How To End A Migraine Without A Pill (starve and sink, part 1)

Years ago, I wrote an article entitled “11 Drug Free Ways To End A Migraine.” That article included my personal favorite technique, the “Starve and Sink.”

Since then, many in our community have used it to great success, and it’s become a central weapon in their journey to migraine freedom.

LINKS MENTIONED: 

The “11 Drug Free Ways To End A Migraine”: mymigrainemiracle.com/drugfree

The Jump Start Challenge

The 9 Primary Migraine Miracle RESOURCESmymigrainemiracle.com/how-we-can-help/

MIGRAI-NEVERLAND, our premier resource for those who want to find their pill free path to migraine freedom (including the Beast Slayer Training Academy): mymigrainemiracle.com/endofmigraine

The 2019 Schedule of Migrai-Neverland Challenges: https://mymigrainemiracle.com/schedule

Migraine Miracle Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/899131986822364

The book that started it all – The Migraine Miracle: https://www.amazon.com/Migraine-Miracle-Sugar-Free-Gluten-Free-Inflammation/dp/1608828751

FULL TRANSCRIPT

So, those of you who are in our Facebook group or who listen to this podcast or who’ve read the 11 Drug Free Strategies article on the website have heard about the starve and sink approach to ending a migraine. That was something I initially covered in the 11 Drug Free Strategies for ending a migraine article, which you can find at mymigrainemiracle.com/drugfree.

And one of the places you may have heard about this starve and sink is in some of the success story podcasts that we’ve shared where many of our guests have cited the starve and sink as an essential piece in their journey to migraine freedom, particularly when it came to breaking rebound headaches. And we get a lot of questions about it in our group, and it’s a frequent topic of discussion in our weekly group coaching sessions in Migrai-Neverland. And I’ve been promising to do an episode about it for a while to answer some of those questions. So, here’s that episode.

So, before I get to the meat of it, there are a few little housekeeping things to attend to. We’re currently in the midst of a jumpstart challenge in Migrai-Neverland, which launched earlier this week. And we just concluded our first ever breaking rebound challenge. There’s still time to jump onboard to the jumpstart, pun obviously intended. But the sooner, the better. The jumpstart is our 30-day challenge that’s intended to get you off and running with a full head of steam on the plan.

And you’re aided in that process by a community of supporters in our private Facebook group for the jumpstart who are all doing the same thing. We’ve had a really great influx of new members leading up to this challenge who have added a nice jolt of positivity and support in the group, so that’s been great. It can also function as a nice reset or a boost in your journey. So, we’ve had multiple people who’ve participated in several jumpstart challenges now, or who take part in each one that we do, and that’s really great as well.

One of the many benefits of Migrai-Neverland is the chance to participate in as many of these challenges as you’d like. So, if you’d like to join us or learn more or become part of our Migrai-Neverland family, head over to mymigrainemiracle.com and just click on the resources tab where it says, “How we can help,” on the top menu. And you can also see the full schedule of challenges for the year for Migrai-Neverland members by going to mymigrainemiracle.com/schedule.

Lastly, if you enjoy this podcast, it’d be awesome if you left a rating in iTunes. It really means a lot to me. It really helps other people to discover it. And remember that if you screenshot your review and email it to me at [email protected], you’ll be entered into a drawing to receive a Beast Slayer shirt and a signed copy of the book, The Migraine Miracle. And if you leave a written review in iTunes, I will also read it here on the podcast. So, speaking of, here is a recent review that was left on February the 14th by ND21. I don’t know ND21’s actual name, but it says, “What a breath of fresh air. Thank you Doctor T,” as the title.

