This year I had one goal. Literally one. To find a cure for my chronic headaches. They have plagued me for years, and that is no exaggeration. The first time I remember getting one of those headaches, as I have come to call them, was in my early twenties, when I worked for a very big deal producer. I chalked it up to stress, and ate Excedrin Migraine like they were candy on top of “nerve pills” that would knock me out so hard I would crawl in a ball under my desk and sleep until the dizziness subsided. If you’re thinking that is no way to live, then let me tell you—it gets worse!
Chronic headaches have affected every single aspect of my life. I have had to cancel on friends, stay home from work, still drag myself to work, and even on Christmas morning, after barely being able to choke down my favorite breakfast, I quickly got back in bed to try and sleep it off enough to function. The pain was so bad I sobbed, and then two days later I got another one, and sobbed again. Let’s be clear. These are not normal headaches. They feel like someone is stabbing the back of my head and the pain shoots behind my eye and refers down my face. They make me nauseous and my vision blurry. Advil, though it doesn’t completely work, had become an every day “vitamin.” It would at least sometimes be enough to get me out of bed. My poor husband has listened to me complain, cry and beg for a head massage for over 13 years, patiently doing all he can to help ease my pain. This year, I finally decided enough was enough!
Why am I sharing all of this? Because when you suffer from chronic headaches, you find out just how many other people do too. And everyone thinks they have the cure. I have been given every type of migraine medicine they make from doctors and friends trying to be helpful. I saw Gwyneth Paltrow’s fancy Santa Monica doctor, who told me it was my jaw, and sent me to a dentist who charged me thousands of dollars to make a mouth guard. Every chiropractor told me it was from being dehydrated and my neck being “out.” My acupuncturist told me it was hormonal (this could still be true). My masseuse told me it was from my neck being tight. I’ve been told to stretch, to change my posture at my desk, to ice it, put heat on it, to take Magnesium, to drink coffee, to stop drinking coffee, to stop drinking red wine, to only drink organic wine. GUYS, I’M EXHAUSTED.
In January, plagued with yet another one that wouldn’t go away for days on end, I went to my ENT thinking I had a sinus infection. He told me it was a migraine and gave me a shot along with two cortisone shots, one in each nostril. He then referred me to the best neurologist in town. She told me it was migraines, put me on antidepressants (a common cure for migraines), gave me samples of migraine medicine, and told me to stop taking Advil (um, you think?).
But the problem with my headaches is that none of that medicine worked! I have spent thousands—and I’m talking double digit thousands—over the years trying to solve the mystery. Last year I was convinced that the perfect trifecta of a chiropractic adjustment, massage, topped off with acupuncture was what I would have to do every month just to function. But it was becoming apparent that even that was no longer working. And it was expensive. Like on a bad month I could spend over $600 trying to get rid of my headache! The only thing that ever worked was going to Urgent Care or my very expensive ENT to get a shot.
During the three weeks I was on that medication, I got two severe headaches, but I also had an “aha” moment. It was also during this time that my husband and I tried the Whole30 diet (we jokingly say we tried the Whole5 because that’s how long we lasted), but we really cut down on the amount of wine we were drinking. It had become routine to pour ourselves a glass while making dinner, and we just felt like it was something we wanted to stop doing during the week. After a week or so of not having wine, I had a half of a glass, and immediately got one of my awful headaches. It was not the first time I thought wine might be part of my problem, but it was the first time that I was convinced. Prior to this night, I had already stopped drinking California wines (most are loaded with chemicals) and almost all red wine. I then cut out all wine until Valentine’s Day when I had two glasses of champagne and my legs immediately broke out into bumps and I got a splitting headache! Could it be that after all these years, I’m allergic to wine?!
I am now in the care of an allergist. We have determined that I have 11 food allergies including yeast (basically the main ingredient in wine other than grapes), lettuce, rice, pineapple, cinnamon, cashews, peanuts, pineapple, citric acid, tuna and salmon. They aren’t severe enough to kill me, but certainly it’s likely that one of these is causing my headaches. My allergist actually called my ENT to find out what was in the shot that cured me. It was a steroid, which is a treatment for an allergy, so it makes sense that migraine medicine wouldn’t work. The challenge with allergy testing, especially where wine is concerned, is that they cannot test for more than a grape or yeast allergy. That means if I am also allergic to sulfites or other chemicals, the only way to know is through trial and error. Today, I went back for my diet consultation. For 30 days, I have to cut out everything I reacted to. Yes, EVERYTHING. That means no lemon, no vinegar, no bread, no tomatoes, no shampoo and skincare products with citric acid and a slew of other things. Then, one by one, we will add them in to see what, if anything, causes a reaction. Needless to say, this will be hard for me, but I’m hopeful we are on the right path.
I also hope that by sharing my story, it could be an “aha” moment for you too. Food has been linked to so many illnesses from cancer to dementia, and doctors are so quick to medicate the problem over getting to the root of the problem. From my experience “migraine” can be a general term used when people don’t know why you are getting headaches. While certainly I am thankful for medication, I think when it doesn’t work, you should give careful consideration to your diet.
As much as I love wine, I can tell you right now that if it means never having one of those headaches again, I say…bring on the whiskey.
Do you suffer from chronic headaches? I’d love to hear your experience and what you’ve found that has helped in the comments!
Photo by Ragan Photo