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Two years ago in the midst of winter, my best friend Niki was in her second trimester of pregnancy with her son, Raury. I was home in Minneapolis for the holidays, and I wanted to cook something cozy that would warm her and baby from within. After a little research, I found a Japanese recipe for Ochazuke, which is essentially leftover rice steeped in green tea-infused broth. Often Ochazuke includes cooked salmon and nori, a type of dried and seasoned seaweed used to wrap sushi rolls; other versions call for eggs, pickled umeboshi plums, zucchini, or shiitake mushrooms. Whatever the version, Ochazuke is meant to be simple comfort food.

And that’s exactly what I was after: less time at the stove, more time to enjoy my friend. Here are a few more reasons why we love this recipe:

  • The fetal brain develops exponentially during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. EPA and DHA are critically important Omega-3 derivatives to fetal neurodevelopment. Wild-caught salmon is a direct source of both EPA and DHA.

  • Sea vegetables and salmon are great sources of the trace mineral iodine, which is used by every cell in the body. Iodine supports thyroid hormone production, a process required for optimal neurodevelopment during pregnancy and early childhood. Because thyroid hormone production increases during pregnancy, pregnant women require more iodine than the normal RDA of 150 mcg. (Rather than supplementing with iodine to reach the RDA, we generally prefer the consumption of whole foods that are naturally packaged with synchronistic nutrients).

  • Green tea in excess is not recommended for pregnant women, as caffeine can interfere with folate absorption. Folate is the B-vitamin crucial for neural tube development. Green tea has so many other health benefits that consuming it in moderation (1 cup a day) after the first trimester, when the neural tube develops, is considered safe. Polyphenols in green tea support healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Green tea is also a natural source of l-theanine. A systematic review of 21 studies published in Phytomedicine (October 2017) found that the combination of caffeine and l-theanine in green tea are beneficial to cognition and anxiety reduction, and that either component in isolation was shown to have a lesser effect.

Salmon Ochazuke – Serves 2

Ingredients

6 ounces Wild-caught salmon

1 cup cooked brown rice

2 cups brewed green tea

2-3 Tablespoons Coconut Aminos

Splash of rice vinegar

Sea salt to taste

½ sheet of toasted nori, cut into thin strips

3 scallions, sliced

Sesame seeds

Toasted sesame oil

Directions

  1. Season the salmon with sea salt and black pepper. Then steam it and remove the skin. Flake into bite-sized pieces. At the same time, warm the rice (if it’s cold).

  2. Brew the tea and season with Coconut Aminos and a splash of rice vinegar. Add sea salt to taste.

  3. Mound the rice into deep bowls.

  4. Add flaked salmon over the rice.

  5. Add strips of nori over that.

  6. Then divide seasoned green tea among the bowls.

  7. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and sesame seeds, and drizzle with toasted sesame oil.

Jacqui Gabel is from Minneapolis and moved to Denver two years ago to attend NTI’s Natural Food Chef Program. Like many, she fell in love with Colorado and chose to stay. She’s currently working on completing her MNT certification. Find her on Instagram @realfooddesire.

 

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I keep an ongoing supply of elderberry juice concentrate in my refrigerator through the winter months and add a splash to my glass of water every morning. Why? Because I have two young boys, who are always bringing germs into the house. Also, because the science on elderberry’s ability to stave off colds and the flu is pretty rock solid.

What is Elderberry?

Black elderberries are the fruits of a flowering plant that goes by the scientific name of Sambucus nigra. Sambucus plants grow widely in Europe, where both the flowers and the berries are used in jams, cordials, soft drinks, and teas.

Elderberries and elderflowers have a long tradition of medicinal use, dating back thousands of years to the time of Hippocrates. Many of its traditional uses—for conditions ranging from diarrhea to joint pains to the plague—have never been verified by science. However, modern research is beginning to unravel that elderberries have antibacterial, antiviral, and other impressive ways of supporting immune defenses.