And it reads, “I have been suffering from vestibular migraines since a concussion June 2018. I have been unable to work more than a few hours per week since due to dizziness and nausea, which apparently is my migraine equivalent because all of my symptoms briefly vanish with Imitrex. I recently left a migraine support group on Facebook because I found that the negativity was not serving me. I happened to stumble upon Doctor T’s podcast and have been listening avidly for a few weeks. He shares such a wealth of knowledge in the area. And in contrast to other healthcare professionals and support groups, he presents with such positivity and a sense of hope. I am a nurse practitioner and a yoga teacher and appreciate his blend of scientific knowledge along with focus on mindfulness and positive mindset. Professionally, we share many thoughts on the somewhat ineffective healthcare system that I am still a part of. He also has great illustrative analogies, which really make you think. I have felt the best I have in seven months. Today, I had no symptoms at work. I may even be able to increase my hours if this continues. Thank you Doctor T. for sharing your knowledge, hope and positivity. Everyone impacted by migraine or not should tap into this wonderful health resource.”

So, thanks so much for leaving that wonderful review, those sorts of things really make my day. And I really appreciate that you recognize and highlighted that we’ve really tried hard to provide an alternative to so much of the negativity that’s out there in the migraine communities, especially online. Besides the fact that many of us just don’t want to be surrounded by that, but also because, as I’ve discussed before, that directly undermines our ability to make progress. That mindset is so critical. So, even a well-intentioned support group, if there is a lot of negativity, can ironically make migraines worse over time.

And note to the mention of vestibular migraines in that review. So, we get a lot of questions about whether the plan works for all these different variants of migraine, including vestibular migraine. And I covered this in a prior episode. But the take home message is migraines are migraines, and what people experience during a migraine as far as the symptoms and the specific character of their migraines just has to do with the part of the brain the migraine has spread to, and that these different labels that have arisen are really there to just help us in talking about our migraines and making sure that doctors recognize the different ways that they can present, and perhaps most importantly for billing purposes. So, people who are in insurance companies happen to like when we get really specific about the kind of diagnosis we have, even if that specificity has no real clinical use.

So, years ago, after coming to the tragic realization that the abortive medications for migraines, so the ones that we take for migraine relief, that those were making migraines worse over the long term. I knew that for migraine freedom to be sustainable for myself and for others, that I had to have some reliable drug-free strategies for ending a migraine. I decided years ago to never take another Triptan. And so, I wanted to identify some alternatives, and I also wanted to compile a resource for others who were looking to do the same thing.

So, as you probably know, if you go on the internet, you’ll find no end to the number of remedies that people will claim as helping for migraines. And of course, we all know the dangers of Googling for health information. So, the goal here was to identify the most reliable and universal methods. So, if something only works for one in a million people, it’s not an especially valuable thing to tell others about. But if it works for the majority of people, on the other hand, then it really is.

So, I compiled in that article a list of the most commonly cited remedies based on my own clinical experience and the surveys conducted with our audience. And a few years ago, I began experimenting personally with all those methods. And it’s super important to remember here that the whole point of finding and using drug-free strategies is not so that we’ll suffer more. It’s not some kind of heroic principled act against pharmaceuticals. The whole point is because it leads to less suffering.

So, just listen to any of our success stories, and you’ll hear how much less people are suffering after finding a pill-free path to freedom. So, getting the pills out leads to tons less suffering, that’s the most important point here to remember. So, if the drugs reduce suffering in the long-term, then they’d be the obvious solution. But the problem is, that’s not been the case for so, so many people. In fact, just the opposite. So often the drugs have turned migraines into a chronic unrelenting problem and greatly increased, rather than reduced, their long-term suffering.

So, like I said, I began exploring all of these different methods for drug-free ends to a migraine. And you might be wondering how I did that. So, I’m able to reliably provoke a migraine in myself. I may have talked about this before, but all I have to do is just have a little bit of alcohol close to bedtime, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll wake up with one. So, incidentally, if you like to indulge in the occasional alcoholic beverage, that’s one really important rule to observe. I did do a whole podcast in the past on ways to minimize the chances of a migraine from alcohol.

So, you can look for that prior episode if you’re interested in those tips. But at any rate, that was how these experiments began. And I know it might seem like a crazy thing to do, but again, the point was to try to give myself the peace of mind in knowing that no matter what I’d never ever have to return to an abortive drug ever again and never ever end up in the horrific situation of the rebound headache of death. And I know how little it takes to get there. So, I wanted to eliminate that possibility from my future, and hopefully from many, many other people’s futures.

