A Keto-mas Miracle?

Nope.

Let’s get this click-bait nonsense out of the way right off the bat: the ketogenic diet has not gifted me with a Christmas migraine miracle, but insofar as anything can be a migraine miracle, this high fat, low carb diet has come pretty darn close.

My initial reaction to “Hey, you should try keto! It worked for me!” was something along the lines of “Don’t tell me what to do! I love carbs more than life itself! I can’t afford to eat that way! Fad diets are for losers,” and “THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A CURE!”

Proceed with caution

Like many of you, I am wary of anything toted as a cure or miracle, because I’ve had my hopes and wallet dashed so many times already. My treatment triumphs have always been the result of a consistent hard work and multiple tools; rarely has a single approach felt like a magic bullet. But as I climbed my way out of a chronic migraine relapse, I was really, really ready to try something new.

I read up on a few small clinical trials, talked to a friend on the diet, chatted with my migraine specialist, and consulted with Dr. Google. The diet was developed for children with epilepsy at the turn of the century and is quickly gaining speed as the latest weight-loss fad diet, so I found a very weird mishmash of scientific information and outlandish, baseless claims about how it would make me more manly. My specialist and friend echoed much of what I found online: anecdotally, it helps a lot of people with migraine. I decided to take the plunge.

Bye bye carbs

At first it was very difficult to say goodbye to carb-rich foods. My diet is already severely restricted for various health reasons, and saying goodbye to my few comfort foods was pretty sad. I craved my bedtime gluten-free crackers with butter and jam to the point where I couldn’t focus on anything else. The smell of fries and perogies wafting on the warm summer breeze was sometimes too much to bear. And it felt very strange to eat so much fat. It went against everything I’d been taught about a healthy, well-balanced diet. I gave in to carbs. Many times.

What was interesting is that with each “cheat session” my body’s reaction became worse. The more I cleansed myself of sugary and carby things, the more my body went into full migraine inflammation horror mode when I ate them. So that became a pretty serious deterrent. The longer I went without carby things, the more manageable and infrequent my migraine attacks became. I did lose a bit of weight too, which is really neither here nor there for me, but interesting.

Results

Four months into the diet, I’m not exactly eating my words (they’re not fatty enough), but I am surprisingly glad I let my guard down to try something despite its lack of clear and thorough scientific evidence.

On paper, my progress is not so impressive. I graduated from 13 moderate/severe attacks in August to 11 in September, 10 in October, 9 in November, and 9 in December. What is sort of miraculous is that in those four months I was able to meet more physical and social demands than I have in years, progressively, busting my butt the hardest in December. I also successfully weaned myself off several medications that I have been trying to ditch for, like, ever. All without horrific consequences. (Side note: I REALLY need to check in with a dietician and have some blood work done and make sure I’m getting everything I need. Next week! That is important for such restricted diets. I know! Okay mom?!! Okay!! I promise!)

Calculated risks

So what’s the moral of the story? I’m still wary of anecdotal information. I still think this diet is stupidly expensive and difficult to maintain and may not be a good long term plan for me. I still think there’s plenty of harmful bottomless pits of snake oil out there. But maybe, just maybe, even when there’s a lack of research and a seemingly weird thing to try, if it seems relatively harmless, I think it’s okay to go out on a limb sometimes.

These days, I’m trusting my gut, and my gut is calling for butter. It’s also calling for better funding for migraine research about things such as diet.

What weird thing have you tried that actually helped when you thought it was utter nonsense?

*Editorial note: Please make sure to always consult your doctor about the safety of starting a new diet in regards to your current migraine treatment plan.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (17)
  • MigraineSavvy
    10 months ago

    Oh man I love this article. I tried the Keto diet for 3 months. I did feel I had MUCH more energy but my migraines persisted. They are relentless and nothing I’ve tried so far has worked (except a triptan and ibuprofen). They’ve gone now from menopause (thank goodness) but I think I’d try it again just for health reasons. They count too right!!!???

  • jviper36
    1 year ago

    What got me started on the keto diet was after reading the migraine miracle . The web site and face book group also has lots of free info. I used to have 15 migraines a month and now down to five headaches a month. I stopped taking all abortive medications, I can now bear the pain without having to take any meds. What most people don’t realize is the medication is causing more harm from rebound headaches. I could not have done it without going on the keto diet. Being in ketosis has helped and I will not go back to eating carbs again until the CGRP drugs hit the market. I was also in a clinical trial for the amgen CGRP and it was a miracle cure for me.

