The Spark and the Fuel

Migraines- (1)

It’s no secret that migraines are a complicated beast.

Were this not the case, they wouldn’t have so effectively thwarted modern medicines’ attempts to conquer them.

This complexity includes the relationship between carbohydrates and migraines. As Migrai-Neverland member Cole recently stated:

I think one of the bigger concepts of all this that I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my head around is the cause-and-effect relationship with my migraines and sugar/carbs. It feels like more of a complex relationship compared to other migraine triggers.

I agree.

The effects of carbohydrates on migraines, and the effects of carbohydrates on our physiology and metabolism in general, is complicated, impacting both in multiple ways and on different time frames. Yet, if we can understand these effects, then we have another migraine vulnerability we can attack to our advantage.

In this post, I’m going to share with you a simple framework for understanding the complex relationship between carbohydrates and migraine, one that I think you’ll find clarifying and, most importantly, useful.

[RELATED: See exactly how I manage my daily carbs. Click here to check out Primal Provisions, our weekly meal planning service.]

This post will also address what has been one of the sticking points readers have had when reading the book. The most consistent objection I’ve heard (though appearing to stem from a…ahem…”cursory” reading of it) goes something along these lines: “I looked at the recipes and some of them have bacon. Bacon is a known migraine trigger. This book is false!”

Glaring logical fallacies aside, I do understand where those who say this are coming from.

How is it that now, after adopting an ancestral diet laid out in the book, I (and others who’ve followed this path) am able to indulge in some foods that previously I had treated with great trepidation?

To make sense of this apparent contradiction, we need to talk about making fire.

The Spark and the Fuel

To make a fire, we need two things.

Something to start the fire: the spark.

Something to keep the fire burning: the fuel.

A spark with no fuel does not burn. Fuel with no spark never lights.

What’s this have to do with  migraine?

In order for the migraine flame to burn inside your noodle, you need a spark, something to flip the switch and set things in motion. These are the illustrious migraine triggers, the many food and lifestyle triggers that every migraineur desperately seeks to identify and avoid.

Some of these triggers produce a little spark, some of these produce a big one (illustrated by the small and big balloons in the model presented in the book).

But just as is the case with fire, a spark alone isn’t enough. Migraines, like fire, need fuel to burn.

Enter the modern diet high in processed foods, industrial seed oils, and refined carbohydrates. In other words, a diet RICH IN MIGRAINE FUEL.

More specifically, the typical western, carbohydrate rich, obesity-epidemic-driving diet promotes a “gluco-centric” metabolic state inside the body. A state where sugar, i.e. carbohydrates, are the body’s primary fuel source. And a state in which our fat stores lie tucked away inside the adipose tissue.

A body in glucocentric metabolism always has an an ample supply of migraine fuel around. Throw a spark into this environment, and the flame will burn strong. Translation: a long lasting, intense migraine.


Just as campers in a dry, fuel-rich forest must be especially mindful of stray sparks from their campfire, a migraineur in glucocentric metabolism must be mindful to avoid even the tiniest of sparks.

And this is why, in the traditional approach to migraine prevention, avoidance of triggers is the sole focus. If everyone is eating the same migraine-fuel-rich modern diet, then our only prevention strategy is to minimize the sparks.

On the other hand, a body that has shifted to fat-centered, “adipo-centric” metabolism is, by comparison, a fuel-poor environment for migraine. In the presence of a spark, less available fuel means the flame burns less strong and less bright. Translation: a shorter, less intense headache.


And adipocentric metabolism is the physiologic state of a human eating a nutrient dense, evolutionarily appropriate diet. It is the metabolic state of our ancestors, and thus likely a major reason why hunter gatherer humans do not experience migraines. In this “fat-burning” state, fat stores are mobilized easily from the adipose tissue to meet our energy needs.

But, as discussed in previous posts, the transition between these two metabolic states takes time. On average, it takes roughly two weeks after adopting a nutrient dense, lower carbohydrate diet for the body to bring online all the necessary biochemical machinery required to be an efficient fat burner.

In this case, the food we eat, and specifically the carbohydrate we eat (or relative lack thereof), is affecting our migraine susceptibility not over the course of a few minutes or hours (as is the case with consumption of a trigger food), but rather over the course of days to weeks.

As mentioned above, the conventional approach to migraine prevention is incomplete, with a myopic focus on sparks only. This was the dramatic realization I had after eliminating my migraines with an ancestral diet, and after using it to great success with so many others.

With this framework, you now have two potent strategies for frustrating the assault of migraine. Each one alone is a valuable weapon against it, but the two in combination is especially lethal.

This “spark and fuel” concept is one I’ll continue to revisit in future posts, including how I use it to shape my own choices, and the role the nutritional ketosis can play within it.

But at least now you understand why you might find the occasional use of bacon and nuts in our recipes, and how consumption of such things can still be compatible with a migraine-free existence.


Migrai-Neverland Re-Opening Soon

Migrai-Neverland, our private, professionally supported community for migraineurs, is currently closed as we continue getting to know our Founding Members, but we will be re-opening it again for new members in late January.

Click here to get on the waiting list. You’ll be the first notified, and be able to join at a special “early bird” discount.