So, of all the strategies that I’ve tried … again, they’re all outlined in that article, and that’s going to be linked in the show notes as well. But of all the strategies, by far the most effective was what I now refer to as the starve and sink. And the starve part of this simply means starving the beast, or starving the migraine of any energy. And so, how do you do that? Simply by not eating. So, the migraine process, just like every other physiological process in the body, it requires energy to sustain itself, now, both migraines and seizures are sometimes thought of as conditions of hyper-excitability in certain parts of the brain. So, it refers to the fact that certain brain networks are excited or activated too easily in those who suffer from those conditions. And furthermore, that states of energy excess in the body seem to tip the scales towards hyper-excitability, which means tip the scales towards provoking a seizure or provoking a migraine.

And every time we eat, we promote an energy excess in the body. So, as we digest and metabolize our food, we either use or store that energy until ultimately energy equilibrium is restored after that’s been processed after a meal. And of course, one of the major problems of modern diets that are so high in refined and processed carbohydrates is that they are energy rich, so lots of energy, but nutrient poor.

And furthermore, because of the metabolic state that kind of diet promotes from high carbohydrates, it causes us to stay hungrier much more of the time. So, eating a high carb standard diet not only leads to the over-consumption of energy with each meal, it also leads us to eat more often. So, the net result being we spend a lot of our time in a state of energy excess on the standard Western diet. And I think this is one helpful way to think about why returning to a load of moderate carbohydrate ancestral diet, which is the profile of the migraine miracle plan, which consists only of real food, is such a helpful weapon against the beast because it drastically reduces the amount of time that’s spent in that state of energy excess.

So, migraines are not only often triggered by energy excess, with alcohol and sugar being classic examples of empty energy sources, but they also require energy to sustain themselves. And as I said, after each meal is processed by the body, ultimately energy equilibrium is restored. So, that means that in the fasted state, the body is in that energy equilibrium. So, we’ve totally taken that problem of energy excess out of the equation, unless, of course, we eat again. So, the starve part of the starve and sink simply refers to starving the migraine of energy. A migraine without food won’t last as long as a migraine with food. So, fasting is a way of ending a migraine in the shortest time possible. And eating with a migraine is simply a way of prolonging our suffering.

Now, I know that for some, eating during a migraine, especially when they’re at the peak of their nausea, isn’t really an option anyway, so it’s a moot point. But for most, there are periods of time during a migraine where they may have some appetite and they may think that eating is the best thing to do during those periods of time, which I’ll talk more about in a sec. But as I said, both migraines and seizures are often viewed as conditions that are provoked by energy excess. And in the old days, guess what the treatment was for kids who had seizures that wouldn’t stop? It was fasting. So, they’d admit these children to the hospital, the kids would fast, and the seizures would break. And then, the next step often times was, guess what? Put them on a ketogenic diet. Additionally, in the early 20th century, there was lots of interest in the therapeutic benefits of fasting. And that’s actually resurfaced lately. So, people would undergo days long fasts for various therapeutic purposes. And guess what one of the conditions it was also found to be helpful for? Migraines.

So, author Upton Sinclair, who also wrote the book The Jungle that people are familiar with, published another book that’s called The Fasting Cure in 1911, I think. And in that, he tells all the health benefits that he discovered with fasting, including the curing of his chronic headaches. So, in the book he states that prior to his first 12-day fast, he had a daily headache for at least two to three weeks prior. He then reports that it went away after his first day of fasting, never to return for the remainder of his 12-day fast. And that he continued to enjoy a period of headache freedom thereafter. Like I said, this flies in the face of what many people have been led to believe about migraines. And I can’t tell you how many times personally over the years I actually forced myself to eat during a migraine, or as soon as I was hungry thought the best thing to do would be to eat something.

And this is why the myth that hunger or low blood sugar causes migraines is so destructive, and one reason I spent two episodes previously debunking that whole mythology. And you’ve heard others on this podcast say exactly the same thing. They look back and cringe thinking of all the time they prolonged their own suffering by thinking that they needed to eat during a migraine. So, that’s the starve part, which refers to starving the beast of energy or avoiding an energy surplus during a migraine.

