My past posts have concerned the benefits of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet:
Does low animal fat intake increase hostility or depression? (a hypothesis)
Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)
High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])
High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)
This diet — called a ketogenic diet — might also serve as a remedy for migraines.
In 2010, computer programmer Rocco Stanzione wrote an excellent blog about this kind of eating routine. I have cited his site, Low Carb for Health, in the last two posts in the above list.
One of his posts explained the possible reasons why a ketogenic diet combats migraines. He admits that information is hard to find. If drugs can replace diet, it is not surprising that such data are thin on the ground — or cyberspace!
What follows are a few paragraphs from Stanzione’s ‘Migraines: Are They Preventable?’ Emphases mine below.
… migraines seem to correspond with an unusually alkaline blood pH and to respond favorably to lowering it (making it more acidic). On a very-low-carb diet, the blood is very acidic because the ketone bodies themselves are acidic. This may account for the success of the diet in treating urinary tract infections.
Another place doctors are looking for the cause of migraines is GABA, an important neurotransmitter. Ketosis has significant effects on GABA metabolism, which is specifically targeted by lots of migraine and epilepsy medications with great success …
Prescription drugs for these ailments mimic ketosis, something we can induce ourselves with a ketogenic diet.
Another very important neurotransmitter is glutamate. It’s also a chemical precursor to GABA, so there’s a lot of interplay between the two in the brain. Impairments in the metabolism of either chemical, and in the conversion of glutamate to GABA, have been implicated in a number of neurological problems, including epilepsy and migraines. The ketogenic diet increases the rate of conversion of glutamate to GABA, which would tend to protect against these problems according to our current understanding of them. The article I’m going to use to back up these claims is positively dense with great information, and if you can handle scientific literature written for scientists you might want to check it out: The Neuropharmacology of the Ketogenic Diet.
One of Stanzione’s readers, Jenn, wrote about her positive experience with a ketogenic diet:
I definitely think there is a link between carbs and migraine.
I was having a health crisis where I was experiencing migraines most days of the month (maybe 25?) despite taking amitriptyline as a preventive med. I experimented with diet a little, cutting out various possible triggers until it became apparent wheat was causing most of my migraines. The longer I abstained from wheat, the fewer migraines I experienced until now, where I only get one migraine per month during a specific time in my menstrual cycle. It seems to me that since my carb intake went way down due to cutting out wheat my migraines became nearly non-existent.
I have just started a ketogenic diet five days ago and am already amazed at how great I feel. Depression–gone. Moods–totally stable ADD symptoms–much better. I am anxious to see if I get my monthly migraine or if I can eliminate that altogether with the ketogenic diet.
A number of other women wrote in reporting the same happy results. It’s well worth reading through the comments. As one lady says about trying the diet just out of interest, ‘You have nothing to lose except your migraine’.
If you are concerned, check with your physician first. However, take the time to read with the pros and cons. Not all doctors encourage patients helping themselves. A cogent case might encourage them to help you monitor your diet.
Many books on the market explain the ketogenic diet. The one which psychiatrist Dr Richard A Kunin prescribed his patients explains the food list and regime (see pages 4 and 5 of his PDF). You will need Ketostix to measure the acidity in your urine. These are available online or from your pharmacist.
More on the ketogenic diet tomorrow.