Migraines

14421cr7i3bau06  m bartoschIf your migraines begin with pain in the back of the neck like mine, here are some ideas for stopping the migraine. If you are on medication like one of the triptans (for example Imitrex), you should take this as soon as you recognize it is a migraine. These ideas can help your medication work better or even substitute for it  sometimes. The key is to start these as soon as you realize it might be a migraine.

  1. Take ibuprofen ASAP. This generic drug is an anti-inflammatory and many studies show it can have a significant effect on migraine pain. It will even help your Imitrex work better. The migraine research on this drug used generic ibuprofen and not one of the expensive brand names.
  2. Apply ice to the back of the neck up under the skull and not down on the muscles of your shoulder. I freeze gel packs so they have a bump in the middle that presses on this area. Frozen peas will fit into the back of the skull too if no gel pack is available.
  3. If the migraine is being triggered by cold and shivering, I stick on a neck-sized ThermaCare pad lower on the neck than I would place an ice pack so it warms up neck and shoulder muscles. These are the pads that generate heat when removed from the package. They can take up to 30 minutes to reach their highest temperature but I find they heat enough to make a difference within 10 minutes. Do not confuse these pads with the ones that contain a chemical that reacts with nerves in the skin to give the sensation of heat and/or cold. You don’t want the sensation of coolness you want the cold temperature itself. When my skin has become sensitive from the migraine these chemical pads can even be painful and burn my skin.
  4. Lie flat as you can and keep your head and neck straight.
  5. If lying flat is not feasible, put on a soft neck collar. You can purchase one at any pharmacy store. This is basically a 3/4 inch thick strip of soft foam covered with fabric with Velcro fasteners. Don’t wear it too tight.
  6. Use as many of these ideas at the same time as you can. I have taken ibuprofen and then stretched out on the floor wearing an eye mask with ice under the skull. If cold was a trigger, I add a heating pad or Thermacare pad on my lower neck.
  7. Once I have two migraines back to back I start taking a generic form of the anti-histamine Benadryl, diphenhydramine HCl, for a few weeks. Histamine, which is involved in allergies, is thought to trigger some migraines so most doctors now recommend patients with migraines try an antihistamine. This once broke a daily headache I had had for months. Buy the generic in a bottle because diphenhydramine or Benadryl in those single capsule bubbles can be very expensive and smaller bottles can be more expensive than a larger. I buy a bottle of the generic brand at Costco or Walmart. Be aware that Benadryl/diphenhydramine will cause sleepiness which I think is a benefit when I get a migraine. Just avoid driving or any activity that demands your full attention. However, after taking it daily for a few weeks it no longer made me sleepy.

Migraines can be very personal so these ideas may not work for you. The trick is finding out what is triggering your migraines by keeping a detailed diary. My migraines do not occur on a regular basis. They go away for 6 to 10 weeks and then I have a period of two weeks with migraines occurring frequently. I can get away with a glass of wine in-between migraine periods but when I am in a migraine phase alcohol of any kind will almost always trigger a migraine. The same with my other triggers. I once dragged formal wear all over Ireland to wear at the end of our vacation to the Galway Oyster Festival Ball. I gave in to a single glass of Guinness (which always tastes better in Ireland) after the Festival parade and barely made it back to the hotel before a major migraine hit. Hubby went off to the ball without me leaving me in the hotel in misery. All my finery never left my suitcase.

Too often we concentrate only on food triggers but there are many environmental triggers too. If you do a food diary to catch food triggers, add in an environmental details like temperature and other weather conditions, where you were, and the position of your body and posture. Keep a symptom diary so you become aware of what symptoms precede the migraine. Major stress, cold, air travel, anesthetic for surgery and alcohol are the strongest triggers I’m aware for myself.

A migraine headache is caused by inflammation in the trigeminal nerve. Ibuprofen can reduce this inflammation and can be so effective it is included in some oral migraine meds. It has the best chance or aborting or reducing the migraine if taken before the skin or scalp become sensitive to touch. The trigeminal nerve wanders around the head but comes near the surface of the body at the back of the neck and behind the lower molars in the jaw. This is why ice at the back of the neck works so well. It can reduce inflammation in the nerve.

Changes in the barometric pressure can trigger migraines. You can find a “headache” map that shows changes in barometric pressure here.

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Santa: Role Model or Overweight Elf?

Santa, role model to children the world over? Or overweight Saint who needs to get his own act together before passing naughty/nice judgments on others? In this investigative piece Sláinte looks at the activities of this self described “jolly old elf”.

One witness this reporter interviewed saw Santa, aka St. Nicholas, the night of the twenty fourth. When asked to describe him Clement Clarke Moore said this:

“He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!”

Something tells Sláinte that round belly was neither little nor full of jelly. Santa is just plain overweight. The children might have sugar-plums dancing in their heads but Santa has them dancing through his stomach. He needs to cut back on the sweets and eat more fiber laden whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. If he follows Sláinte’s Holiday Diet, he can reduce his weight and the risks that go with it.

Santa is widest around the middle and shaped like an apple a condition health professionals call abdominal obesity. This is bad because the type of fat cells that grow around the abdominal organs (visceral fat) are different than the type of fat cells that grow under the skin (subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is home to the killer fat cell. This tissue acts like a gland spewing dangerous chemicals, including inflammatory substances, into the bloodstream. The more fat you have the more chemicals you spew. Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis (which causes heart disease) are all associated with visceral fat and an increase in these inflammatory peptides.