And then the sink part of the starve and sink refers to actually doing some sort of exercise or physical activity during a migraine. So, the metaphor being that we’re creating an energy sink. So, with physical activity, we’re obviously diverting energy towards the muscles. So, if we think about what’s happening when we’re doing that in a fasted state where we’re already in energy equilibrium, we’re essentially creating at least a temporary energy deficit. So, we’re further tipping our energy kinetics away from a state of excess. And this one seems, I think, even more counterintuitive than the fasting part, right? I know that the last thing you feel like doing during a migraine is moving around. But as I said, when I was gathering different strategies, drug-free strategies, several people reported success in doing things like going for a run.

And so, I decided to try that myself during these experiments, and lo and behold they were right. And I was shocked. I tried this combination multiple times. So, once the migraine came on, number one, I didn’t eat until it was gone. And then I went for a run as soon as I could. And essentially, I’d go for as long as I was able to. And usually, that meant as long as I could given my time constraints. And this doesn’t have to be any kind of heroic effort. In fact, I think it’s important here to try to stay in the aerobic range, which you can monitor by checking your heart rate. So, the cut off there is to subtract your age from the number 180, and that would be the heart rate to stay under to make sure you are staying in the aerobic range and not tipping into anaerobic metabolism.

So, for example, if you’re 40 years old, then you’d want to maintain a heart rate below 140. And I think you’d find that’s a pretty doable target. And also, it’s a nice way of calibrating your activity level to whatever level of fitness you’re in. So, for some people, a brisk walk is enough to get into that zone. Whereas, someone who’s very active and exercises a lot may be able to run at a light or moderate pace and stay in the aerobic range. Usually with this, the first few minutes are pretty horrible and you feel worse. But then after that, things start to get better, and certainly better than sitting around inside and just feeling miserable. And what I would find is that I didn’t want to stop running. I would continue to go as long as I could. And that’s the most commonly reported experience that others have said with this. And of course, everybody is astonished by that experience because it seems so incredibly counterintuitive.

I don’t know of anyone who heard about this for the first time and didn’t think, “That sounds nuts.” And then, of course, that turns to disbelief after trying it and experiencing success with it. Now, again, the sink part, the physical activity, is not a must. We certainly have folks who just really employ the fasting part of it and have done very well. I just think of the sink as a way of further accelerating things if you’re able to do it. So, again, that’s the basics of the starve and sink approach.

Now, this is going to be part one of an episode about it, so I will be covering some frequently asked questions in a subsequent episode. And also, remember you can learn more about it by clicking on the link in the show notes to the article or by going to mymigrainemiracle.com/drugfree. I also wanted to mention that there’s one other really important potential benefit to fasting during a migraine. And this one was pointed out by my wife, Jenny, after listening to the recent episode on the connection between gluten and migraines. So, in that episode, one thing that I discussed was research showing that during a migraine, there’s breakdown in the blood brain barrier. So, the blood brain barrier is a wall between the systemic circulation and the brain. And it’s supposed to be a very solid line of defense because protecting the brain from foreign invaders is so important. Yet, in certain pain conditions including migraine, it’s been showed that that barrier breaks down.

Inflammation is a key feature of migraine, which I’ve discussed before and discuss in the book. And inflammation in the brain in particular is strongly associated with a breakdown in the blood brain barrier. So, when that happens, stuff gets into the brain that shouldn’t be there. And of course, that’s not good. A breakdown in the blood brain barrier is a known feature of many neurological disease, including Alzheimer’s Disease. And of course, in that episode, I talked about how foreign invaders first access the bloodstream, which can be through a leaky gut barrier, which also appears to be more common in those with migraines. So, if the blood brain barrier is compromised or leaky during a migraine, what would be the best strategy to minimize the impact of that, to keep stuff out of the brain that shouldn’t be there? It would of course be to fast. So, if we don’t put anything into our gut, then we don’t introduce things into the bloodstream that could make their way across the blood brain barrier and into the brain. Again, this is speculative, but it certainly seems like a sensible thing to do, especially considering that fasting is so helpful for a migraine anyways. And it also could be yet another reason why eating prolongs migraines.