Can Elderberry Treat Colds and Flu?

When an outbreak of the flu occurred in Panama in 1993, researchers provided standardized elderberry extract to a sample of people and compared the outcomes with a sample of people not receiving elderberry. What they found was that 90% of the people taking elderberry recovered from the flu within two days, whereas most of the people not taking elderberry recovered within six. Blood tests from the study showed that elderberry extract had antiviral activity against both influenza A and influenza B.  

Researchers then conducted a similar study in Norway during the 1999-2000 flu season. They found that people who took 15 mL of elderberry syrup four times a day, beginning within the first 48 hours of feeling sick, recovered four days faster than those taking a placebo.

Both of these studies showed that people could get back to feeling better about four days sooner if they started taking elderberry at the onset of feeling sick. That is a pretty big deal, adding up to almost an entire week of productivity.  

Can Elderberry Prevent Colds and Flu?

A study published in 2016 looked at the effects of elderberry during airline travel, a time when respiratory infections can spread like wildfire. Study participants completed surveys about respiratory symptoms just before travel and up to four days after travel. Those taking the elderberry experienced fewer, less severe, and more fleeting upper respiratory symptoms than travelers not taking elderberry.  

There aren’t a lot of studies looking at the preventive effects of elderberry, so we can’t make any sweeping claims. Still, elderflower tea and elderberry juice are simple drinks that we can add to our daily routine with a negligible risk of safety concerns. If splashing a little elderberry juice into my glass of water every morning gives my immune system even a tiny boost, I’m all for it.

5 Ways to Use Elderberry This Winter

Elderberries can be prepared or purchased in a variety of forms, and there are different reasons to choose one over another. Following are five different ways to use elderberry products through the cold and flu season.

1. Elderberry Juice

Elderberry juice is not very sweet. You can get an elderberry juice concentrate, for example, that has less than one gram of sugar in a teaspoon. Even though it is not sweet, the taste is mild and pleasant when just a splash is diluted in water. You can also get elderberry juice that has not been concentrated, sometimes mixed with other juices to add sweetness. If you are a juice-drinker already, consider switching over to elderberry juice for the winter months.

2. Tea

Another way to make elderberries or elderflowers a part of your daily routine is to take them as a tea. You can brew it from dried elderberries of elderflowers or find a commercial brand. Sipping on a steamy cup of elderberry tea before bed might be a nice routine to relax and support your immune defenses through the winter.

3. Syrup

Elderberry syrup is more concentrated than juice. Commercial brands sell syrups that are made with either honey or glycerin. You can make your own syrup at home, by simmering dried elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and honey. Because a syrup is more concentrated than a juice or a tea, I would reserve this for times when you feel a cold coming on.  

4. Pills or Lozenges

Several herbal and dietary supplement companies make products with dried elderberry powder in capsules, tablets, or lozenges. These are an easy way to consume a more concentrated amount than from a juice or a tea. Like the syrup, I would reserve these for times when your body needs a little extra immune support.

5. Wine

I’m not suggesting that drinking wine is the best way to support our immune defenses, but I couldn’t leave this one out. Who knows—you might glean a tiny bit of benefit from the antioxidants in the glass!

Let us know your favorite ways to use elderberries in the comments below!

Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute.

 
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I’ve been eating this cranberry salsa since my cousin Tippy first made it 16 years ago. In the Twin Cities where she lives, she’s locally famous for it. She’d roll her eyes if she knew I told you this, which is just further evidence of its truth.

Every year around this time, I make jars of Tippy’s Cranberry Salsa to bring to holiday parties. At every party, without fail, three things will happen: A select few people will hover over the bowl, almost apologetically, surprised that they cannot stop eating. “What’s IN this?” they ask. These are the same people who will politely demand the recipe before the night ends. There are never any leftovers of Tippy’s Cranberry Salsa.

