Sunday, 10 February 2013

Why Does My Head Still Hurt--Part III

I never thought I'd get around to a part III on this topic, but the truth is, I still get headaches.

I could devote a whole blog to head pain.

I think I have had every kind of headache there is to know.

Shouldn't a Paleo Diet cure everything?  I mean, I read all the blogs out there and all I see over and over is how it "cured" their migraines, their sinusitis, barometric-pressure headaches, and even those frustrating hormone headaches.  So, why didn't it do that for me? Am I just broken??

It is ridiculously frustrating that the switch to a Primal Diet did not cure all of them. Hard-core Paleo did not cure them. Improving my gut health through fermented foods and probiotics did not cure them.  Although, in defence of the Paleo Diet, it DID cure those I'm-so-hungry-I'm going-to-pass-out headaches.  Low-blood-sugar headaches were banished forever with the switch to paleo, thank you very much!

In my prior life, I was the queen of medications.  I have a medicine cabinet full of every type of OTC drug you could ever want or need, and several prescription ones as well.  I was a real pill-popper.  To some degree, I still am.  But at some point, if you get this Paleo thing at all, you know--the pill-popping MUST STOP.  The pills, the painkillers, they are simply masking the underlying problem.  They will not cure the problem.  Only the immediate pain--and taking those pills actually causes a whole host of other issues to crop up, creating a cycle.

So let me explain what my headaches are.  99% of my headaches start in the sinuses in the front of the face.  I think I have the smallest, tightest, driest sinuses ever created.  At the first sign of trouble, I feel that dry, tight, snapping sensation between my eyes.  I feel that when the weather changes.  I feel that when I eat foods that I'm sensitive to.  I feel that when I have a slight cold coming on.  I feel that when I sleep more than 8 hours, or on my side too long (compressing the sinuses), when I'm overtired, when I have eye strain from the computer, when the bedroom air is too dry, and for pretty much every other reason you can think of.  It starts in the sinuses.  Every single time.   And if I don't treat the pain, if I ignore it, every single one of those headaches has the potential to become a full-blown light-and-sound-sensitive, vomiting migraine.  Lets call that sinus pain my "aura".

So, clearly, there is some kind of thing going on with my sinuses.

I'm already following a Paleo diet, which by default should already be an anti-inflammatory diet--so what would cause my body to react by inflaming my sinuses?  Well, for starters, dairy (and simple sugars--but I'm not eating those, am I, now?).  There are a million studies out there suggesting dairy causes congestion.  Fine.  I get it.  But since I don't eat all that much dairy, it must also be other food I've ingested.  Specifically, Paleo-approved food I've ingested.  Inflamed sinuses are a sign of food intolerance or an allergic-type reaction.  So, despite my paleo diet, I MUST still be ingesting something that is causing a reaction, right?

Ok, ok, most of us have now learned that the Paleo diet is not One-Size-Fits-All.  It just isn't.  And when you feel like Paleo didn't cure all of your ailments, that is always the hard answer that we don't want to hear.  Because we give up so many things when we switch to a Primal/Paleo diet already, the thought of giving up even more of them just seems horribly overwhelming and unfair.  To all of you out there on FODMAP-free diets, GAPS, paleo dieters who are allergic to eggs or nuts, or whom can't digest fat due to a gallbladder issue, I feel for you.  I understand.

So lets play a little game...

What do red wine, vinegar, some nuts and citrus fruit have in common? 

Well, first of all, they are known migraine trigger foods. In fact, these foods definitely cause me headaches all the time, every time. And aside from the red wine, all the other foods on the list are paleo.  Lets list a few more things, maybe you'll see the pattern.

Yogurt, aged cheese, cured meats, dried fruit, fermented foods.

Yes, I said it.  Fermented foods.  My science projects, my gut-healing darlings.

Still not seeing the connection?  Chris Kresser recently did a post on these foods.  It read like a laundry list of all the things I know cause problems for me--and yet I did not have ANY of the symptoms listed--except "tissue swelling"--I guess that could mean my sinuses, and a "different type of headache".