So, because an already sensitive and vulnerable brain is rendered even more vulnerable because of blood brain barrier breakdown, allowing more bad actors into the brain and provoking more inflammation, leading to worsening pain, worsening breakdown of the blood brain barrier and this vicious cycle. This could also help to explain why longer fasts, like the ones that Upton Sinclair described, could lead to a longer-term protection against migraines because it could be allowing all that inflammation to dissipate and it could give time for the blood brain barrier to heal itself and sort of rebuild that all important line of defense that is probably significant in part of the pathogenesis of migraine headaches and why they occur to begin with. And this could also be precisely why many foods that were once triggers before folks go on the migraine miracle plan, as well as things like certain odors, that the reason that they no longer have the same impact.

One of the benefits of an ancestral diet is to reduce inflammation. And if there’s inflammation in the brain, that means healing of the blood brain barrier. Like I’ve said before, I’d be eating like this even if it didn’t have any impact on my migraines, number one because it affords me the best chance of a long life well lived, but also because as a migrainer, for the reasons I discussed in the Gluten and Migraine episode, I know my brain is more vulnerable than the average person’s to foreign invasion. And so, eating this way is a great way to kind of neutralize that vulnerability.

All right, so that’s it for this part one episode about the starve and sink. I’ll be back again with another installment that’ll include, again, some frequently asked questions about it. And again, you can read the 11 Drug Free Strategies to Relieve a Migraine article by going to mymigrainemiracle.com/drugfree. And that, of course, includes a discussion about the starve and sink. As I said before, the entire reason for exploring these drug free solutions was because I wanted the peace of mind and knowing that I’d never have to take a Triptan again. Even though the migraine miracle plan is the best preventative strategy that I’ve ever come across, I’m also a realist, and I know that sometimes things happen. The central principle of the plan is to minimize the mismatch between our current and our ancestral habitat. And sometimes, for reasons that are largely beyond our control, life can increase that mismatch.

So, if I have to travel across 12 timezones, for example, that’s going to be a huge shock to my circadian alignment, and a major challenge for the brain’s homeostatic systems to respond and adapt to. So, I want to be prepared for those inevitabilities and know that even if the beast strikes, that I have the peace of mind in knowing that he’ll leave and will leave in the shortest amount of time possible. And, most importantly, that I’ll have eliminated any chance of getting into the horrible cycle of rebound that’s so easy to get into with the abortive drugs and not easy to get out of.

One last thing I’ll mention too is that one of the most remarkable things about the starve and sink experiments was that the pattern of recovery was so consistent from one migraine to the next. So, there was this consistent progression of changes that I could track every time, almost like different phases. And also, that the timeframe from start to finish was remarkably consistent from one to the next. And that’s very different from what I had been used to where, when I was taking medications and sometimes eating during a migraine, that they would vary a lot, the character and duration would vary a lot from one migraine to the next. And I think what the starve and sink does is just remove all of that variability from the equation. And many others have reported the same kind of experience. And you’ve heard several folks say that on the plan, even if the beast does strike, it’s typically less intense. And then with the drug-free strategies like the starve and sink, they also have the peace of mind in knowing that it’s going to be temporary.

I’ve talked about one of the issues with the abortive drugs being that not only do they make you more vulnerable to more migraines in the future, but those migraines tend to get more and more intense. And again, this feeling of control over things just changes everything. We now consider the first migraine somebody in our community gets through without a pill as a major milestone. So many times, that’s been a sign of great things to come, mainly, I think, because it’s such a significant shift in mindset. One of the worst things about suffering with migraines is this feeling of loss of control, that the beast runs your life. And this changes that feeling entirely. People talk about how empowering that first experience is, and how it fundamentally alters their relationship with migraines after that point.

All right, so once again, it’s March 9th as I’m recording this. And we’re towards the end of our first week of the jumpstart challenge. There’s still time to get onboard if you’re interested. And we also have many more great challenges planned for the year. So, you can take a look at all those by going to mymigrainemiracle.com/schedule. So, thanks so much for listening, and now it’s time to go out and slay the beast.