In part 1 of this series, I discussed the classic view of migraine triggers. This is important information for sure, and has helped a great many migraineurs over the years.
But it’s not the whole story.
As some of you may know, when I adopted an ancestral style diet four years ago, I didn’t expect it to have any impact on my migraines. I shouldn’t have, because the textbooks didn’t say that I should.
But they went away. Entirely.
What’s more, they were going away for thousands of others who’d changed their diet likewise. When I incorporated these principles into my neurology practice, they started going away for my patients, too.
Clearly we’d been missing something all these years.
Migraine as a Disease of Civilization
Many of the diseases that are prominent in humans today are virtually absent in indigenous hunter gatherer populations. In these societies, people eat largely as humans did before agriculture and the dawn of civilization. As such, the diseases brought about by our modern, agriculturally and industrially based diets are collectively known as the “diseases of civilization”.
This includes things like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
And it includes migraine.
In other words, humans that eat like hunter gatherers, that eat as humans have eaten for almost the entirety of our evolutionary history, don’t experience migraines. Humans that return to this way of eating don’t get them either.
Migraines, then, are not an inevitable part of human existence. They are a feature of our biology that’s only expressed when we eat foods outside the bounds of our evolutionary experience.
Eating foods that our biology isn’t designed for is what transforms our brains into a perpetual state of migraine readiness.
The primary generating force for migraine – the trigger of all triggers – is not our genetics. It’s not the hand we’ve been dealt by our DNA. Rather, it’s the modern diet, as a whole.
All this time, like the story of the blind men and the elephant, we’ve been focusing on the small details when it comes to migraine, and in doing so have totally missed the bigger picture.
The Revised Model
With this newfound knowledge in mind, let’s revisit our flying basket from part one. In the book, I did this by representing an ancestral diet as a disproportionately large weight that keeps us so far away from the migraine threshold. Another way to represent this concept, however, is to represent the modern diet as a disproportionately large trigger balloon:
Either way we want to view it, the central point is that we’ve overlooked the biggest trigger factor in the classic, textbook view of migraine. And, once we incorporate it, we find that it renders many of our classic triggers almost inconsequential by comparison. With the modern dietary pattern always attached to our migraine risk basket, we’re always hovering dangerously close to threshold. Without it, we’re much further away.
Altogether, this means that many of the previous triggers primarily matter within the context of a modern, industrially based diet. In the absence of this diet, all but the biggest trigger factors fade into obscurity.
The Perfect Storm
It is the sum total effects of refined carbohydrates (sugar, wheat flour, etc.), high doses of gut-disrupting toxins (plant lectins, gluten), and industrial oils in the standard, evolutionarily-discordant, western diet that ultimately sets the stage for migraine. The combination of impaired metabolic flexibility (the ability to shift readily from glucose to fatty acids as a fuel source) and diet-induced inflammation wrought by these foods that creates the perfect storm for migraine generation.
This is the elephant we’ve been missing.
So how could it be we’ve missed this for so long, you ask? How is it that, after all these years of study, we’ve managed to overlook the most important thing of all when it comes to migraine?
To answer that question, consider the case of lung cancer. It is now well established and widely accepted that cigarette smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer in the world today. If everyone were to stop smoking tomorrow, future rates of lung cancer would plummet.
We know this because when we study people who get lung cancer, we find those with the disease are far more likely to have a history of cigarette smoking than people without it. It’s the differences in behavior between those who get lung cancer and those who don’t that allowed us to discover its primary cause.
But what if everybody smoked cigarettes? If this were the case, some people would still be getting lung cancer, and some people wouldn’t. Yet, if we were to once again try to find its primary cause by looking for differences in behavior between those who got the disease and those that didn’t, smoking wouldn’t make the list. Instead, we may find other differences between the two groups like obesity, genetic mutations, or arsenic exposure that, while perhaps playing a minor role in the development of lung cancer, were not its major precipitant.
We would miss the elephant.
And, by missing the elephant, we’d end up spending all of our time treating factors that were only a tiny part of the lung cancer story, ignoring the root cause of it all. As such, our efforts to stop lung cancer would fall well short.
This is what has happened with migraines (and it’s what has happened for the other diseases of civilization as well, for that matter). Our modern diet is the elephant when it comes to migraine, yet we’ve been unable to see it because everybody eats this way. But now we can see it. Our perspective has now been broadened by the growing numbers of people reclaiming their health by returning to a traditional human diet, allowing us to finally see what had been right there in front of us all this time.
Now that we do see it, we finally understand how to defeat migraine at its root cause.
And, with this newfound knowledge in hand, we have the opportunity to end migraine once and for all.