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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” may help.
What are superfoods? Well, they’re not exactly supplements – although some supplement companies have started marketing “extracts” of various superfoods. By definition, superfoods are whole foods or oils that provide extremely high doses of nutrition. People call them “super” partly because of their benefits and partly because of their origin. Most superfoods are not new; rather, they were used by powerful ancient cultures and have only recently been rediscovered by the West. Although some scientists and many raw foodists credit superfoods with amazing regenerative and protective abilities for almost every health issue, this article discusses superfoods for special consideration by those who suffer from 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 migraine sufferers to avoid chocolate as a major trigger food. While some people have chocolate sensitivities, most people actually react to the typical milk and refined sugar in cooked chocolate bars. Raw cacao, in contrast, offers seven times more antioxidants than its cooked, dairy- and sugar-free version. Most importantly for those with migraines, raw cacao contains one of the highest sources of magnesium of any food. Magnesium acts as the relaxing counterpart of calcium and helps balance brain chemistry. In fact, many migraine sufferers manage to relieve their headaches by consuming large amounts of magnesium supplements. Magnesium can also help with PMS, another known migraine trigger. In addition to magnesium, raw cacao provides caffeine (which seems to affect the body less intensely in its raw form). Some people with migraines find that moderate caffeine use can reduce the headache before it becomes a full-blown episode. Most prescription migraine pills contain some form of caffeine. Nutritionally, raw cacao sure beats a Pepsi! If you know for sure that chocolate causes a reaction, skip the raw cacao, but otherwise it might be worth a try (delicious). 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 to 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 reputation for keeping Peruvian men virile into their 80s, maca actually works 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 deal with some of the stress that often causes cluster headaches and migraines. Maca grows in some of the most inhospitable conditions on earth, but it has learned to thrive where other plants die. The 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 needs help most—good news for people with headaches. they come from stress or hormonal imbalance. Maca tastes a bit like radish, so you don’t want to add too much to sweet smoothies. However, it mixes extremely well with cocoa, and I always enjoy a breakfast glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice in water with about a teaspoon of maca. The lemon brings out the hidden sweetness of the matcha, making a surprisingly delicious lemonade.
Hemp: No, I’m not talking about marijuana, although some people use cannabis for medicinal purposes. You can now find hulled hemp seeds, hemp butter, hemp protein powder, and hemp oil at alternative health food stores and many online stores. Despite having virtually no THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) content, the US government prohibits the sale of ready-to-germinate hemp seeds, so you can only legally purchase hemp seeds or hemp products, most of which appear to come from Canada. However, hemp has experienced a huge resurgence in recent years as people have rediscovered what ancient Europeans knew long ago. Hemp supports the immune system and contains edestin, the protein most easily assimilated by humans – good news for people who react to protein powders made from soy or milk (whey). Hemp seeds, butter and oil also contain the perfect ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, which are thought to help balance hormones and brain chemistry. In addition, hemp’s green color comes from chlorophyll, which differs by only one atom from hemoglobin. (Hemoglobin forms around an iron atom, while chlorophyll forms around that helpful magnesium atom.) Purifying the blood with chlorophyll-rich foods like hemp, wheatgrass, and leafy greens can alkalinize the body, which in turn , relieves stress responses such as migraines and cluster headaches. Hemp protein powder has a slightly harsh taste, but the butters, oil and seeds carry a nice, slightly nutty feel that pairs particularly well with raw cacao and maca. You can also replace bulgur wheat (gluten is a major migraine trigger) in foods like hemp seed tabouli, or use hemp butter as a nutritional substitute for another common trigger—peanut butter.
Yerba Mate (YUR-buh MAH-tay): For those people who know they need to kick the coffee habit but just can’t seem to give up their cup of Joe, Yerba Mate offers a great substitute. Another highly mineralized South American food, Yerba Mate tastes somewhat like coffee, but instead of depleting the adrenal glands, it feeds them B vitamins, 15 amino acids, 11 polyphenols (as in green tea and red wine) and, you guessed it. it: more magnesium and chlorophyll. While coffee provides a jolt of caffeine, mate’s energy comes from B vitamins, blood-cleansing properties and a component called matein. Unlike caffeine, mateine provides a crash-free high. Some independent coffee shops now serve mate lattes with soy milk, or you can brew the tea at home. For best results, heat but do not boil the water, then let the tea steep for 5 minutes. You can then add hemp milk and essential oils like peppermint with a hint of raw cacao powder, creating your own peppermint mocha. Yerba Mate also produces well as sun tea, mixed with orange peel or traditional tea spices. A favorite of shamans, Yerba Mate offers a traditional, nutritious alternative to coffee, along with minerals and nutrients thought to support hormonal balance and alkalinity.
In short, these superfoods pack trace minerals, powerful nutrients, and a little folklore. As foods rather than drugs, they gradually rebuild and support the body, rather than generating a “quick fix.” If you want a holistic approach to treating migraines or headaches and haven’t responded to the “new cures,” you may want to explore some ancient culinary remedies.
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