Superfoods for Migraines
Migraines and cluster headaches: whatever the label, the pain and side effects can be intense! In addition to traditional treatments, including more of the following “superfoods” can help.
What are superfoods? Well, they’re not exactly supplements–although some supplement companies have begun to market “extracts” of various superfoods. By definition, superfoods are whole foods or oils that offer exceptionally high doses of nutrition. People call them “super” in part because of their benefits and in part due to their origins. Most superfoods are not new; rather, they’ve been used by powerful ancient cultures and only recently rediscovered by the West. Although some scientists and many raw foodists credit superfoods with amazing regenerative and protective abilities for almost any health issue, this article discusses superfoods for special consideration by those who suffer migraines and/or cluster headaches.
Cacao (kuh-COW): Commonly marketed as raw cacao or raw chocolate, this “food of the gods” actually became monetary currency in the Aztec empire! Conventional wisdom tells those with migraines to avoid chocolate as a major trigger food. While some people do have sensitivities to chocolate, most people actually react to the typical dairy and refined sugar in cooked chocolate bars. Raw cacao, by contrast, offers seven times the antioxidants of its cooked version, without the offending dairy and sugar. More importantly for those with migraines, raw cacao contains one of the highest sources of magnesium in any food. Magnesium acts as the relaxing counterpart to calcium and helps to balance brain chemisty. In fact, many migraine sufferers manage to stave off headaches by consuming large quantities of magnesium supplements. Magnesium can also help with PMS, another known trigger of migraines. In addition to magnesium, raw cacao offers caffeine (which seems to affect the body less intensely in its raw form). Some people with migraines find that judicious use of caffeine can curtail a headache before it becomes a full blown episode. Most prescription migraine pills contain some form of caffeine. From a nutritional standpoint, raw cacao certainly beats a Pepsi! If you know for sure that chocolate causes a reaction, skip the raw cacao, but otherwise it could be worth a (delicious) try. Add cacao nibs or powder to morning smoothies, or make raw fudge by mixing the powder with coconut butter, raw agave nectar or honey, and some of the other superfoods listed below. As with any new food, start small so you can monitor your reactions.
Maca (MAH-kuh): Also known as “Peruvian viagra,” maca is a root grown at 14,000 feet in the Andes Mountains. Despite its fame for keeping Peruvian men virile into their 80’s, maca actually functions as an adaptogen, meaning it balances all hormones. If someone has too much estrogen, maca works to lower estrogen levels. If another person has too little estrogen, maca helps the body bring those levels back to optimal levels. Maca also nourishes the adrenal glands, helping the body handle some of the stress that so often triggers cluster headaches and migraines. Maca grows in some of the most inhospitable conditions on earth, but it has learned to flourish where other plants die. Natives believe that the root transfers this strength and adaptability to those who consume it: “You are what you eat!” Metaphysics aside, maca’s high mineral content, B-vitamins, protein, fatty acids, and plant sterols allow it to rebuild the body wherever it most needs help–good news for people whose headaches come from stress or hormonal imbalance. Maca tastes a bit like radish, so you don’t want to add too much to sweet smoothies. It blends exceptionally well with cacao, though, and I always enjoy a morning glass of fresh squeezed lemon juice in water with about a teaspooon of maca. The lemon brings out maca’s hidden sweetness, making a surprisingly zesty lemonade.
Hemp : No, I’m not talking about marijuana, even though some people do employ cannabis for medicinal purposes. You can now find hulled
Yerba Mate (YUR-buh MAH-tay): For those people who know they need to kick the coffee habit but simply can’t forgo their cuppa Joe, Yerba Mate offers a good substitute. Another highly mineralized South American food, Yerba Mate tastes somewhat similar to coffee, but instead of depleting the adrenal glands, it nourishes them with B-vitamins, 15 amino acids, 11 polyphenols (like in green tea and red wine) and, you guessed it: more magnesium and chlorophyll. Whereas coffee provides a caffeine jolt, mate’s energy comes from the B-vitamins, blood purifying properties and a component called mateine. Unlike caffeine, mateine gives a lift without the crash. Some independent coffee houses now serve soymilk “mate lattes,” or you can brew the tea at home. For best results, warm but don’t boil the water, then let the tea steep for 5 minutes. You can then add
In short, these superfoods bring trace minerals, potent nutrients, and a bit of folklore. As foods rather than drugs, they gradually rebuild and support the body, instead of generating a “quick fix.” If you’d like a holistic approach to treating migraines or cluster headaches and haven’t responded to “newfangled cures,” you might want to explore some ancient culinary treats.