Migraine Headache Treatment

Dr. Fowkes, I enjoyed your YouTube video on nutrition very much.  I was curious about your information on cysteine and curing hangovers.  I’m a very occasional drinker because it can be a migraine trigger.  Questions:  1. Is there any evidence that cysteine can help migraines?  2. Do you have any information at all on treating migraines?  Thank you so much.  —KS

Thank you for the honorary doctorate, but my degree is a Bachelor of Arts in organic chemistry.

Definitely, alcohol can be a migraine trigger.  Not only is alcohol an alkalinizing influence on the body, which is a trigger similar to such things as coffee and chocolate, but alcohol can have a strong destabilizing effect on body energy systems, producing a “revving up” effect in the first 5-30 minutes and a “browning out” effect about 30 minutes after stopping alcohol intake.  This is why some alcoholics drink continuously until they pass out.

Cysteine can help.  Cysteine is acidifying, which is a natural remedy for alcohol, just like acidifying oil-and-vinegar salad dressing is a remedy for alkaline green leafy vegetables.  But whether it might work for you, I don’t know.  There are many causes underlying alkaline body types, and cysteine only corrects for a few of them.  In addition, there is a down side for cysteine; it is a mild excitotoxin.  Doses of 500-2500 mg can cause a reaction similar to Chinese restaurant syndrome, in which glutamate-receptor neurons get overstimulated and have metabolic problems pumping out the calcium that flows into the neurons when the electrical signal is triggered.  This phenomena is also associated with intake of glutamate (MSG), aspartate (mineral chelates), diet sodas (aspartame, NutraSweet), magnesium deficiency, B-complex vitamin deficiency, hypothyroidism (low metabolic rate), estrogen dominance (estradiol and estrone), chronic inflammation, heavy metal toxicity, and chemical poisonings (pesticides, solvents, etc.).

There is a classic pH pattern associated with migraines.  It involves alkaline stress.  Urine pH is an indicator of pH stress to the blood, and the pattern is increasing alkaline urine leading up to what Jan Johnson (author of the Metabolic Balancing Workbook) calls the “point of departure” (the crisis point).  This is where the pre-migraine symptoms start.  Then, relatively suddenly, the urine swings strongly acid, and this is when the full-blown migraine symptoms develop, and persist.  Although it may not make sense, this “emergency” acidification is actually a defense mechanism of the body, to prevent alkalinity from reaching dangerous extremes.  This transition from an alkaline-stressed state to acid-remedied state is mediated by the production of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which are acidifying influences.  Your migraine symptoms are merely an indication of the over-reaction of this normally less disabling defensive system.

Acute acidyfying influences can be effective at aborting a migraine if caught at the earliest stages of the pre-migraine state.  But this is tricky.  If you are too late, it can intensify the migraine, or make it last longer.  Jan Johnson used corn chips or popcorn successfully for this purpose, and it worked because of her allergy to corn.

A better approach is to acidify the body in a natural, sustainable way.

For people with hypothyroidism, cold hands and feet, a tendency towards constipation, poor sleep, a tendency towards brain fog, mild to moderate depression, lower-than-normal body temperature, slow pulse rate, and low blood pressure (initially, but it switches to high blood pressure after years to decades), hormone replacement therapy with bio-identical T3 and T4 hormone usually works.  For people with fatigue, lack of strength, and poor stamina, low-dose hydrocortisone therapy may also be needed at the same time.

For people with estrogen dominance, iodine therapy or estriol+progesterone hormone replacement therapy can work.

Many alkaline dominant people have learned to compensate for their constitutional alkalinity with aerobic exercise.

