Monday, April 29, 2013

Eating Healthy On The Go!

We all tend to have those busy moments. Whether it's work, school, kids, relationships, or all the above. It's so easy to drive through and grab the "quick fix," but there's the hidden MSG that could trigger your migraines. So how do you grab something quick without welcoming the migraine monster? Here's some tips:

Cereal is a great source of vitamins and nutrients. When paired with soy milk, you gain even more of the good stuff. When I'm between work and night graduate classes, a quick bowl of cereal keeps my blood sugar under control and adds more vitamin B12 (I'm severely deficient in B12).

Frozen sealed fish can be heated up in a jiffy. Sprinkle some garlic salt or fresh herbs to add some flavor. Salmon is a great source of omegas and vitamin B12. Tilapia is full of protein and is helpful for the avid exerciser. Since I'm starting to run, tilapia is a good buffer for my muscles.

Sandwiches are easy and offer a quick solution to lunch. Use vegetables, lactose free cheese, whole wheat bread, and hummus to enhance your meal. The more vegetables, the better!

Crackers and hummus are a great filler in between meals. Whole wheat crackers and wheat thins offer more fiber and less oil. By making hummus on your own, you can experiment with flavors you like and save money. Don't forget to use fruit to get more vitamins and nutrients.

Cooking healthy without migraine triggers doesn't have to be complicated. Even a microwave chef can follow the diet!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

MSG = Migraine Starts Gradually

I had someone on Twitter ask me what MSG is so I thought it would be a good entry:

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate and is one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids. It's used as a food additive in many common dishes. Many frozen food companies use it to enhance flavors.

To a migraineur, MSG is an enemy. It has been known to be a common migraine trigger. Here are some foods that contain hidden MSG:

Chinese food
Fast food
Processed meats
Salty snacks
Bread crumbs and croutons
Ready-to-eat meals
Seasoned salt
Protein concentrates
Parmesan cheese
Ranch dressing
Beef jerky

There are more culprits but that could take a while. Avoiding MSG is a challenge because it's hidden in so many places. Once you're off it, you'll not want to go back. I thought eating Chinese food after being off MSG for 3 months would be fine. Boy was I wrong! I had the worst stomach ache just after a small lunch portion.

The easiest way to stay off MSG is to cook your own meals. Get lunch meats by a brand like Boar's Head, who do not use additives. Make your own meals, divide them up, and freeze them for later.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Water water water

It seems every doctor's appointment I hear the same thing: you need to drink more water. We always feel we drink enough, but our body obviously needs more when we have a migraine attack. The recommended amount is eight glasses per day (and then you go to the restroom fifty times a day).
Here are some benefits of maintaining hydrated:
1. Drinking water helps maintain the balance of body fluids - Your body is 60% water and needs a good flow to take care of digestion, maintaining body temperature, creating saliva to breakdown foods, absorption, circulation, and others. When you feel thirsty, you already don't have enough water in your system. It's your body's way of reminding you to hydrate.

2. Water can help control calories - When you're trying to lose weight, one of the first things you are told is drunk more water. It doesn't have any calories and can be substituted for a high calorie drink. In your mind, you associate water with healthy living so you tend to eat healthier when you drink more water. Drinking a full glass of water before a meal also helps your portion control. You will feel fuller, quicker.

3. Water flushes out the "bad stuff" - When you feel sick, drinking water can help flush out your system. Toxins are transported out of the body quicker through your kidneys. The clearer your pee, the better your kidneys are.

4. Water helps your skin - Dehydration makes skin look dry and crackled. When you are properly hydrated, your skin is softer. By using a moisturizer as well, you can keep your skin looking flawless.

5. Water helps maintain bowel function - With chronic migraine, certain medications can cause constipation. By increasing your water intake, you can keep your digestive system in check. My doctor recommended that I drink 3 liters of fluid a day to help prevent constipation.

Great sources of water include fruit, drinks, and water itself. No matter how to take it in, make sure you're taking in enough!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Breakdown of the Headache Diet

In October 2012, my new doctor put me on a very restrictive diet: the headache diet (as I call it). Basically you are eliminating dietary triggers that may bring on a migraine/headache. I had no clue how many ingredients and foods triggered my headaches/migraines! Some of these I used on a daily basis. It was very difficult at first, but once I figured out safe foods, I could make some delicious dishes.

