Migraine and Food Allergy
We view migraine as a fascinating example of food reactive problems that allow us to examine the link between food ingestion, the circulating immune system and brain disturbances. Migraine sufferers are likely to respond well to adequate diet revision. It is usually not adequate just to eliminate a few things from the diet. Many migraine suffers can identify single foods as headache triggers -coffee, chocolate, junk foods, and alcoholic beverages are common triggers of migraine but normal food components - milk, wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, eggs, peanuts, soy, almonds, cashews, oranges and fish can also be headache triggers.
While pain is the main event, many other symptoms that occur before, during, and after a headache can be explained as a delayed pattern food allergy mechanism. Typically, a migraine sufferer will follow a rhythmic or cyclic pattern. Headaches come in attacks with variable symptom-free periods between attacks. The underlying biorhythms and changes in tolerance for trigger substances will vary the response to the ingestion of trigger foods. While all the details of migraine's mechanisms are not yet understood, it is likely that many headaches are triggered by food antigens interacting with blood cells and blood-vessel walls. The pain of migraine arises from blood vessels, supplying blood to the brain.
The first stage of blood vessel reaction is constriction. Migraine brain disturbances can be stroke-like, originating from reduced blood flow to the brain during the first stage of the headache. This is most likely to occur before pain develops. Blood vessels are constricting at this time, reducing blood flow. The circulation to the brain is disturbed with important but transient mental and emotional consequences. In migraine's more serious forms, active constriction of the arteries, supplying blood to the brain compromise brain blood flow and lead to symptoms suggestive of stroke.
The second and painful stage of migraine is associated with dilatation of the blood vessels and may last for hours; prolonged migraine pain (beyond 6 hours) probable involves a third stage with inflammatory changes in the blood vessel wall. Emotional and cognitive disturbances are common among migraine sufferers and indicate the impact of this disease mechanism on brain function.
Food Reactions Cause Migraine
A century of reports of the food-migraine connection often go ignored in the medical management of migraine. Effective management of headaches depends on a multi-factorial plan. The ingested and inhaled chemical and allergenic triggers are eliminated as much as possible through a series of progressive steps.
Physical measures are instituted as the principal means of relieving pain. The use of strong analgesic medications, tranquilizers and other drugs can generally be minimized or avoided if appropriate dietary and physical therapies are put into place. Avoid dependency on narcotic drugs or dependency on tranquilizers and muscle relaxants.
Among the chemical triggers, we consider a range of substances that are native to foods, as well as additives, coloring agents and food contaminants. From an allergy point of view, any headache response is seen as part of a complex of untoward events following the food ingestion. Most of the allergic mechanisms which produce headache are not of the immediate type and, therefore, are not immediately obvious and cannot be identified with allergy tests. Diet revision can be tried as the first and principle mode of therapy.
A body reacts to an adverse stimulus, not just in one burst of activity but with rhythmic, oscillating disturbances. The profile of a single pulsing response may be different from the next similar event. Allergic reactions follow our rhythms and may not be consistent every time. Patients will often complain that one feeding of a food was OK but the next time was a disaster; or they will say they experienced minor symptoms with three feedings and a major response with the fourth.
Allergic diseases such as asthma and migraine tend to occur at night, during sleep and may cycle through monthly and seasonal changes. For example, the secretion of the protective antibody, IgA, follows a 24-hour rhythm. The maximal secretion occurs between midnight and 8:00 a.m., and the minimum between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. Skin itching peaks between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m., and again, between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. The "itch threshold" is 100 times lower at midnight than it is at 2:00 in the afternoon. Patients who suffer hay fever are likely to be most congested when they wake up in the morning; they experience another peak in the late evening. Migraine and Asthmatic reactivity peaks around 3 a.m. It is a common experience for an asthmatic to awaken with breathing problems and a migraine sufferer to wake with a headache.
There are lunar rhythms, more obvious in women because of the menstrual cycle. Allergic phenomena increase during the premenstrual week. This change is likely due to ovarian or pituitary hormones, although the exact mechanism is unknown. Often premenstrual symptoms are caused by food allergy which are amplified by a hormonal response. To control premenstrual symptoms, women may have to be more careful with their food choices prior to their period. Food tolerance may increase in the 2 or 3 weeks following their period. Migraine headaches are especially likely in the premenstrual week. Food control is, however, more difficult in the premenstrual week, with most women reporting cravings and compulsive eating.
The delayed patterns of food allergy may follow a cyclic or intermittent
pattern without any discernible rhythm. A patient, for example may describe
attacks of headache, insomnia, and cognitive dysfunction lasting 1 to 5 days and
occurring at irregular intervals over many years. Symptom-free intervals may
grow shorter as the years go by or more chronic symptoms may appear to fill in
the gaps between major attacks.