Now, I'm no rocket scientist--but I have a sneaking suspicion that fermented foods are actually CAUSING some of them.  I know, crazy, right?  So very, very sad.  Because I LOVE fermented foods.  And good-quality aged cheese.  And gut-healing yogurt.  And wine.  Since we're being honest.  I really , really have to get the heck away from alcohol.  (You have heard my thoughts on alcohol before, so you know how much that hurts me).

The answer to the riddle is histamine.  Or amines in general.  

I know, I know, I was hoping that cutting out red wine in favour of white wine was enough to stop the problem, too.  I really did hope for that.  But it hasn't stopped it.  It has lessened it to some degree, but not stopped every headache occurrence   The cycle goes like this:  Eat/drink something that causes your histamine levels to go haywire, get stuffed up sinuses, after a few days sinus buildup becomes non-infectious sinusitis that is treated with many, many kinds of painkillers.  Which causes constipation.  Feeling low like that makes me crave comfort foods--all the foods that I should have avoided in the first place.  And so the cycle continues.

The good news is that they say that avoiding these foods for a period of time allows the body to settle back down and a lot of people find they can eat SOME of these foods once again.  The trick is to avoid those foods for a while.  This is a trick I have yet to master.  But I'm trying.

In the meantime, lets talk about some more natural ways to deal with sinus pain and avoid those OTC's, shall we?....
  • cold cloth over the eyes/face alternated with hot beverage
  • cool-air humidifier
  • spicy foods like wasabi and horseradish--both "clear" the sinuses
  • get out and move around; this makes the sinuses loosen up a bit
  • get off the computer!!  Avoid eye strain
  • flushing the sinuses with a netti pot and saline solution
  • peppermint oil applied to the temples
  • acupuncture, acupressure, and massage (face or neck)
And when that fails, a few supplements that can help... (Be mindful that I am not a doctor, this is just what I know and do for my own headaches)
  • Magnesium is good for blood circulation and relaxes nerve endings; 200-600 mg, up to 1000mg
  • Vitamin C has anti-histamine properties; 250-1000mg--be careful with this one*
  • Omega 3's are anti-inflammatory; up to 1000mg/day from mixed EPA/DHA source
  • CoQ10 increases blood flow to the brain and is anti-inflammatory; 60-100mg/day
  • B2 is great for PREVENTION; take a broad-spectrum B multi- daily on the PMS week
  • probiotics (did you know low stomach acid can cause headaches?  It can)
  • Vitamin D reduces inflammation (and deficiency can cause headaches--in the northern hemisphere, many of us are deficient), read dosage on bottle, but I personally double the amount recommended
At the first sign of sinus trouble, I take a serving of each of magnesium, Omega 3, Vitamin D and a probiotic, and sometimes Vitamin C, too with a glass of ice-cold water.  Give it an hour to kick in.  Its amazing how much these supplements alone help me.  Often, this is enough.  Unless it's the day after a glass of wine.

If that doesn't give any relief, my favorite homeopathic tincture is something called Euphorbium.  Use the oral drops, not the nasal drops.  That stuff works like a charm.  I have not heard of any known problems, reactions, or rebound-issues with this homeopathic drug, and if YOU HAVE, please let me know about it.  This drug came recommended by Beverley Meyer, a paleo nutritionist who specializes in pain and pain management.

I'm pretty happy that I've been able to deal with pain without as many OTC meds as is usual for me.  This has been a big step for me.  Of course, the bigger step will be to eliminate my headaches altogether.  Is that unreasonable?  Am I being ridiculous thinking that this is something I can FIX?  Its a funny thing about this Paleo Diet.  The more we know, the more we want to know, the more we believe in it's power to heal.  Everything.

So tell me, what do you do for pain management?  Have you tried dosing with supplements?  I'm not saying we all need to take these supplements; the diet alone should be enough for most of us.  But there's a fine print in all of this, isn't there?  That little disclaimer about what to do when Paleo doesn't fix everything.  I wish it did.  In a perfect world, if we were not all already broken, I believe it would prevent everything.  But we don't live in THAT world.

Let me know what you think....

* Chronically excessive doses of Vitamin C can lead to deficiency in copper, which will cause inflammation, funny enough.  Read dosage instructions on side of bottle/package.  Use this high-dose remedy WHEN NECESSARY, and not as an ongoing daily dose.

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