(Final in a Three Part Series)
Contributed by Eileen Zollinger
Danielle and I started hearing more and more about the Ketogenic (Keto) diet around August of 2016. We were curious because we had read about the diet being used on children with epilepsy before, but now it was being talked about in migraine circles as well. Basically, by limiting the number of carbohydrates a person consumes, increasing fat consumption and having moderate protein intake, a state of ketosis can be reached. By getting the body into ketosis, the body uses ketones and fatty acids as a form of energy instead of simple carbs and that combination is protective to nerves and the brain specifically. In theory, by being in ketosis, you shouldn’t have to avoid quite as many triggers because of the protective nature of ketones. That sounded interesting to us, so we embarked on a plan to try the Keto diet for six months to see how it affected our migraine brains.
The first step was eliminating all sugar and grains. This was quite the departure from the regular elimination diet I had been doing for the previous 19 months, so it took a little bit of planning on my part. I also wanted to make sure that I stayed away from my known triggers for at least the first month or six weeks until I was Keto adapted. Many of the Keto staple foods are also commonly known migraine triggers.
The first week of the diet requires the body to adjust from using glucose, or carbohydrates, for fuel to burning fat or ketones for fuel. That process is very diuretic and the body loses a lot of electrolytes. This leads to what is commonly referred to as the ‘Keto flu’. For a couple of days around day four or five, I felt a mild headache and a bit worn out. To combat this, I drank broth to make sure my electrolytes stayed in balance and increased my water and salt intake, in general. Every time I drank broth, the mild headache would go away. Interesting.
After the initial four to five days, I felt great. I had a tremendous amount of energy, no headache and oddly enough, no feeling of brain fog that I had been feeling from the Topamax (I always seem to attribute this to Topamax, but my headache specialist (HAS) and I have also talked about the fact that this could just have been migraine brain, hard to differentiate for sure). The single biggest difference on a daily basis with the Keto diet is the lack of brain fog that I have been dealing with for years.
So where am I on the Ketosis diet? It is higher in fat than what I was eating before and frankly that was something that took a little getting used to. I have lost about 12 pounds in the six weeks I’ve been following this diet. I’ll have my blood tested soon to see where my cholesterol numbers are, but I don’t expect a significant change either way, based on Ketogenic diet research. My BP and blood glucose are still the same. My ‘fogginess’ is gone and I haven’t felt dizzy since I started the diet. I feel more energetic and less hungry and the weirdest side effect is that I no longer have to take a few Tums before I go to bed every night, in addition to Zantac. The change in diet seems to have eliminated the nightly heartburn. I have also been able to add almonds and avocados back into my diet which I was not able to tolerate on my diet before without resulting in migraine.
Would I recommend it? Yes. If you have tried the other diets and haven’t had great results, I have had similar results with this one plus the added benefit of less fogginess and more energy. I will say trying the other diets first had the benefit of identifying individual triggers. I can say that from where I was (already in a pretty good place from having followed an individualized elimination diet for 19 months) this diet seems to work as well as the others for me and allows me a bit more freedom with some triggers while restricting other foods like grains and sugars. But losing 12 pounds has compensated for lack of pasta, bread and desserts. And no cravings for any of those things has made abstaining from them inconsequential. While I’m only six weeks into the six month trial, I’m very interested to see where this diet will take me.
What interests you about the potential in these diets? Are you interested in taking a migraine journey of your own? If you would like to have an individualized plan set up for you, please contact us.