You can make salsa out of nearly any variety of fruit, but I wait all year for fresh cranberries to come around, and once you make this salsa yourself, you’ll understand why. The magic, I think, is in the merging of fresh ginger, tart cranberries and lime, and the subtle kick from the jalapeño. Save for the cranberries, these piquant flavors don’t typically grace the holiday table, or not together anyway, and so they contrast the richer, saltier foods that do.  

Cranberries are indigenously North American and were used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans. Salsa is inextricably tied to the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs. I could not find the origin of Cranberry Salsa, but there is certainly no shortage of versions to be found online. This tells us that somewhere along the way, someone thought it’d be a good idea to fuse two foods with totally separate lineage, and people liked it enough that the idea spread. Tippy would insist I tell you that she first found this recipe as part of a cracker ad in a cooking magazine back in 2002, but anyone who knows Tippy knows this recipe as hers.  

Why we love it:

  • Cranberries are a potent source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Scientists have identified over two dozen protective phytonutrients in cranberries, including anthocyanins, which have shown promise in supporting cardiovascular and metabolic health.

  • Phenolic acids and flavonoids in cranberries reportedly attenuate oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL cholesterol), as well as inflammatory damage to interior blood vessel lining (endothelium).

  • Cranberries are a true superfruit, if there ever was one. Indigenous to North America, eighty percent of cranberries grown worldwide are cultivated in the United States and Canada today. Long before the days of medical research, Native Americans intuited the health benefits of cranberries, and used them as a blood purifier, laxative, fever reducer, and for childbirth-related injuries. Besides medicine, cranberries were used for cooking, to make dyes, and as bait to trap the snowshoe hare. Pemmican, the first energy bar on record invented by Native Americans, was made from a mixture of pounded cranberry, ground deer meat, and fat tallow (Whitman-Salkin for National Geographic, 2013).

Tippy’s Cranberry Salsa

Ingredients

12 oz fresh cranberries

1 small jalapeño

2 T fresh cilantro

1 inch fresh ginger

1 T fresh lime juice

¼ c raw sugar

big pinch sea salt

1 small bunch green onions (4-5)

Directions

  1. Slice the green onions thinly.

  2. Peel and grate the ginger (a Microplane™ works great for this).

  3. Seed and mince the jalapeño.

  4. In a food processor, pulse the cranberries with the jalapeño, cilantro, ginger, lime juice, sugar, and salt, until the cranberries “resemble the texture of pickle relish” (Tippy’s words).

  5. Fold in the sliced onions.

  6. Serve with tortilla chips.

Jacqui Gabel is from Minneapolis and moved to Denver two years ago to attend NTI’s Natural Food Chef Program. Like many, she fell in love with Colorado and chose to stay. She’s currently working on completing her MNT certification. Find her on Instagram @realfooddesire.

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Can you believe it’s that time of year already? The time we hear radio ads urging us to get the flu shot and see signs outside the grocery directing us to the pharmacy? I’m not here to argue the pros and cons of getting a flu shot except to say one thing. The flu shot cannot be your only strategy to avoid falling sick through the winter months. Given that the flu shot has a track record of being only 40% effective, we need to support the body’s immune defenses in additional ways.

Along with good sleep, regular exercise, and drinking plenty of water, the foods we choose to eat can either support or suppress our immune defenses. Studies have shown for decades that sugar decreases white blood cell function. For as many as five hours after eating sugar, our immune cells become less efficient at eliminating germs and bacteria from the body. If sugar has such a profound effect on our immune response, doesn’t it make sense that more nutritious foods would have the opposite effect?

Food most certainly affects our immune response. Our immune cells—including natural killer cells, macrophages, and other white blood cells—need protein, vitamins, and minerals to carry out their jobs. By feeding our bodies immune-boosting foods, we can strengthen our resistance to the pesky germs that cause sniffles, sneezing, coughs, and aching bodies. Make a habit of eating these ten immune-boosting foods to get you through the cold and flu season.

