foremost want to make sure your foundations are taken care of and underlying causes are dealt with FIRST.
Otherwise you are at risk of only palliating and even though you may feel better your body will still be compromised for years until another system breaks.
5 hydroxytryptophan(HTP) is a precursor to the neurotransmitter and hormone serotonin.
“All the clinical parameters studied were significantly improved by treatment with 5-HTP and only mild and transient side-effects were reported.”
See graph from the study below:
In this study they used 100mg of 5 HTP 3 times daily or placebo. It’s important to talk with your doctor before taking this supplement as you can have reactions with some medications and in some people.
Magnesium is one of our all stars in the chronic disease world and especially with fibromyalgia because it is so incredibly deficient in the industrialized world.
We used to be able to get enough magnesium from our diets but with overfarming of soil there is less magnesium in the plants. That combined with the increase in chronic lifestyle stress and gut dysfunction has set us up for massive magnesium loss.
One of the keys to retaining magnesium in the body is maintaining urinary alkalosis which is basically alkaline pee. We can do this by making sure we eat plenty of fruits and vegetables high in potassium and drinking half our body weight (lbs) in ounces of water daily.
“The serum and erythrocyte magnesium levels were significantly lower in patients with fibromyalgia than in the controls…. The number of tender points, tender point index, FIQ and Beck depression scores decreased significantly with the magnesium citrate treatment.”
“Low magnesium levels in the erythrocyte might be an etiologic factor on fibromyalgia symptoms.”
Not only that but magnesium is amazing for helping to manage the stresses that affect our HPTTEAG axis and it is a key mineral in making sure our bowels work properly.
As you’ll notice if you take too much magnesium it will give you diarrhea but making sure you take enough magnesium keeps the bowels moving, prevents constipation and keeps the stool hydrated as long as water intake is sufficient.
You have to see our video on 4 massive triggers of fibromyalgia migraines and headaches here:
By combining an incredibly knowledgeable holistic health practitioner along with preventing central sensitization, dealing with any SIBO and supporting your HPTTEAG axis you will be empowering your body to actually heal instead of be stuck without the resources to do so.
There is an incredibly complex process going on in our bodies, both leading to migraines and headaches as well as to autoimmunity. Luckily, by understanding what causes it, triggers it and “throws gasoline on the fire” we can take steps to avoid falling into this vicious cycle. In this article, I will be covering 4 factors that trigger autoimmunity, migraines and headaches. Let’s start with what autoimmunity is and how we can understand it.
What is autoimmunity?
Autoimmunity is a process by which our adaptive immune system targets substances in our body and attacks them.
Often these substances are made up of proteins which are chains of amino acid sequences.
Our actual immune cells will target sections of these sequences and create millions of antibodies that are targeted to find this specific sequence of amino acids and attack it.
Throughout this process there are millions of immune cells that are brought in so that the combination of each of them finding and attacking that specific sequence can actually make a difference in the grand scheme of our body.
But we can run into problems because these immune cells only know that they need to target the specific sequence of amino acids. They aren’t necessarily keen to the idea that there may be helpful tissues, chemicals and substances that contain these same sequences.
This is where molecular mimicry comes in.
Molecular mimicry is where the same sections of amino acids on substances such as gluten are found on bodily tissues like those of the thyroid.
This can set us up for a problem if we have something like leaky gut which I will get into below.
If our immune cells find that gluten is a problematic food that keeps being found in our blood because of a leaky gut then it can begin targeting them and develop billions of immune cells that will be specifically targeted to attack gluten.
Now, if this system begins making immune cells for the sequences of amino acids found in gluten and one of them happens to be the same sequence as is found in our thyroid….
Then our immune cells can begin attacking our thyroid creating inflammation, destroying our thyroid and subsequently developing metabolic issues and diseases like hashimotos.
But our body is not dumb, there are systems to regulate the immune cells targeting, creation, as well as double check to make sure that they are not destroying friendlies.
This is where we understand how the body goes into dysfunction where the fail-safe systems backfire and the destruction continues.