  • Mrs.Doyle
    1 year ago

    We started a Keto way of eating for reasons other than migraine… in part because I wanted a weight loss approach that didn’t deny me butter, ha!… and until this article prompted a think-about, I didn’t recognize that the number of my migraines has gone down. In a way I was my own lab rat blind to any expectations of a Keto way of eating impacting migraines and the results were good for me

    I also get Botox every three months and typically the 2-3 weeks prior to my next injections, migraines ramp up in quantity, quality, and intensity which prompts me to remember the next appointment the same way the office calling with a reminder does. However, I needed that reminder call for my appointment today because my migraines have been much more subtle… well, subtle compared to a lifetime experience similar to 2×4’s smacking me in the head a few times a week.

    The Keto diet wasn’t much of a change for our household. I have celiac, so no gluten and I’m too cheap to splurge on GF crackers and bread too often and making them from scratch got tedious early on. I also have issues with nightshades & dairy while my husband has issues with certain seeds and nuts and is diabetic. That pretty much left us with meat and veggies as options we could both eat, which is essentially the Keto diet, which is essentially the old-school Atkins meets Paleo/Primal.

    I found an app/blog that has made keeping track easy, figures out the correct % of this and that, and some good recipes for when I feel like investing time in the kitchen. I tend to keep our cooking simple, to things that don’t need recipes, like a rotisserie chicken from the market (costs the same as the uncooked one in the meat case), frozen shrimp quickly steamed, frozen fish fillets, chicken quarters, pretty much things you can just shove in the oven with a bit of salt&pepper or herbs, splash of lemon juice or olive oil or butter. Frozen veggies that just get steamed or fresh from produce section that are bagged prepped and ready to get tossed in the oven for a quick roast.

    It’s honestly been easier to cook this way than the standard American diet. You buy at the best level you can afford but you don’t have to break the bank, it might even be cheaper if you don’t spend on carbs but buy less expensive veggies to make up for the absent carbs.

    The one thing we do splurge on is the fats, but it wasn’t for health reasons, they just taste so much better! K***yg*ld butter, really good olive oils, infused coconut oil… these are all flavorings for our simple meals, and at the risk of sounding uncouth, K***yg*ld is what I would call a drinking butter, as in it is so delicious you will want to just straight up drink it melted. (Yes, it is that different from regular ol’ butter)

    So without intending for Keto to help with migraines I can vouch that it has, much to my surprise. Together with Botox, the 2×4’s I was used to having smash into my head multiple times a week, I’m now using to build a more interesting life. The last fill date on my abortive medication was months ago and it used to be a week or two in the past.

    It may be that trying a Keto diet provides a structured elimination of foods that people are sensitive to which trigger migraines; it could be the ketones’ effecting neurology; it could be the joy and relaxation that comes from letting yourself eat indulgent foods like butter without guilt and cooking simple meals; but whatever has been the mechanism that helped me, I don’t foresee going back to any other way of chowing down.

    If nothing else, it is one of the simplest ways of cooking when you are in the midst of a migraine, or for a less skilled friend or family member to cook for you when you can’t. Just shove some meat in the oven and steam some frozen veggies, grab the olive oil/butter, S&P, everyone is fed, and over time it might just turn out to turn down your migraines.

  • DawnJ
    1 year ago

    Thanks for the insight. My husband has joined me doing Whole30. We are in our 3rd week. I have not seen a change in his migraines. But was hoping.

  • Georgiana
    1 year ago

    Pry my Primal, whole food, sweet-free, ketogenic diet out of my cold, dead hands.

    No, it’s not a miracle cure, but when I’m in ketosis I have a marked reduction in attacks. It works a lot like the side effect-ridden anti-seizure pills I used to take for a preventative (until I turned out to be too sensitive to manufacturer changes to keep taking them). Keto keeps me from being chronic.

    I’m weather-triggered, so I really need it now, because this arctic nonsense gave me some of the most severe migraines of my life back in the day. When I’m on my game, I get 1 headache a week AT MOST. Usually it’s more like 2 or 3 a month.

    Keto does not have to be expensive. In fact, if you think meat is too pricey, go vegetarian keto. Things like butter and eggs are still fairly cheap. Just like with gluten-free, if you’re eating stuff out of packages instead of cooking your own food, you’re just cheating yourself and spending too much money needlessly.

    Keto can also be the simplest thing in the world. Fatty meat on a George Foreman grill or eggs with sautéed veggies and/or salad. Bam! Keto. Learn how to use herbs and spices. Snack on whole nuts. It’s also very easy to look to international foods for inspiration. Just made caldo de pollo last night, which is Mexican chicken soup. Just left out the potatoes. It was easy and delicious.

    Personally, I think it’s a fantastic trade-off. Spending a little more on food means I spend a lot less on medications. Devoting just a bit more time to food by way of cooking instead of eating out or eating out of packages is time I get back when I’m not nursing all of those headaches.

    Starches are WAY overrated.