The combination of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance (where the body’s muscle and fat tissue resists the action of insulin) make up a condition called the metabolic syndrome. When this occurs blood glucose levels rise because the glucose cannot enter hungry cells. This is dangerous because high levels of glucose can be toxic to certain cell types and tissues including those that produce insulin.

To be fair to the big guy Santa’s nighttime delivery service might be contributing to his weight problem. Lack of sleep is associated the accumulation of visceral fat and so is the stress so common this time of the year. Maybe the elves should chip in for yoga lessons.

“His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry”

Symptoms of chilblains? Or an indication of a drinking problem? Could Santa be drinking and flying? By presidential proclamation December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. Does the President know something we don’t?

“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”

Santa if you are reading, that pipe has got to go. It’s a dirty habit and one that is associated with cancer of the lip, tongue, mouth, larynx and esophagus not to mention stained teeth, mouth sores and gum disease. Keep up with the pipe smoking and you might not have a “droll little mouth” or any teeth left in it to hold that pipe. Smarten up, oral cancer is the 6th leading cause of cancer in the world.

Do you see the Tooth Fairy, Tinker Bell or Easter Bunny smoke? No. Apparently they all care about the impressionable minds of their believers. Get with the program Santa and quit that nasty habit. Pass that pipe to Frosty. He can’t light up to get into trouble.

“He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.”

American and Canadian kids desperately need to get more exercise yet each year they are exposed to a man who, rather than just walk next door, prefers to get into a sleigh and fly there. Santa needs to kick the sleigh habit. Perhaps he should ask Mrs. Claus to give him the gift of a pedometer this year so he can work up to 10,000 steps a day. Sláinte’s sure if Santa wants to get back on Mrs. Claus “nice” list he will have to drop a few pounds and change a few habits.

It’s clear to this reporter that Santa desperately needs to follow the example set by his sober hard-working elves. Until he does, Santa earns a big naughty mark from Sláinte.

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore. Excerpts from “A Visit from St. Nicholas” )

Nutrition for Irish Dancers

Sláinte, April 2011

Sláinte is going to talk about the Irish dancer today. What is the most important on feis day? The costume, cape, shoes, poodle socks? (the wig is not, Sláinte is very anti-wig, makes them look like little Dolly Partons) What about the steps? Nope, the important thing is the food you will put in your dancer. The higher the level she competes, the more important nutrition becomes. Her muscles have been trained to give the best performance they can give, but in order for them to work they must be fueled. Same goes for the brain. You want your dancer to remember her steps, correct?    Continue reading Nutrition for Irish Dancers

Juicer?

When is a juicer not a juicer? When it doesn’t make juice seems a good answer to me.

There are several machines that call themselves juicers yet they are really blenders. Many of their salespersons call them juicers and some of their infomercials do too. I asked one at a demo if the machine was a juicer and he said it was in front of a small crowd of people. Later on he also said it was “better than most juicers” because it left the pulp in. Left the pulp in? Isn’t the whole purpose of a juicer to separate pulp from juice? If the two are not separated, how can it be juice?

A juicer is a machine that produces juice-the liquid part of a fruit or vegetable. It does this by separating the two parts in various ways but the liquid part of the produce (juice) always comes out one spigot while the solid part (fiber) exits a different outlet.

A blender is a machine that blends together the different ingredients put into it.  It is the opposite of a juicer which separates.

Let’s take the example of a carrot. Carrots are high in sugar. When you eat a raw carrot the chewing is good for the muscles of your jaw. The chewing also slows down how fast you can eat the carrot so that the sugar in it reaches the stomach over a longer period and so is absorbed slower thereby blunting blood sugar release. The fiber in the carrot enters the stomach in relatively large pieces and that also slows sugar release and absorption. It also makes the stomach feel full, decreasing hunger so you eat less. Finally you have the benefits of the fiber itself.

When you drink carrot juice you are getting most of the nutrients contained in a whole pound of raw carrots in just a single glass of juice. Most people would have a hard time eating a whole pound of carrots. It also fills the stomach less so you can drink your juice along with a meal that contains several more servings of vegetables. On its own the sugar found in carrot juice increases blood sugar quickly. This is why it should always be consumed along with a meal. Plus the antioxidant pigments found in carrots–the carotenoids–need fat to be best absorbed, another important reason to drink carrot juice with meals.

Blend a pound of carrots and the result is a few glasses of carrot sludge that is difficult to swallow, unappetizing and that doesn’t exercise your jaw muscles. Because the carrot fibers are ground so small they give up their sugar quickly, almost as quickly as juice which can spike blood sugar levels. But you can’t drink as much blended carrot as you can carrot juice because of all the fiber so the nutrients you get are limited too nor can you drink blended carrot with a meal without greatly cutting back on other foods. In fact, drinking carrot sludge has all the drawbacks of juice with none of the benefits.

While all this annoys me what annoys me even more is how they are selling their own machines short. A superblender like the VitaMix does not need to call itself or even compare itself to a juicer. It is an excellent machine in its own right and great to have in addition to a juicer. In fact, like a juicer, a powerful blender is an integral part of the well-equipped kitchen.

Moral of this story is to make sure you know what a juicer is before you go shopping for one and know how to tell a juicer from a blender.

home of maureen b. keane, author & nutritionist