Recently I had a blog reader inquire about migraines that reoccur each month a day or two before the start of her next cycle. I used to get migraines 2-3 days before the end of each cycle too, so this question really hit home for me. These migraines are called menstrual migraines and often occur 2 days before the end of your cycle up through the first 3 days of your period. Because of the timing of these migraines, they can be difficult to treat and may not respond to the same medicines that other severe headaches and migraines respond to.
The cause of these migraines is likely one of the following reasons:
The natural drop in magnesium towards the end of your monthly cycle. If this is the cause it can respond to administration of magnesium from the midpoint of your cycle (day 15 for most women) until the second day of your next period. I recommend a form of magnesium that is chelated like: magnesium glycinate, magnesium threonate or magnesium malate. You can start at 400 mg and gradually increase to between 800 and 1000 mg/ day. This can be administered before bedtime to help with relaxing and more sound sleep (magnesium has that effect). While administering magnesium monitor for changes in your stool consistency. Your bowel movements may become more frequent and more soft with magnesium intake. This is not concerning unless you begin having more than 3 bowel movements per day.
The natural drop in estrogen that takes place at the end of the cycle. A natural remedy is to take phytoestrogens in the 7-8 days leading up to your next cycle/period. You can try to add more estrogen rich foods like soy, take a supplement or use an estrogen cream or skin patch.
You can try adding both the magnesium and the phytoestrogens in the same cycle or try one remedy and if no relief is found within 3-4 cycles, try adding in the other. It may take 3-4 cycles for the migraines to respond.
Food! Women tend to crave certain foods in the days leading up to their period. Often times these are the only times they eat these foods or eat high quantities of these foods. Migraines can be triggered in response to the introduction of offending foods or (ENOUGH) of these offending foods [that is to say, it can be dose dependent, one bite may not trigger, but 10 just might].
If you only ever drink red wine or eat chocolate the few days leading up to your period, it could actually be that instead of the hormones or magnesium, and it just happens to be that your patterns match the hormonal shift. Below is a list of foods that tend to trigger migraines. There is some other advice in there too like sleeping and exercise (Surprise).
I always recommend tracking food, lifestyle patterns and symptoms leading up to your period to see if some months you get the headache and others you don't, then compare what may have been different in your diet, etc.
Here is a list of foods that can trigger migraines:
MSG and high-glutamate foods/additives in all forms
All fermented foods including yogurt, sour cream and vinegar
All protein supplements
Peanuts and all nuts
All leftover meats that are more than 36 hours old
The above list reduces some of the bigger sources of tyramine and histamine. During those days leading up to your period, your focus should be on simple foods that have been minimally processed. Additionally, I suggest you focus on regular sleep and hydration with at least a gallon of water per day.
As with many other conditions, migraine triggers “stack.” So, you may be able to have wine and cheese on a pleasant day in the early part of your cycle, but may find that wine and cheese while the barometer is dropping and your period is imminent crosses the pain threshold.
While not homeopathic, if you are open to Over The Counter medications pain relievers like Excedrin migraine or Aleve are best taken as soon as the pain starts. Taking Benadryl seems to enhance the effect of the NSAID and often brings faster relief. MANY migrainuers have a problem with histamine so Benadryl sometimes helps with that. Sometimes the pain is just too much and taking something to get rid of the pain as fast as possible is necessary. If you have to take something don’t kick yourself, just take it and look for the relief.
Often with a few extra pounds to lose hormones are affected. Adipose(fat) tissue play a role in hormone regulation. Sometimes even a small amount of change, namely 10-15 pounds can have great affect on hormones and through the cascade of change, can affect migraine occurrences.
Be patient with yourself when these migraines happen, try laying in a cool dark room, relaxing, finding someone to rub your neck, a cool wet cloth on your forehead, and perhaps some peppermint essential oil to rub on your neck and temples. If you are having migraines throughout your cycle, it may be time to consider having your blood tested for food sensitivities. Your immune system creates chemicals that are pro-inflammatory (make more inflammation) in response to foods you are sensitive to. Eating these foods can trigger migraines, finding out which foods these may be can give you the knowledge and buy you freedom from these painful migraines.
Curious if your health issues are related to food sensitivities? We’ll cover general information regarding food sensitivities, navigate information that may be helpful to determine if your health issue may be related to food sensitivity, and how as a part of my practice we can test and help you overcome food sensitivities.
Let’s start here: WHAT IS A FOOD SENSITIVITY?
Food sensitivity describes a specific immune reaction to a food or food chemical. A reactive food will cause immune cells to release chemicals that are inflammatory. These chemicals are called mediators and you may be familiar with the name of a few of these chemicals like histamine, cytokines and prostaglandins. There are about 100 different types of mediators, those are just a few. These chemical mediators your immune cells release are the DIRECT CAUSE of food sensitivity symptoms and associated inflammation in the body.
ARE FOOD ALLERGIES THE SAME AS SENSITIVITIES?
There is a lot of confusion regarding food intolerances, food allergies and food sensitivities, some of which may be due to the medical community and health professionals using the words interchangeably. However, all of these conditions are different, and created because of very different reactions (or lack of reactions) in the body. Let’s break it down.