  • Suzopedia
    1 year ago

    A low carb diet definitely has helped my migraines. I no longer get sick and vomit. The difference is amazing. I am able to take generic midrin most times and get relief. Over time I an having less headaches.

  • kellyco5
    1 year ago

    I’m also trying the ketogenic diet, again. I’ve done it before and had a two week period without a migraine. You would think the success would have kept me going, but alas I ended up bumping out of ketosis during a trip out of town and was back in the chronic migraine cycle. As a dietitian, I researched the heck out of the diet before I tried it. We usually only use the “keto diet” with pediatric epilepsy. There are a couple of books out now – Migraine Miracle by Josh Turnkett and a new one by Angela Stanton (have a migraine coming now and can’t remember the name!) Also, on the horizon is a new randomized trial with 90 participants using exogenous ketones as a way to make the plan easier and not so restrictive. The first investigative trial was successful – https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/886000. It was presented at last fall’s International Headache Society meeting. Good luck with it and I give you lots of strength to stay the course!

  • Georgiana
    1 year ago

    Get back on the wagon. Depending on how long you did it before, getting back into ketosis will be much faster and easier than it was the first time.

  • Anna Eidt author
    1 year ago

    Thank you for this information!! I’m aiming to do some more articles to summarize the research that has been done and this is all great to know!

    Good luck with round two. It’s extra hard to stay on the wagon when travelling.

  • Pump2Duncan
    1 year ago

    I tried Keto, and while that really didn’t do much for me besides make me weirdly cranky and irritable – I did stick with the lots of water aspect of it. Made me look at the labels and realize how much sugar was in gatorade and powerade and all those other sports drinks I was drinking by the gallons everyday to stay hydrated.

    So my keto diet turned more into a no artificially-consumed sugar diet, which didn’t eliminate my chronic migraines – but did give me a 25% reduction. I’ll take it!

  • Georgiana
    1 year ago

    Weird, cranky, and irritable is usually sugar withdrawal. It can take a while to overcome that, depending on how much you were consuming. Unfortunately, it sounds like in your case it was a lot with all the sports drinks. Usually, adding more salt alleviates some of those symptoms. And magnesium.

    When I was trying to get into ketosis for the first time, I was lethargic and completely unmotivated. I didn’t want to do anything but sit around and watch TV. Considering I also have ADHD, that’s pretty crazy. It took a few days to pass. Luckily, I decided to do this over a holiday break and took some extra vacation days.

    Anyways, getting of sugar is huge. Those symptoms do go away once your body adjusts to the absence of sugar. (Personally, I think it should be classified as a drug.) I bet if you wanted to go back to keto now you’d have a much much easier time. You may even see a greater reduction in headaches because headaches are associated with withdrawal. I don’t know about you, but I can’t get some other kind of headache, especially sinus, without migraine taking note and joining the party.

    Just some food for thought.

  • MissCottonHead
    1 year ago

    Gatorade and other energy drinks don’t hydrate, they dehydrate due to the large amount of sugars and other compounds which draw fluids from the cells. Their function is to supply energy, not so much fluids.
    For hydration drink isotonic drinks, they are designed for it. But in the end: water is the best hydrating drink.

  • Anna Eidt author
    1 year ago

    Sounds like an excellent silver lining. And yes, CARBS & SUGARS ARE EVERYWHERE!!

  • Ronan
    1 year ago

    Love the article. Thank you

    I don’t have a diet per say. I do find that I eat fewer carbs then I use to. But, I do stay away from everything that says low or non-fat products. This is funny because I naturally did this. Full-fat products work for me. I don’t get a full-blown migraine this way.

    I also cut out anything with MSG, artificially sweet products. I rarely eat a meal and graze instead. I eat at regular intervals, but not what most would call a meal. I don’t know if anything will stop migraine altogether but the adjustments I made keep them at bay.

    I also want to say is that as I age my plan changes. What really worked 2yrs ago, may not work so well now. It’s a work in progress.

  • Anna Eidt author
    1 year ago

    Work in progress is right! I also find that my needs change as time marches on. Keeping blood sugar levels by grazing/snacking seems to help lots of people with migraine. Glad it helps for you!

  • Georgiana
    1 year ago

    Keto also fixed my blood sugar. (I was sooooo hypoglycemic.)

    Before: 40 in the middle of the afternoon a couple hours after lunch.

    After: 84 at 6AM.

    It also is great for diabetics.

    Just sayin’… If blood sugar swings are your trigger, keto (or just regular low carb) is your friend.

    I’m starting to think I could write a book in this. LOL.

  • Ronan
    1 year ago

    Thank you. 🙂 Grazing helps, yes. But like right now. Still in a bit of pain. Oh well.

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