The Quest to Cure my Chronic Headaches

After seeing every doctor in Los Angeles, I finally realized that the chronic headaches that had plagued me for years were due to food allergies.

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





13 thoughts on “The Quest to Cure my Chronic Headaches”

  1. Thanks! I wish I wouldn’t be on this crazy diet over your birthday, but I know you can relate with food’s never a good time!! xo

  2. It’s wonderful to figure this out! Your body was screaming out to you. We suffer from food sensitivities and allergies in my family too.

  3. Sandra Zaninovich

    Wow Molly I never knew this, you hid it so well! I’m sure many people who don’t see you that often have no idea, because you never complain I guess unless you’re in the throes of a really bad time or something, because I don’t remember you ever mentioning this. Of course, these days I barely remember my own name, so it might well be that you have mentioned it and I just can’t retain it. I might not get headaches, but maybe it’s because my brain is extremely light since it’s not retaining anything! In any case, I am so very sorry to hear this, and I really, really hope you have found the solution. You are right, no matter how painful the cure, it is going to be way better than the sickness. I’m keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that this will soon be just a terrible memory…unless yours starts disappearing too!!

  4. It’s going to be soooo hard to cut out ALL those foods, but I am really praying it’s going to be worth it in the end! x

  5. I can’t believe you’ve never heard me talk about it. Although I get them so frequently that many times I just suffer in silence through dinners because otherwise my whole life would be talking about how my head hurts! I’m goign to be on this insane diet for our next dinner, so we’ll have to figure out where I can eat, ha!

  6. Molly,
    This is a really helpful post. I know plenty of people who do and I’ll be forwarding your info to them.
    FYI…I no longer drink California reds.
    Thank you,

  7. I really enjoyed your post! I found it by googling “how to cure a migraine”! Because its 4am and I haven’t been to sleep in almost 24 hours due to a migraine. I have tried everything for my migraines. I thought maybe they were hormonal because I have a thyroid problem and they are worse around that time of the month . But it all depends on what triggers it to come, heat sometimes works, ice sometimes, taking excedrin or advil with a peppermint pill Infused rice bag helps. I try to eat properly but I’m a light eater and if my head hurts you can forget eating or drinking water really altogether. But if I do any of those and sleep for a day it usually eases up unill I can eat which helps. But strong smells, perfume,, soaps, air freshener, anything that my nasal cavity thinks is too much brings on an instant migraine and NOTHING works to ease it these days. Especially since I spent my younger days self medicating with very strong street drugs to relieve my migraines because nothing would help then and nothing helps now. Now that I’m clean and sober it’s hard to deal with the migraine and not think about the drugs that help. So I’m glad I came across your post, I will make an appointment with my ENT tomorrow to see if that has something to do with it. I have scoliosis as well so when I get knots in my back or shoulder blades it usually causes tension migraines and those are unbearable for me for days, no amount of stretching, exercising heat or using a tens unit releases it. I usually have to go the expensive route with chiropractor, and massage! Maybe even a chill pill! So thank you for sharing your story, I hope I can figure it out to because I get a splitting headache after drinking alcohol so I quit 5 years ago.!

  8. OH my goodness…I so relate right now. SO many sleepless nights. I am so sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time. If anything this journey has taught me is that there is no one cure that fits all. Everyone has their own triggers. Unfortunately the food allergies weren’t the miracle cure, but since then I have been doing this thing called Micro Current Neuro Feedback and it has made a very big difference. My biggest triggers are stress, changes in the weather (causes sinus issues) and hormones. So. metimes it creates the perfect storm. If I am really stressed out and my allergies are going crazy due to the weather AND I then have one of my food allergies like wine (yeast), I’m in big time trouble. RIght now my biggest focus is on managing my stress. I totally relate to the knots in your shoulders and trying to cure with chiro and massage. It’s so hard to manage. And yes alcohol ijs really horrible for migraines, which is ironic since all you want to do is drink to numb the pain! Hang in there, and check this out. Maybe it will work for you too:
    I really appreciate you sharing your story.

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