Vegetarians and vegans are at risk due to the alkaline dominance of vegetable foods.  Grains are the acidifying component of the vegetarian and vegan diet, and some grains are alkalinizing.  Popular myth has it that all alkalinity is good, but this is not true.  For dietary alkalinity to be a benefit to health, it must be balanced by cellular acidity.  Cellular acidity is the byproduct of energy production.  There are two kinds of acidity that the cell can generate.  Aerobic energy systems produce carbon dioxide, and this is very efficient at diffusing into alkaline tissues and balancing the body’s pH.  Anaerobic energy systems produce lactic acid, which does not diffuse, but rather collects in the tissues.  This lactic acid-loaded condition is what most Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese practitioners mean when they talk of “acidic” Westerners.  But really, the failure is not the acid that is accumulating, but rather the lack of aerobic capacity and carbon dioxide production.

Low CO2 people have other tendencies that can be identified.  Anxieties, phobias, panic attacks, tachycardia attacks, hiccups, stage freight, and social anxiety disorder is the tip of the iceberg.  Hyperventilation brings the symptoms on, and hypoventilation (slow diaphragmatic breathing, singing, chanting, holding breath, and exhaling through pursed lips) can abort the symptoms.  Acid and alkaline stress can also be diagnosed by a differential response to vinegar (acidyfying for 30 minutes), and baking soda (alkalizing for 30 minutes).

There are many acid-alkaline lists of foods, minerals, vitamins, drugs and herbs online.  I have one printed in The BHT Book, about the application of acid-alakline techniques to viral disease.  This is a free e-book, which you can download from www.ceri.com.  Just click on the link, the PDF copy of the book loads in your Adobe Reader, and then you “save to disk” to store it on your system.  Pages 17-to-20-something are about metabolic balancing through pH.

If you want to try this approach, I would like to have you blog about your experiences.  I am looking for something to do with the ProjectWellbeing web site and think that blogging about alternative approaches to migraines is a good topic.  Let me know if you are interested.

Good luck.  I hope this helps.  It may seem like the deep end of the pool, but once you have assimilated some of it, the rest will make more sense.  And once you have experience of pH states (through sequential pH testing with nitrazene test papers), it will make even more sense.  —Steve

Steve, Thank you so much for your thorough response to my questions.  I have read it twice, and will continue to sort out the details for my situation.  Chemistry never was my strong suit.  —KS

You and 99% of the entire human population.  It may help for you to develop experiential references to the concepts.  For example, you can experience pH differences merely by measuring your pH on a serial basis (every time you pee).  Each time you see the pH reading, you can begin to establish connections to how you feel.  It is a simple biofeedback loop.  The next step might be to take foods or dietary supplements that have a pH effect, and extend your experience to states that your metabolism might not naturally reach in your free-living situation.  Taking vinegar and baking soda, for examples, push your blood pH in opposite directions.  So, the question is: do you notice anything?  And, is what you notice opposite with one than the other?

If I understand correctly, it is the pH imbalance that can trigger migraines, and alcohol puts it out of balance in the direction of alkaline.

Yes, extremes of pH produce compensation by your body systems.  There are layers to this defense.  First is the aqueous defense, involving the water-soluble agents in the fluids, like enzymes, proteins, buffering (pH-neutralizing) agents.  When that fails to suffice, there is a lipid (fat-soluble) emergency defense that takes over.  This is polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) if the stress is alkaline, and cholesterol if it is acidic.  The PUFAs convert into prostaglandins (mostly prostaglandin E2, PGE2), which have broad-spectrum effects, one of which is vasodilation of blood vessels in your brain.  You experience this as the migraine headache.  Vasodilation (and vasoconstriction) effects are just one of the actions of prostaglandins and leukotrienes.  When the affected blood vessels are in your eye, you get loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision) and sparkling artifacts in the visual periphery.  The migraine drug Imitrex is a vasoconstrictor, which counters the vasodilation effects of migraine.

Even though Cysteine can counter this, there can be some bad effects.