Almonds

Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats and zinc. The evidence that zinc helps the body fight off viral infections is so strong that many doctors recommend their patients start taking zinc at the first sign of a cold. While most nuts provide similar nutritional benefits, almonds have specifically been shown to help ward off germs. The almond skins might give the biggest immune boost, helping white blood cells fight off viral infections. Blanched almonds have had the skin removed, so be sure you are eating whole almonds.

Blueberries

After studying hundreds of food compounds, researchers found only two that stood out from the crowd for their powerful ability to support the immune response. One of those compounds was pterostilbene from blueberries. Although that study was conducted in a lab, a study in athletes found that eating blueberries every day for six weeks boosted natural killer cell counts (white blood cells that fight off infections) and decreased signs of inflammation. The participants in that study ate 250 grams of blueberries per day, which equates to about 2 ½ cups. You might think of berries as more of a summertime food, but you can eat frozen berries any time of year.  

Bone Broth

Chicken soup is a classic home-remedy for the flu. Many of its benefits might come from the homemade bone broth. Bones contain amino acids, collagen, gelatin, and many minerals, which seep into the broth when simmered. While no studies have specifically studied the ability of bone broth to prevent colds or the flu, there is evidence that many of its components—including amino acids and zinc—support immune function. Bones can be simmered along with turmeric, garlic, mushrooms, and other vegetables to pack an even stronger immune boost.   

Broccoli

One cup of broccoli provides about twice as much vitamin C as an orange. Broccoli also contains a compound called sulforaphane, which is an antioxidant that turns on genes that activate immune cells. Because of its sulforaphane content, researchers at UCLA have said that broccoli might strengthen the immune system better fight off infections as people age.  

Curry

Curry is a broad term that refers to the flavorings and sauces that are commonly used in traditional Indian dishes. Curry contains a combination of spices, but most notably, turmeric. Turmeric and its most active compound, curcumin, have been extensively studied for their immune effects. While most research shows turmeric to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, some studies also show that it can also have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. Warming dishes, seasoned with curry, are perfect for the winter months.

Garlic

Studies show that people who eat garlic on a regular basis have fewer colds and recover more quickly if they do get sick. Garlic contains a compound called alliin. When a garlic clove is crushed or chewed, the alliin turns into allicin, which is the active and immune-boosting component. What does that mean for you? Just don’t swallow the garlic clove whole.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain arabinogalactans, which are a type of soluble fiber that boost natural killer cells and immune function. Mushrooms are also one of the few vegetarian sources of vitamin D, a critical nutrient for immune defense. You can increase the amount of vitamin D in any mushroom by a process called sunning—placing mushrooms in direct sunlight for a couple of days and then allowing them to dry. Although sunning is ideally accomplished during the summer months, you can store dried mushrooms to use in cooking throughout the winter.

Peppers

Bell peppers contain high amounts of vitamin C, with one cup of chopped red bell pepper providing 3 times as much vitamin C as an orange. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is concentrated in immune cells and becomes depleted by infections and stress. Even though studies have not proven vitamin C to prevent the cold or flu, it does appear that vitamin C reduces the severity and duration of infections when they do occur.

Pumpkin

Pumpkins and other squash are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted in the body into vitamin A. Beta-carotene and vitamin A are essential for healthy immune function, with studies showing people who are deficient in vitamin A are more likely to die from respiratory infections. Pumpkins and other squash are easy to come by during the fall harvest and store well through the winter. They can be cooked and pureed to make soups, smoothies, sauces, and more.

Yogurt  

Yogurt and other fermented foods (like kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut) are excellent sources of beneficial bacteria. Also known as probiotics, these bacteria naturally inhabit the human gut, where they modulate inflammation and the immune response. There are some studies that show yogurt supports healthy immunity and many studies on the immune benefits of probiotics. Be sure to choose organic and plain yogurt to avoid unnecessary sugar, hormones, or pesticides.

Enjoy these immune-boosting foods to help you survive the cold and flu season. Of course, also remember to wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, and don’t take life too seriously.

Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute.

