Sugar and Migraine: How Your Cravings Can Hurt You
Posted by Paula Dumas | Sep 21, 2018 | 198
L ong ago, before sugar and carbs were such dietary demons, my Migraine pal Debbie and I discovered we both craved “white food” before and after the worst part of our migraines. You know, mashed potatoes, rice, rolls, pasta – any kind of bland carb. It wasn’t just gentle on a nauseous stomach. We now know that it was the blood sugar fix our bodies were craving after a migraine, during that strange feeling after the pain stops known as postdrome.
What do sugar and migraines have to do with each other? Quite a bit.
We’re not high maintenance, just very careful about what we eat and drink. Image: Graphicstock
That blood sugar spike caused by simple carbs is one of the least understood migraine triggers.
It’s called reactive hypoglycemia , which CNN Health deems to be “one of the 7 most surprisi ng causes of migraines.” Learn more about what’s causing your migraines here . Meanwhile, few sufferers have yet to make the migraine-sugar connection in their own lives.
CNN Health’s report explains:
“Excessive amounts of simple carbohydrates, such as white sugar and pasta, can cause migraine headaches. When you eat simple carbs, your blood sugar rises. Your body then produces extra insulin to break down the sugar, which in turn causes your blood sugar levels to drop dramatically. That spike and plummet of blood sugar can lead to headaches.”
Skipping meals is also a risky choice for a migraine sufferer, because that, too, can cause hypoglycemia.
“Fasting, eating high-sugar foods, dieting too rigorously, and skipping meals can all trigger, or make people more likely to have a headache or Migraine. Even delayed or irregular meals can make a difference. This is usually due to people’s blood-glucose levels falling too low.”
Craving sweets is human, built into our taste buds and bodies, and even mother’s milk. Sweet foods make our brains release a hit of dopamine, the best pleasure chemical we produce. Just imagine suffering from a migraine for four days, finally getting past the pain, frustration and sadness to feeling normal again. You treat yourself to a yummy chocolate chip cookie, just the fix your brain is craving to lift the episodic depression you’ve been enduring. For many Migraine sufferers, this simple and logical decision illustrates the powerful and potentially risky relationship between sugar and migraines.
If you’re really intrigued by the research behind the sugar and migraines, and how it relates to insulin and blood glucose levels, read this excellent article by Headache and Migraine News author James Cottrill. It’s very real, and very manageable.
5 Tips to Crave Less Sugar and Eat Migraine-Smart
Even if you say no to dessert, skip candy at the movies, and avoid sugary soft drinks, how can you tame your sweet tooth and keep your blood sugar more stable? Even if you’re not quite ready for The Sugar Smart Diet , here are a few strategies that nutritionists and trainers use to help people get off the sugar roller coaster without wiping out.
Natural sugars like those found in fruit and berries will taste sweeter after you cut back on artificial and added sweeteners. Image: Unsplash
- Re-train your Brain – Experts say that once you get off the sugar coaster, your brain simply stops craving refined sugars. The key is to choose complex sugars found in fruits like berries, bananas and pineapple; and veggies like carrots, beets, tomatoes, sweet peppers and caramelized onions*, which process much more slowly and don’t produce the spike.
- Avo > – Thanks to better food labeling, you can now see the sucrose, glucose and high fructose corn syrup hidden in packaged foods. With all the sugar bombs hidden in barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, yogurt and more, now you don’t need to be tricked by packaged food companies.
- Eat a Plant-Based Diet – Dr. Daniel Amen , aka The Brain Doctor, advises: “Think of salad as the main course.” Stick to whole vegetables and fruits you cook yourself, if possible.
- Combine Your Carbs – If you’re going to eat carbs, make sure they represent no more than a quarter of the meal you’re eating. More sauce than pasta. More veggies than meat or potatoes.
- Swap Breakfast Carbs for a Smoothie – Instead of skipping breakfast, or downing a bagel that will just spike your blood sugar mid-morning, start your day with our Potent Migraine-Relieving Shake . (Never thought I’d be drinking green stuff for breakfast, but it’s really, really good – and good for you.)
Come on … spend two weeks mastering this sugar thing and you’ll be less cranky, have more energy, and you’ll probably drop a few pounds. Less sugar, and migraines you can better manage. That’s just sugar-free icing on the gluten-free cake.
You can’t avoid sugars altogether – they’re everywhere. It takes too much willpower, and it may bring on migraine-triggering stress. While we all want to do everything in our power to diminish the role migraines play in our lives, Draconian measures aren’t the answer. You’ve gotta cheat once a week or you’ll go bat-crazy.
When you spend a big chunk of your life in pain, you’re entitled to a dose of the pleasure that sweets and comfort foods provide. Get a bit of the sweet flavor your body craves without the sugar spikes that can produce migraine pain.
Comments? What kind of sweet does your sweet tooth crave? Have you noticed a connection between carbs or sugar and migraines?
*Note: a small number of Migraine sufferers find onions to be triggers