Food intolerances are not something your immune system is reacting to. Rather it is most often that your body is not creating an enzyme for food breakdown (or creating enough of the enzyme). The intolerance most people know of is lactose. It is due to inadequate lactase production, so the sugar found in milk doesn’t break down and makes it to the distant parts of your GI tract (read your colon) and the gut bacteria have a hey-day digesting lactose. This causes gas, bloating, and for some diarrhea. The food sensitivity testing I work with does not test for food intolerance, however on the elimination diet we create together, it becomes easy to identify these food issues quickly.
Food allergies are a reaction that your immune system is involved with. Allergies are not exclusive to food either, I’m sure you know this already, but you can be allergies to medicine, insects stings (like bees), pet dander, pollen, mold, grasses, and food. There is only pathway that your immune system reacts to create an allergic response. It is called an immunoglobulin E mediated response or IgE. Symptoms vary, but they are usually immediate and varying levels of severity. Think hives, wheezing, vomiting, blood pressure drop, closing of airways, anaphylaxis. These are the kind of reactions to take very seriously. Most often these types of reactions are known to an individual and are confirmed with skin pricking. If someone tells you they are allergic to peanuts or shellfish, this is typically the type of reaction they are speaking about, and it’s not one to mess around with. The testing done in my practice will not show this type of reaction.
Food sensitivities are the third type of reaction. They are a more complex (almost elegant) type of reaction. It certainly doesn’t leave you feeling elegant, but there are so many different types of immune cells and pathways that are apart of these types of reactions. The symptoms are often delayed, instead of immediate like the food allergies just discussed. Because of this delay, it is hard for an individual to root out the offending foods on their own. These delays can be as long as 36 hours or as short as 2 hours. If it is a migraine that is triggered, how are you to know if it was the papaya in the fruit salad at work today or the coffee cheesecake that was served at the family gather last night? The symptoms that are related to sensitivities are also more varied and have varying degrees of severity. Most of the symptoms are related to inflammation and a cascade of related responses. From muscle contraction, to arthritis, to migraines and IBS.
DO I HAVE A FOOD SENSITIVITY?
If you have an inflammatory or autoimmune condition, most particularly one that is not responding to traditional treatment, you very likely may have a food sensitivity. The most common conditions that can be improved or completely resolved with food sensitivity testing and a related elimination diet are:
During an initial consultation, we will carefully review your symptoms and health history to determine if food sensitivity testing is right for you and may improve your health conditions, or if the test is un-needed and other issues may need to be resolved first. (Other issues could be parasites, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, etc).
I do have some patients that do not present with the typical conditions listed above and are just interested to know if they are sensitive to any foods. We can test and work on a patient specific diet for you to improve energy levels and decrease inflammation in your body based on the testing. There is no harm in testing and it could be a great way to spend your FSA funds before the end of the year!
HOW DOES YOUR FOOD SENSITIVITY TESTING WORK?
The mediator release test (MRT) is a blood test that directly measures the mediators your immune cells release when exposed to foods or food chemicals. There is 150 different foods and food chemicals tested. Things like apples, wheat, dairy, other items include herbs like basil and oregano, even foods like quinoa and rice. Chemicals in common medicines like Advil and Tylenol are also tested. Wouldn’t it be great to know if that medicine you are taking to rid yourself of inflammation or a headache was actually contributing to the problem? By measuring how much mediators your body is releasing, we can quantify just how reactive a food is to your specific body.
WHAT IS THE DIET PROTOCOL LIKE WHEN WE ELIMINATE FOODS?
The LEAP (Lifestyle Eating And Performance) Immunocalm Diet is an individualized diet based on your test results. It is implemented in 5 separate stages, starting with limiting your diet to the least reactive foods and gradually moving on to other foods that are more reactive. The idea is that we lower the inflammation and quiet your immune system and then slowly add back in foods. The diet in it’s most restrictive phase will still allow you to live your life, but we may find out that the food you eat every day for breakfast is something you are reactive to. If that’s the case, we better change it. So there is a level of flexibility you must be willing to practice to see optimal results and healing in your body.
One of the beautiful things about this program is you test, and then you eat food that is good for you, nourishing your body, and you simply remove foods that are harmful and allow your body to heal. Depending on the severity of your condition ( like IBS) you will likely see results within 5-10 days, for those with eczema, it may take a bit longer to see improvement (2-3 weeks). You do not need to take supplements or purchase any type of detoxifying formula to see improvements, the idea is to heal and eat real food.
HOW CAN I GET STARTED?
I’m glad you asked! Let’s set up a 30 minute consultation where you can learn more about it and I can screen you to make sure the test is best for you. It’s only $35 to schedule the initial consult. If you choose to move forward I decrease the price of the testing and package by $35, so you have nothing to lose. Our meeting can be completely virtual, so don’t let distance stop you from getting started and ridding yourself of foods that are harming your body rather than nourishing you! Click here, fill out the form and I will be in touch to set up an appointment.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
110 N McClelland Street
Santa Maria, California 93454