 
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These recipes are perfect for people that have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Please read the blog, titled “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – The Fastest Growing Autoimmune Disorder in America” that accompanies these recipes. And, of course, you don’t have to have this autoimmune disorder to enjoy these yummy recipes!  

Yummy Kale Salad

It’s a perfect blend of crunchy, chewy and rich.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of chopped kale
  • 6 diced heart of palm (or artichoke hearts)
  • 6 chopped radishes
  • 1/4 cup of coconut flakes
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup of coconut milk

Toss together and serve cold.

AND

Sometimes we just want something sweet. Here’s a dessert that you can throw together in just a matter of minutes…..and it won’t disappoint.

Strawberry Mousse

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of strawberries
  • 1/4 cup raw coconut sugar or maple syrup
  • 1 cup of coconut milk (in can, with cream on top…..not carton)
  • 8 mint leaves (optional)

Blend strawberries, sweetener, coconut milk, and mint leaves. Serve cold.

 

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The numbers can be staggering. Per Dr Izabella Wentz, PharmD,  1 in 5 women in America have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis….and many women have not been properly diagnosed. (Men can get Hashimoto’s too. However, the number is 10-15 times higher for women) 90% of thyroid disorders are Hashimoto’s, yet often times, if a diagnosis is given,  the disorder is diagnosed as ‘hypothyroidism’ and the treatment given may not give much relief.

When I was in private practice, I saw many women who had not been properly diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. In fact, many women, after seeking the care of their Primary Care Provider weren’t given a diagnosis at all. It wasn’t uncommon for these women to be told (in so many words) that they were fat, crazy and lazy, and given a prescription for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Needless to say, these women would become discouraged and feel defeated.

Image #2

In addition to weight gain (fat) and fatigue (lazy), a common symptom of Hashimoto’s can be panic attacks (crazy). Thyroid hormones play a key role in brain health, but tend to get overlooked when women discuss panic attacks with their doctor.  So….if it’s easy to overlook a thyroid disorder like Hashimoto’s, how does it get diagnosed?

Testing for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Conventional blood testing usually looks at Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and sometimes Thyroxine (T4), too. Unfortunately, these blood tests don’t usually test ‘abnormal’ for 5-10 years after the onset of Hashimoto’s. (Wouldn’t you want to know sooner, rather than later, if you have the fastest growing autoimmune disorder in America?) When having blood tests done, insist on having Thyroid Peroxidase antibodies and Thyroglobulin antibodies tested in addition to TSH, T4 and T3. The positive findings of antibodies show up long before the other thyroid hormones are out of range. (It’s much easier to correct an autoimmune disorder when you catch it at its earliest stage.)

Don’t be surprised if you get some ‘push back’ when insisting on thyroid antibody testing. (It even happened to me when I requested my thyroid panel and I’m a doctor in the field of functional endocrinology!)

So, once you have the correct diagnosis treatment is easy, right? Well……not really. It will take a multi-faceted approach. In her work to overcome her own Hashimoto’s, Dr Wentz discovered that over 90% of women with Hashimoto’s also have intestinal permeability (leaky gut) problems.

Addressing the health of the digestive tract will be key in helping to heal the thyroid gland.

Nutritional Strategies

Nutrition will play a pivotal role in healing the thyroid. However, there is old information that tends to get recycled. And, sadly, this old information can actually do more harm than good.

‘Dr Google’ is replete with information touting the benefits of iodine supplementation and seaweed for virtually all thyroid woes, especially hypothyroidism.  However, in the case of Hashimoto’s, taking supplemental iodine and/or seaweed will likely cause more harm than good. In a world of iodized salt and processed foods (loaded with iodized salt), studies have shown that iodine excess plays a role in the development of Hashimoto’s. The excess iodine shuts down the normal TSH-T4 pathway, leading to hypothyroidism. Supplementing with iodine and seaweed only compounds this problem.