4 Factors That Trigger Autoimmunity, Migraines and Headaches
There are 4 factors that will predispose us and push our body over the edge to the point that there is more dysfunction in the system than there are fail-safes to keep us protected. The first is our genetic susceptibility.
1. Genetic Susceptibility
This is the hand of cards we’ve been dealt in life. But it’s also the way our parents have lived, how we spent our childhoods and the beliefs we hold.
I’m not one to leave you believing that just because of your genes, you are stuck sick, unhealthy and unwhole for your entire life. It’s simply not true because of epigenetics.
Epigenetics are the controllers of genes and even though our genes might be the blueprint to the tissues made in our body, it is our epigenetics that decides what gets acted out and which genes are activated.
This is why Bruce Liptons work on the power of belief has been so amazing.
The behaviours, attitudes and emotions that you hold are constantly turning on and off genes and their ability to support your functioning.
Genes are not a static thing, they are constantly changing.
On top of understanding that by changing the way we feel about our health and how we show our body we feel about our health we can also change the way our childhoods have programmed us.
Childhood is the period of our lives where we act like a sponge and absorb all of the information necessary for our body to assess how we should function in the world.
If our body and mind gets the idea that we live in a world of scarcity, fear and a massive lack of safety and security it will be programmed differently.
We will literally program into our genes and bodies expression that the world is not safe and that we have to be highly vigilant all of the time incase something bad happens.
But this is not true. We live in the most abundant world to date and have all of our needs taken care of with the push of a button. We are far from the wild natural world full of predators and actual life threatening fears.
We just need to learn it consciously and then take the time to program it into our bodies subconsciously.
Using journaling, mindfulness, meditation, affirmations and gratitude to change the way our body is responding to stress.
Not only is stress a major part of how well we rest, digest and repair our tissues but it’s also a determining factor in how our genes function and which ones are on or off.
If we are on high alert all of the time, so will our immune system be. This will give us a much higher chance of developing the immune antibodies that are destroying just a little too much ending up in the detriment of our own tissues.
But it is up to you to choose and set the course.
2. Environmental Stressors
There are over 100,000 brand new chemicals in our air, food, water and soil with thousands more added every year.
The problem is only a few hundred have been tested for safety in humans and many are being found to be unsafe.
The creation of them is progressing much faster than the regulation and we’ve seen with substances like glyphosate, BPA and lead that we need regulation before it gets into everything we use.
We want to make sure we check over our surroundings and the areas that chemicals are coming in to them.
This includes a few key areas that I will list below but the big troublemakers here have been the petroleum products and synthetics.
Things like iron, cotton and ceramics have been around a long time. It is the newer additions like alloys that contain heavy metals, fibres and their colorings that contain endocrine disruptors.
Not only are these substances aggravating our immune system but they are also clogging up our systems of detoxification like the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and intestines.
The average woman will put on over 100 chemicals before she goes to work in the morning and this is largely from hygiene products, fragrances and makeup.
Ever heard the term obesogens? Its a term used to describe endocrine disruptors like BPA which are found in many fragrances that deregulated the way your hormones function and literally make you obese.
These chemicals are not without reprecussions and even though we cannot be completely free of them because of the world we live in we have to do our part to reduce our intake especially in the directly absorbable areas.
New products are well known for their offgassing(that new car smell) which is full of tens of thousands of chemicals that have adverse effects on our bodies. We inhale litres of this every breath and during the first year a car is manufactured this is the worst.
The biggest tips here are:
Everything you put on your skin needs to be assessed as your skin absorbs 60% of what’s put on it
Makeups are massively unregulated and one of the largest contributors to toxicity in women
Look at ingredients and understand that things like “fragrances” are industry protected terms that can contain hundreds of different unregulated chemicals
It can be incredibly annoying to look at ingredients and have to decipher everything so its much easier to choose trusted and reputable brands that have safe products and high standards
Anything you put into your body – Know where your water is sourced from and what is in it, avoid plastics – Only eat pastured and grass fed meats along with as many organic fruits and vegetables as you can find to decrease how much your microbiome is affected by these and avoid things like contributing to leaky gut which we will cover in #3
Cleaning products are anything but easy on the body especially because they are specifically there to kill bacteria of which we have 100 trillion of that we need and depend on – Many of the natural and old school cleaners like vinegar and baking soda will do the job well if not better than the new stuff, without clogging you up
Reduce ALL EMF exposure and distance yourself whenever and wherever possible
We want to reduce our exposure in our environment to foreign substances which interact with our immune system and add to the burden on our bodies. It is only in the last 50 -100 years that we have completely shifted our entire exposure and now our genes have to scramble to make sense of things.
