Take-aways from Turknett’s The Migraine Miracle
Note: These are my impressions after reading and applying Dr. Turknett’s recommendations. These are my personal opinions and responses to his book.
(Turknett, Josh. The Migraine Miracle: A Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free, Ancestral Diet to Reduce Inflammation and Relieve Your Headaches for Good. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2013.)
I remember some of the reactions I got when I first shared my migraine diagnosis with friends and family. Turns out most people know someone who gets migraines; not all come out unscathed. They bear the wounds of secondary trauma or compassion fatigue from being around a mirgraineur.
‘Yeah, my mother gets migraines,” a friend said as he carefully backed away from me. It’s was as if he thought I might explode on the spot, and he didn’t want to get hit with the shrapnel. I think my wife suffered similar wounds.
This may seem like an unusual way to back into a review of Dr. Josh Turknett’s book, The Migraine Miracle: A Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free, Ancestral Diet to Reduce Inflammation and Relieve Your Headaches for Good, but the vignette illustrates what, for me, may have been the most valuable aspect of having it on the bookshelf—my wife read it. In fact, I think she completed it before I did. It was a real eye-opener to her.
So, yes, I think every migraineur should peruse this book for reasons I discuss here below. But I think everybody who loves or lives with a migraine sufferer should read it. Turknett does a very good job of laying out the physiological twist that is a migraine: “The brain stem actually initiates the very signal that it ultimately receives back and senses as pain! If this sounds like a vicious, masochistic cycle, that’s because it is!” (Page 12.) That is an illuminating statement that is certainly consistent with how my wife experiences me when my symptoms swirl.
Also valuable to me and my wife—there might not be one trigger that causes a migraine. Turknett discusses this very thoughtfully. “Everything matters,” Turknett says. “…When the migraine threshold is crossed and the migraine mechanism switched on, it’s the culmination of many factors that gets us there.” (Page 22.) My wife is now able to see when triggers are mounting and point out what’s going on, often helping me avert an attack. So, I now have a valuable advocate in my Migraine Defense Arsenal.
The book was very valuable to me, too. Turknett provides a long list of risk factors and categorizes them into two categories: “Fixed, Non-Modifiable Factors” like genetic and environmental factors, and; “Modifiable Factors,” that are diet- and lifestyle-related. He weighs these factors as having more or less impact as risk factors, making some generalizations about the gravity of the various risk factors or triggers.
The Migraine.com community has shown me that our experiences, while shared, are also extremely unique. You may read Turknett’s weighted list and see your triggers laid out in a meaningful way. His weighting of risk factors may be spot on for you. They may not. So, I would suggest reading that section of the book without getting to attached to Turknett’s risk factors and the emphasis he places on each of them. Yours are likely to be unique to you. I do recommend you reflect of what you believe are your triggers, and Turknett’s list may inform your conclusions, but I don’t think it is comprehensive or universal.
I fully agree with him in other areas: Turknett is clear on what I think is a very important point—it is not just one trigger but a series of risk factors, unique to each migraineur, that influence the likelihood of an attack. That has been particularly valuable information to me. I tend to think in linear, cause-and-effect terms. So, when I get a migraine, I try to piece together The Cause. What a waste of time and energy.
I often rack my migraine-riddled brain trying to isolate a single trigger. Then, if I am able to isolate a factor that I think caused the migraine, I swear that one thing off forever. Eventually, I get another migraine and wonder where I went wrong. The truth is that I could eliminate several known triggers and still get migraines, because it is the combination of triggers that gets me rather than one trigger. Again, your mileage may vary, but I was greatly relieved when I accepted Turknett’s combination-of-factors or -triggers hypothesis.
I think of this in terms of stacking triggers. Turknett uses a different analogy, but the idea is the same. Like a game of Jenga, when my migraine risk factors stack up too high, the tower of triggers topples in an attack.
Ironically, the solution Turknett offers, a sugar- and gluten-free ancestral diet, fails to address that primary tenet of his argument. He is addressing a wide variety of risk factors with a solitary solution. Diet. That is the miracle to which Turknett is referring; he changed his diet and his migraines stopped.
Don’t get me wrong. The diet has helped me immensely. I have been eating what Turknett calls an “ancestral diet,” which is more popularly known now as a paleo diet, for more than 18 months. I don’t follow it perfectly, but the effects have been dramatic.
I went from having symptoms almost every day to about an attack a month. That’s a huge improvement. But the nature and severity of the attacks has shifted dramatically: I once had symptoms that would last for days and weeks on end—tinnitus, vertigo, mental fog, fatigue—but would rarely get a crippling headache. Now I get a serious attack, with a severe headache and nausea, every three or four weeks, but those daily symptoms are under control. (I also lost 25 pounds, which my neurologist was trying to get me to do anyhow.)
So, my migraines are less frequent, but they are worse than they once were…of much shorter duration but far more painful. That is a trade-off I am willing to accept. I can have symptom-free days for weeks on end, but completely miss out on a few days because the attacks are more debilitating.
To sum up my experience with this book: it has been great and has contributed to very meaningful changes in my life—which have had some unexpected benefits. I would certainly recommend the diet to anybody. I feel great. But I tend to disagree with the premise that the diet alone will eliminate migraines. In fact, that is contrary to what Turknett says about triggers in general.
The two greatest things Turknett offered me were not really given to me but to my marriage. My wife is much more understanding of my attacks and she is helpful in spotting triggers as they stack up. For that I am very grateful.