And then there’s the argument about consuming ‘goitergenic’ food. Yet again, ‘Dr Google’ tends to suggest eliminating foods such a broccoli, kale, and other cruciferous veggies.

However, the research doesn’t corroborate these suggestions. Cruciferous veggies can be problematic for people with ‘pathogenic’ thyroid disorders, yet the same doesn’t hold true for those with ‘autoimmune’ thyroid disorders.

Soy, on the other hand, can be problematic for anyone with thyroid dysfunction and should be used with caution.  Tempeh, miso and long-fermented natto (all in moderation) can typically be enjoyed on special occasions.

We’ve lightly touched on the foods that should and shouldn’t be eaten with Hashimoto’s.

Now it’s time to address the problem with intestinal permeability. As was mentioned earlier, 90+% of women with Hashimoto’s have digestive challenges. Gluten and dairy tend to be culprits adding to the inflammatory process that leads to leaky gut syndrome. While trying to heal from Hashimoto’s, it will be important to avoid those foods.

Key Points

Though there are many, many books dedicated solely to the treatment of Hashimoto’s, you and I only have a blog to cover the main points….and they include:

  1. Test….don’t guess.  And insist that your blood tests include TPOAb and TgAb (the antibody tests)

  2. Don’t supplement with iodine or seaweed if you do, indeed, have Hashimoto’s. It will make the condition worse.

  3. Enjoy cruciferous veggies.

  4. Be very cautious about eating soy….only fermented soy should be consumed.

  5. Eliminate gluten and dairy until the thyroid antibodies return to normal numbers.

  6. Check out the additional blog that I created with 2 recipes that will work well with Hashimoto’s. (also good for those without Hashimoto’s, as they are tasty and healthy)

There are other things you can also do to improve the health of your thyroid, however these key steps will start you on a path to enhanced health.

Coming Soon…

I will be addressing the fertility crisis that’s happening in the Western world.

Dr Rebecca Spacke, Certifications in Functional Endocrinology (University of Bridgeport), Lifestyle Medicine (Harvard Medical School), and Course Instructor at Nutrition Therapy Institute

 
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About 6 months ago, my 9-year old son started having migraine headaches. The first time it happened, I assumed he had the flu. He nearly fell asleep on the short car ride home from school and refused to leave the couch for the next 24 hours. He groaned about aches and pains and seemed super sensitive to noises, movement, and touch. I was thrilled when he bounced back so quickly from what I had thought was the “flu,” but then the same thing happened a week later.

So, I dragged the poor child by the heels (still groaning and shielding his eyes from the sun) into the pediatrician’s office. When the doctor said he had a migraine headache, everything made sense. This is a child who comes from a long line of migraineurs. We counted 7 relatives—including his dad, grandma, aunt, and uncle—who also experience migraine headaches.

Not wanting to watch my son suffer from recurrent migraine headaches at such a young age, I was motivated to do everything in my power to help him avoid migraine attacks. Because I was trained as a naturopathic doctor, teach at a school of nutrition, and work every day in the field of integrative medicine, I naturally turned to nutrition first.

Nutrition therapy is not a treatment or a cure for migraine headaches. Nutrition therapy strengthens the overall health of the body, supports the healthy function of biochemical pathways, and improves quality of life for people with a variety of chronic conditions—including migraine headaches. I am writing this article for everyone who is in a similar position as I was in—those who are either struggling with recurrent migraine headaches or supporting a loved one who is.

Every person is unique, with different genetic susceptibilities, biochemical tendencies, and environmental sensitivities. This article will guide you on a path to discovering what your own triggers are. I hope you will discover that nutrition therapy can help you feel better, despite having a predisposition for migraine headaches.

Food Triggers for Migraine Headaches

Some people notice that specific foods consistently trigger the onset of a migraine headache. The most commonly reported migraine triggers are alcohol (especially red wine), coffee (or other caffeinated beverages), cheese (especially soft cheeses), and chocolate. Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) as a flavor enhancer or aspartame (NutraSweet) as an artificial sweetener are also common triggers for migraine headaches.