This diet is based on the book "Heal Your Headaces the 1, 2, 3 Program" by David Buchholz, M.D. of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Here is a list of what you cannot have:

Caffeine: coffee, tea, iced tea, and cola. Even decaf tea and coffee (which contain additional chemical triggers) may be a problem. Also, be careful of coffee substitute. Try to wean off soda and coffee until you can completely go off of it. I recommend drinking caffeine free cola, Sprite/7Up/Sierra Mist, and root beer. Be careful of the "10" drinks because they contain Aspertame (we'll get to that later).

Chocolate: (This one is very difficult to give up) No white chocolate (contains dairy), no cocoa, and chocolate subsitute like carob is questionable. This is another one to wean off of. Once you go strict with this diet for a couple months, you should be able to "test the waters" with chocolate to see how much is safe for you. Make sure you go off it first, though. I recommend using caramel as a sweet tooth treat.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Chinese restaurant food (I know this one is tough to give up for college students), soups, bouillon, accent and seasoned salt, artificial flavorings, salty snacks, croutons, bread crumbs, gravy, ready-to-eat meals, cheap buffets, processed meats (no more bacon), veggie burgers, protein concentrates, and low fat low calorie foods. Be careful for hidden MSG in foods like broth, natural flavorings, yeast extract, autolyzed heast, malt extract, enzyme-modified items, texturned protein, whey protein, protein-fortified items, malted barley, maltodextrin, carrageenan, soy protein concentrate, kombu, sodum or calcium caseinate, glutamic acid, gelatin, fermented or cultured items, and ultra-pasteurized items. Pretty much just stay away from anything processed. (It's very difficult, I know, but the relief will be so worth it)

Processed Meats and Fish: ages, canned, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked, tenderized or preserved with nitrates/nitrites, hot dogs, sausage, salami, pepperoni, bologna, liverwurst, beef jerky, certain hams, bacon, pates, smoked or pickled fish, caviar and anchovies, fresh beef liver, chicken liver, wilk game (contains tyramine). Get your meats from a butcher or if the package says "organic" and "no preservatives" on it.

Cheese and Other Dairy Products: No dairy (yes, this is very difficult). Beware of cheese-containing foods including pizza, yogurt (including frozen yogurt), sour cream, goat's milk, and buttermilk. The book just says to stay away from those items, but my doctor recommended eliminating ALL dairy. Caseinate, whey, and milk protein are also to be avoided. There are many great dairy alternatives at Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, and other local grocery stores. Many are embracing difficult diets and offer choices for you. I love soy cheese! It doesn't taste any different. I use a slice of soy american cheese on my sandwiches and grilled "cheese" all the time. Soy ice cream is very creamy and delicious! I use vanilla and put fruit on top of it for a tasty dessert treat.

Nuts: Avoid all kinds as well as nut butters. Seeds are okay. Some restaurants do not say they put nuts on their foods (which they should because there are a lot of those who cannot eat nuts without going to the hospital) so ask the waiter/waitress before ordering.

Alcohol and Vinegar: Avoid red wine, champagne, and dark or heavy drinks. (sorry, whiskey drinkers!) Vodka is best tolerated (the clearer the alcohol, the better). Chear (ideally distilled) vinegar is allowable. Don't overdo condiments like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise made with vinegar.

Certain Fruits and Juices: Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, tangerines, clementines, and pineapples) and their juices. As well as bananas (contains tyramine). Also avoid raisins (and other dry fruit if preserved with sulfites), raspberries, red plums, papayas, passion fruit, figs, dates, and avocados. Citrus fruits was difficult to give up for me because I LOVE oranges. Anything that looked delicious needed to be orange-flavored. Apples, strawberries, pears, and peaches are great for fruit snacks in the morning.

Certain Vegetables, Especially Onions: Plus sauerkraut, pea pods, and certain beans (broad Italian, lima, fava, navy, and lentils). Allowed: leeks, scallions, shallots, spring onions, and garlic. Garlic will be your best friend when cooking. It adds a great flavor to anything and helps those with high blood pressure (like me)

Fresh Yeast-Risen Baked Goods: Less than one day old: homemade (or restaurant-baked) breads, sourdough, bagels, doughnuts, pizza dough, soft pretzels, and coffee cake. Make sure they are at least a day old before eating. The fresh yeast contains MSG which is a large migraine trigger.

Aspartame (Nutrasweet): Sweet'n Low may also be a trigger for some. Aspartame is found in diet sodas, the zero-calorie and ten-calorie sodas, and some natural sweeteners. Splenda isn't a problem, but Stevia is the better choice. Avoid Crystal Light.