Yes.  But these bad effects are not linear; they are a threshold phenomenon.  In normal people, doses of hundreds of milligrams of cysteine produce no frank symptoms at all.  The same thing happens with the glutamate (MSG) content of food protein, which is roughly 10%, does not cause Chinese restaurant syndrome through normal protein digestion.  The MSG is released too slowly.  If the animal or vegetable protein is hydrolyzed, the MSG is released more quickly, which does cause problems in some, sensitive people.  If you have bad reactions to MSG, hydrolyzed protein, aspartame (Nutrasweet), mineral aspartates (a kind of chelated mineral dietary supplement) or calcium supplements, then you may be overly sensitive to excitotoxicity (i.e., have a low excitotoxic threshold).  If so, be cautious and go slowly.  If not, then abnormal caution is probably unnecessary.

I still don’t understand why Jan Johnson’s corn allergy helped her migraine cycle.

Allergy is acidifying.  Allergy involves the production of prostaglandin E2, just like the migraine response.  They are virtually identical.  Jan was inducing acidity in a controlled manner (one corn chip, of a few kernels of popped corn) to abort the larger response that was scheduled to happen.  In other words, a little bit of something bad, instead of a lot of something bad.

But, that doesn’t seem as important as the last part about acidifying the body naturally. I don’t clearly identify with any of the groups of symptoms, but could you please explain further the following, “Acid and alkaline stress can also be diagnosed by a differential response to vinegar (acidyfying for 30 minutes), and baking soda (alkalizing for 30 minutes).”

Regarding the first thing, are you an active person who engages in above-average levels of physical activities?

Another question has to do with the origin of migraines; did they start in your teen years?  Or did they start after a trauma?  Or did they start during peri-menopause?

If your symptoms are temporarily alleviated by vinegar and temporarily aggravated by baking soda, then you are alkaline stressed at the blood level.  If the reverse happens, then you are acid stressed at the blood level.  Sequential urine pH testing (every time you pee for several days in a row) can tell you other aspects of pH imbalances, like circadian disturbances.  Saliva pH testing measures one level deeper.  Urine pH testing uses nitrazene test papers, which measure from 4.5-to-7.5 pH (yellow-green-blue color change).  Salivary pH is more alkaline; testing uses papers which measure from 6-8.

You might have a constant inflammatory trigger in your life that you do not recognize as inflammatory.  If so, your urine will likely show a “fixed acid” pattern, being below 6 all the time.  If so, finding and eliminating that trigger may reduce your sensitivity to migraine triggers.  However, with decades of adaptation, your metabolism may have slowed down and become entrained, and some kind of therapy might be needed to raise it again.  T3 monotherapy (a single dose at the beginning of the day) is one approach which does not entail taking thyroid hormones for the rest of your life.

Then again, you may be a natural estrogen-dominant woman whose metabolic type runs in your family.

It a big world out there.  But the more you learn about yourself, the less likely you will be victimized by your circumstance, or by medical professionals who do not know what is going on and only prescribe treatments to suppress the symptoms caused by the underlying condition.  The human body has immense capacities for self-healing.  If you can get the roadblock out of the way, your body may be able to do the rest.  —Steve

I’m interested in testing my PH and I have downloaded the BHT book. Your metaphor for jumping into the deep end of the pool is correct, but I’m grateful for a new direction to pursue and will follow through to get comfortable.  Thank you again for your time and attention.  —KS

I seen people become migraine free from one of more of the following:
1.  switching from low fat to high fat diet.
2. taking carnitine and ALC as supplements.  CoQ10 and lipoate, too.
3. going on a milk-free diet.
4. taking high-dose iodine (transdermal tincture of iodine, or Ioderal).
5. thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
6. applying progesterone cream before bed.
7. taking magnesium as a dietary supplement.
8. taking BHT, B12 and vitamin A as antiviral dietary supplements.
9. adding garlic and ginger to their diet.

All of these have the same basis regarding pH and inflammation.

Keep in touch.  —Steve

3 thoughts on “Migraine Headache Treatment”

    1. Apple cider vinegar lowers the blood pH and raises the cellular pH. Same with distilled vinegar. Same with wine vinegars.

      The apple source does not make the vinegar opposite from other fermentations. But you are right that raw vinegars have a deep-tissue alkalinization effect due to their “alkaline ash.” —Steve

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