The National Headache Foundation has a long list of foods that might trigger migraine headaches. These include the foods mentioned above as well as pickled foods, fermented foods, dried fruits, processed meats, citrus fruits, and bananas.

There is no unified reason or mechanism to explain why these foods might trigger migraines. It has been suggested that the sulfite preservative in red wine and dried fruits is the culprit, that the nitrite preservative in processed meats is the culprit, and that the tyramine in soft cheese is the culprit (interestingly, bananas and citrus also contain tyramine). Still, everyone will react differently, and nobody will react to all of the foods listed here.

Food Sensitivities and Migraine Headaches

Not all food reactions are immediate or obvious. Some people who experience migraine headaches have food sensitivities that are mediated by a delayed immune response. In these people, a food triggers an immune response that leads to inflammation in the body over the course of 1-3 days. One way to identify a delayed food sensitivity is with a blood test for antibodies called IgG.

Some small studies have tested people who experience migraine headaches for IgG food sensitivities. One study found that people with migraines were reactive to more foods than those without. A second study found that people with migraine headaches reacted to an average of 24 different foods and that eliminating reactive foods for 6 weeks dramatically reduced the number of migraine episodes.  

Blood tests are not the only way to identify food sensitivities. Another way is to do an elimination-challenge diet. This means eliminating any suspected foods for about 6 weeks and then re-introducing those foods one at a time to monitor for reactions. You could consider removing the foods listed as top migraine triggers as well as common allergens, such as wheat, dairy, and soy.

Blood Sugar Balance and Migraine Headaches

Consuming candies, sweets, or sugary drinks can trigger migraines in some people. The reason is probably because of the blood sugar spike and then drop that occurs after eating sugar. Studies in people with diabetes show that those with more episodes of low blood sugar experience more migraine headaches. Low blood sugar may also partly explain why fasting is a common trigger for migraine headaches.

The best way to maintain balanced blood sugar is to eat meals on a regular schedule that include a mix of protein, healthy fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrate foods (like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). Skipping meals or relying on sugary and caffeinated drinks to get through the day could trigger blood sugar swings that put you over the threshold and into a migraine attack.

Other Nutritional Considerations for Migraine Headaches

Some studies have found that nutritional supplements help reduce the frequency or severity of migraine episodes. Guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology say that magnesium and riboflavin (vitamin B2) are “probably effective for migraine prevention” and that coenzyme Q10 is “possibly effective.” The combination of riboflavin, magnesium, and coenzyme Q10 reduced the number of migraine days and the intensity of migraine pain in one clinical trial, so it might be that these nutrients work best when taken together.

The reason that dietary supplements might reduce the frequency of intensity of migraine headaches is because they support healthy biochemical function at the cellular level. For example, mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress have been proposed as underlying mechanisms that might contribute to migraine headaches. Magnesium, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10, and other nutrient supplements might help individuals who have a higher need to support these biochemical pathways.   

How Nutrition Therapy Can Help Migraine Headaches

The best place to start in figuring out your unique migraine triggers is to keep a journal. Make note of foods you eat during the days and hours before a migraine occurs. Also, take note of other environmental exposures. Some people report that dehydration, changes in the weather, lack of sleep, exposure to bright lights or strong smells, and even feeling stressed can all trigger migraine attacks.

It is not always easy to identify your migraine triggers or to understand your unique biochemical needs. Enlisting the help of a qualified nutrition therapist is an excellent option for those who need support through this process. A nutrition therapist can help you identify adverse food reactions and recommend food alternatives, snacks, and recipes to keep you enjoying the foods you can eat.

Remember that nutrition therapy is not a treatment for migraine headaches, but it can be a safe and effective way to support the body’s strength and resilience. When you avoid aggravating foods and load up on nutrient-dense foods, your cells will hum along more happily. You will have a higher threshold for adverse stimuli and will be less susceptible to recurrent issues, including migraine headache attacks.
Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute

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