Others: Perhaps soy products especially if cultured (miso), fermented (tempah), or otherwise highly processed. Watch out for soy sauce containing MSG. Less risky are unflavored tofu and soymilk. Tomatoes and mushrooms may be a problem, but that's up to you. They don't give me a problem and I use them for many of my dishes for added flavor.

So there you go! It's a very difficult diet to maintain, but once you're on it for a couple months (strictly), you'll feel better and it'll be a lot easier. Try cooking with fresh ingredients and experiment a little. When I first tried soymilk, I used a chocolate cereal (yes I know we can't have chocolate but I needed to acquire the taste) and then moved on to the safer Cheerios. When I recipe calls for milk, I use soymilk. Instead of cooking with butter, I use coconut (found in Whole Foods). I'll post more tips and trades, but here's just the beginning of a diet that'll help you in your path to healing.

When It Rains, It Pours

It seems when a chronic migraineur gets any type of illness (cold, earache, sniffle, etc), it turns into an epic slowdown. When you have daily pain and your nerves work overtime, sometimes the rest of your body is too tired to fight the small stuff.

Friday, my ear started aching, and I didn't think anything of it. I've always been the type of person that allows my natural immune system to heal me rather than call the doctor for a small illness. Well, lately my immune system has failed me and my symptoms got worse...

Saturday, I started to lose my hearing in my right ear. Talk about frustration! Saturdays are the days for fun and adventure! So I spent the day lying on the couch with my dog at my side. I read an article today that said those who live with chronic pain should pet their dogs often. When you cuddle and pet your dog, your body produces a chemical for happiness and your blood pressure goes down from the calming effect. My dog is a great cuddler so I tried that therapy.

Then Sunday came. I lost all hearing in my right ear and my left had a high pitched noise that gave me an insane migraine. Oh great! A migraine on top of an earache! So I went to the Walgreens Take Care Clinic and they said I had an outer ear infection. The doctor prescribed some ear drops (which I figured would need) and told me to take four drops four times daily. I'd have to lie on my side and let it sink it. Like a good little patient, I did what the doctor told me.

So this morning, I had such an intense pain that just wouldn't go away from my ear as well as the rest of my head. I still couldn't hear out my right ear. I went into work hoping to take my mind off the pain. Sometimes distraction is a great medicine. Well, that wasn't happening. My coworker in the cubicle in front of me was calling my name several times and I could not hear him. Poor guy thought I was being mean. About three hours in, I couldn't take the pain anymore. I went into a walk-in clinic and they put an ear wick (hurt like hell) to soak in the drops and make sure all of my infection gets the medication it needs. The doctor also said it'll take about a week to heal and I should see an ear, nose, and throat specialist in 2-3 days. Add another specialist to my list!

Tonight has been off and on with the pain, but I'm taking my drops like I'm supposed to and trying to distract myself with my puppy (who's being very sleepy due to the thunderstorms yesterday) and watching The Voice and the NCAA Championship game.

What are your experiences with common illness while struggling with chronic migraine?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Dirty Dance with Topamax

The fall of 2011 I was prescribed Topamax. It's primarily used for seizures, but now it's used for chronic migraines. Instead of taking it on the onset of a migraine, you take it daily. Many said it was a wonder medication, but I had a different experience.

At the beginning, you take the "start slow and go" method by gradually increasing dosage therefore increasing the side effects. I didn't even get to the full dosage before I started the "dopamax" symptoms. The first thing I noticed that I was so tired and lightheaded lately. Then all of a sudden, I couldn't say words that I wanted to. Imagine being a banker and not being able to say the word cashier's check. How embarrassing! About one week in, I noticed soda and alcohol tasted like it was completely metal. So disgusting! Guess who lost ten pounds pretty quickly? Weight loss was also a side effect and I definitely wasn't complaining. The only good thing from this medication was that I looked absolutely smokin! Then about two weeks in, I had a scary vertigo symptom. I couldn't walk without falling over and I about cried right at my office.

After the vertigo, my doctor recommended I keep the dosage at half what is normally prescribed, which is 50 mg a day. I still was having crazy dopey symptoms. I was a skinny idiot! The straw that broke the camel's back though was when I had some very uncomfortable digestive issues. (Don't worry I won't go into detail). Finally, my doctor let me slowly stop this medication. I had to literally beg because they truly believed this drug would help. The funny part was I still had the painful migraines plus the other crazy side effects.

So they kept me on the Propanolol (at a higher dosage) and advised no more over the counter pain relievers. I was so scared to try anything else that I begged my doctor to keep me on the simple medication to regulate my blood pressure. Then something wonderful happened: I got accepted into an MBA program and a promotion in Kansas City!
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