Our genes expect a certain way of living based on the million years it took to get here, give it as close to what it expects and it will thank you.
3. Leaky gut
Leaky gut is the newer kid on the blog because it has only been in the last 20-30 years that it was discovered and 5 years that it has become moremain -stream.
But it is anything but second priority.
Our gut contains 80% of our immune system and 30% of our nervous system. This ranks it very high on the list of priorities of the body to protect because it knows that this is where we interact with the outside world the most.
A substance that we eat is technically not inside of our bodies until it is absorbed. The long tube from our mouth to butt is designed this way to protect us from any pathogens or organisms that should not be in the body while still being able to break down food.
But then we have leaky gut.
This is a mechanism by which the cells that form the tube in our intestines get spaced apart because of a process of disease and because of a substance called zonulin.
When the space between cells opens up, it allows molecules that should not be in the body to get through. Anything from microorganisms to food particles to toxins to genetic material to nutrients.
They can all get through because the space between these cells is unregulated.
When these substances get into our body, they get flagged by our immune system because they are not supposed to be here.
If we are lucky we only get a few immune cells to come in, break them down according to the right sequences in their amino acids and that’s that, problem over.
But especially if we are high strung, if our immune system is on high alert and we are being bombarded with toxins and substances we are not digesting then many particles get into our body.
With foreign particles getting into our body our immune system starts to target them and then develop reserves of antibodies that can target them if they ever come back.
If even one of these substances they begin attacking has the same sequence of amino acids as our bodily tissues, queue the tissue destruction and rampant inflammation.
Or if the particles are landing in our joints and our immune system is attacking them there then we can set ourselves up for massive joint pain and inflammation.
There are many systems that have to go wrong and go through dysfunction and this is why the body needs support through lowering toxic burden, and healing leaky gut.
Healing leaky gut requires that we address what is causing the leaky gut in the first place and this is often:
This is one of the least talked about causes of autoimmunity and migraines but it absolutely needs to be talked about.
Trauma and specifically anything in the category of ACEs or adverse childhood events should be considered when we are dealing with healing and recovery.
These are events which change the way we behave, act or perceive in the world.
They are the basis for making massive epigenetic changes to our systems which can wire us up for our entire lives.
Do you ever find yourself put into a situation where you feel incredibly thankful and happy only to be triggered by thoughts or emotions that make you feel like you should be doing something about perceived problems?
A tell tale sign is finding that you worry about things going wrong when everything is actually okay.
You want to look deeper into this and see a tension, stress and trauma therapist(TRE), see the work of Byron Katie or try some EFT.
It is important to combine these 4 factors in your own life to add to the ability to calm down and regulate the immune system and cool any inflammation that may be going on.
Understand that your current perceptions and behaviours are insights into how your body is wound up
Reduce the load that the environment, everything on us, in us and around us has on our physiology
Look at and address the causes of leaky gut while supporting its repair
Release those deep emotional wounds with some help
See our video below on the 4 Factors that trigger autoimmunity, migraines and headaches here:
Click here to join the migraine professional community and learn more about migraines and headaches than you’ve ever known before.
Do you struggle with one of these 4 areas? Which one?
The FREE 5 Most Common Mistakes Of Hormonal Migraines E-Guide teaches you:
– Why hormones are the most important focus around why your migraines and headaches keep triggering
– How PMS is common but NOT normal and why it needs to be addressed to be pain free in the long term
– The 5 most common mistakes why hormones stay broken, why so many women become migraine free with pregnancy and why birth control is not a solution