Since the beginning of civilization the foods we eat have played a role in our headaches and migraines. Recently, some studies have found incredibly powerful dietary modifications for alleviating the chronic pain and inflammation inside our brains with 50% to upwards of 100% of individuals seeing benefits.
One of the most common and biggest buzz diets in the 21st century is going vegan. Partly because of its health promoting effects but also because of the ease it gives some people in terms of their moral lives. In this article I will be covering the health aspect of going vegan and will not be diving into “veganism.” We will cover what you need to watch out for which may be causing the relief of your symptoms as well as what you need to be careful for which may make symptoms worse.
At the end of the day it is the foods we eat and not any specific diet we follow that will determine our health, this is the best way to think of it. Let’s dive in.
What may be helping:
Some of the most common health benefits of switching to a vegan diet, especially from something like the Standard American Diet(SAD) is that you will(hopefully) be switching to many, many more whole foods.
A whole food is the state that a food is in when it is grown. For example, a chicken eaten as chicken and not a nugget, barley eaten as barley and not bread, edamame eaten in a bean instead of in tofu or potatoes eaten as a potato and not a french fry.
The more a food is processed, the less whole it is and the more nutrients and genetic and epigenetic signalling we lose. Many times it may not be that the food is no longer whole, but that the food has (C.R.A.P.) in it. It is high in Carbohydrates, Refined sugars, Additives and Preservatives. These are detrimental compounds and will determine how healthy the food you are eating really is.
The more we can stick to whole foods, the more likely we will do better on a vegan diet and any diet we choose.
Any new diet will automatically introduce new foods. One of the most important principles of a brain healing diet is variety and the introduction of new foods along with not overusing the same foods. When we don’t digest well and have a condition like leaky gut which is extremely common, we run into a big issue. If the proteins in our food are not broken down properly during digestion and get through the lining of the intestine(leaky gut) then our immune system can become sensitized to them. When our immune system becomes sensitized to the protein in a food, whenever we eat that food we can trigger an inflammatory immune reaction. We can also trigger poor blood sugar handling.
This is a recipe for disaster we have to avoid and a new diet may help support that.
Vegan diets often come with their fair share of fruits and vegetables. This can be great for digestion and can be much easier for some people to digest. Some people, especially those with a chronic illness have compromised digestive systems. This means their digestion is not effectively breaking down and absorbing the foods they are eating.
This can lead to symptoms such as:
Low energy after or between meals
Need for stimulants
Feeling worse after eating
Being overly full from meat or feeling like meat is just sitting in their stomach
When we make the switch away from animal foods this may be alleviated, but it is not fixing the actual problem of WHY your digestion is not working properly in the first place. It can be something as simple as too much stress, poor vagal tone or low stomach acid.
It could also be something more complex like dysbiosis, SIBO or parasitic infection. In our virtual clinic we use stool tests that can be taken in the comfort of your own home and tell us how your digestive organs are functioning, if there is an imbalance of your good and bad gut bacteria and if you have any active infections compromising digestion. You can contact us to learn more about this.
The benefits we see from a diet switch to vegan may be because of the lighter foods we are eating and we want to be able to see this objectively so that we can always address the ROOT cause instead of just symptoms.
One of the most common benefits of switching away from conventionally raised meat and fish is that you discontinue ingesting excess toxins. Endocrine disruptors and toxic compounds have become ubiquitous in our environment and everyone’s health is affected in some way because of it. Conventional agriculture is extremely poisonous to the plants, animals and humans that eat it so this is one of the best places to reduce our exposure.
Animals are bioaccumulators because they are higher up on the food chain. Every level you go up on the food chain increases the amount of toxic accumulation in the tissues. The grains the animals eat are sprayed with pesticides and then fed to the animals, accumulating in their tissues. Then when you eat an animal thats whole life has been sustained by these grains, you are taking that animals toxic burden onto yourself.
Vegetables and fruits will provide many of the antioxidant and fibrous compounds that help our body detoxify chemicals our body is trying to excrete on a daily basis.
Switching to a vegan diet is a great way to go one step down and avoid those bioaccumulators. Another option for the non completely vegan is to go to your local farmer, choose grass-fed, grass-finished, pastured and wild meats. But the same goes for conventionally raised plants. Choose organic and clean sourced foods.
What to be careful for:
As you switch over to a vegan diet you want to be aware that anyone who exercises, has high levels of stress or has a chronic illness will need many many more amino acids(proteins) so that their body can make the compounds it needs to make to heal.
A protein is simply a chain of amino acids. Your body takes the proteins in food and breaks it down with acids and enzymes into amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks it needs to form every tissue in your body. In the chronically ill, these amino acids are needed to repair our tissues, create hormones, form acute stress response cytokines and all of our enzymes.
Without being aware of it, switching to a vegan diet can take away many of the amino acids necessary to do this. Our body needs A LOT of amino acids on a daily basis because it can only recycle so much. It also needs a proper balance of amino acids which is often not found in a single plant food so food combining may be necessary. On the contrary, animal proteins will contain every amino acid we need in a balanced ratio because it is made of the same proteins our own tissues are made of. As long as you are eating nose-to-tail.
I often see chronic individuals come in with poor amino acid levels and this cannot be overstated enough.
Conversion of nutrients
There is a big difference between a plant cell and an animal cell. Plant cells use plant cell nutrition and animal cells use animal cell nutrition. The problem with a purely vegan approach is that our body is made of animal cells.
When we ingest a plant cell that gets broken down by our digestion(hopefully) and the nutrients are absorbed, our body has to then convert the nutrients into animal cell nutrition which our body recognizes and can use in its own systems.
This requires a conversion and in this process we can lose a huge amount of the intended nutrient. For example, flax seed may be seen as very high in omega 3 which is healthy and necessary for functioning, but it is not the same omega 3 our body uses in the forms of EPA and DHA. Depending on your biochemical individuality when your body converts flax seed omega 3 into EPA and DHA as much as 50-95% can be lost in the process.
Animal nutrition is often superior so when making the switch you have to account for the much higher dietary intake needed to achieve the same body requirements.
The final issue is to beware of negative effects showing up between 1-2 yrs after switching to a vegan diet. During the first few months you may see great improvements and gains in everything from feeling to functioning to pain and fatigue. But remember to listen to your body. Just because something works well for you today does not mean it will work well tomorrow. Be open to what your body is saying and make changes accordingly.
Food choices should be lead by the bodies own mechanisms for telling you what is right and wrong. If we place the burden of the right foods onto our mind we can easily fall into traps like diets, isms, religions and morals above our own health.
Our health should always be the highest priority because it is what cleans the lens that we see the world through.
Holistic Health PractitionerMark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.