I made a rather amazing discovery this week. A discovery that a has led, hopefully, to the end of thirteen years of almost daily migraines but introduced me to life without dairy.
Let me just give you some background.
At the tender age of sixteen, I started getting, what I thought were severe headaches. After a couple of months of suffering, I visited my GP. I explained my symptoms to him, which included unilateral throbbing pain in my head, neck pain and pain behind my left eye. He diagnosed my headaches as migraines, a word that was completely new to me at the time.
As with most GPs, and this is no disrespect to them, okay maybe a little disrespect to them, he gave me some drugs and sent me on my way. The drug he gave me is called, Sumatriptan, from a group of drugs known as triptans. They are serious drugs that narrow the size of the blood vessels in your brain to reduce swelling. Not exactly the sort of medicine you want to be taking indefinitely.
After a couple of years of taking these tablets they became ineffective and I was given another two types from the triptan family. On top of these, I was also self medicating with Cocodamol and Ibuprofen to keep the pain at bay.
I was even put on Amitryptiline at one point. This is a type of antidepressant that deals with chemical imbalance in the brain and has been indicated in treating migraines also. Needless to say, this was a particularly low point in my life. I would be in severe pain during a migraine attack but to escape the pain I had to take a drug that made me feel like I hadn’t slept for a year. I stopped taking them and stuck with self medicating with pain killers instead. That is, unless I was pregnant or breastfeeding and then my only option was paracetamol, which for migraines, is useless!
That’s enough drug name dropping now I think (I worked in a pharmacy for four years, I can’t help it). The point I guess I’m trying to make is that there really was no treatment that worked in the long term or even in the short term quite frankly.
Just to stress how severe the pain could be at times, Stephen would often have to help me up the stairs. During an attack I would not be able to tolerate sound, light, heat, cold, movement and I would often, if it was possible, have to go to bed. Although you can imagine how often it would be possible to go to bed with young children. You get it, migraines are just nasty.
Recently, the constant, almost daily attacks have been a real cause of anxiety for me; never knowing when the next episode would occur and how severe it would be. A couple of weeks ago I said to Stephen, “this can’t be it. I can’t do this for the rest of my life”.
I’m sorry if that makes me sound pathetically self-pitying. I fully acknowledge that there are plenty of people in this world who suffer far worse illnesses, diseases, pains. I know I’m not the worst off. I guess I just have moments of hopelessness.
So, now back to the discovery.
A couple of weeks ago I had two of our missionaries from church over to eat dinner. One of our missionaries has a gluten and dairy free diet. I felt prompted to ask her about her dietary requirements; something I would never normally do. She explained to me that she had started having tension headaches on her mission and a doctor had recommended giving up dairy and gluten to see if that was the cause. The results were amazing and she has never looked back.
I was quite taken by her account, which started in me an insatiable curiosity. I spent hours and hours researching the link between headaches/migraines and dairy and gluten. There was a huge amount of websites and blogs that dealt with these issues, including one called “I hate cows”. The research seemed overwhelmingly conclusive . Nevertheless, I was a little afraid of taking such a big step.
A few days later I was with a friend of my sister's and she related to me, her experience. She had been advised to give up dairy as a result of constant headaches and digestive issues. She emphasised to me that her problems disappeared after just two days. That was it for me. I had to try it.
Last Monday I had my first taste of almond milk, which for me was a disappointing experience. I’m sure these alternative milks just require a period of adjustment (right?). I gave up cheese, chocolate, ice cream and all the other stuff (I named my favourites).
The results were immediate, I haven’t suffered a migraine all week, except for a mild one today that was to do with being stressed out and undernourished. This time it went after 20 minutes of lying on my bed, which never happened before going dairy free. After having them almost every day, you can imagine the elation I feel. It’s been an overwhelming experience, I’ve pinched myself daily.
Why am I telling you about this? Well, I spent thirteen years of my life with a condition that I had the power to quash. The answer was so simple; even if it means a huge change in my diet. I’m desperately hoping that someone else will read about my experience and see if a dairy free and/or gluten free life is the answer for them also.