Month: March 2019

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How to tackle the issue of migraine

How to tackle the issue of migraine

What is migraine?

This is a complex neurological condition which affects the whole body and can be both debilitating and disruptive to the day-to-day life of sufferers.  The cause is not fully understood and as of yet there is no diagnostic test of cure for the condition.

What do we know about the cause of migraine?

What we do know is that migraine starts deep in the brain and that a glitch in the release of neurotransmitters (chemical substances released at the end of a nerve fibre) set in place a chain reaction which causes a number of symptoms.  These symptoms can differ between individuals and include visual disturbances (flashing lights, blind spots in the vision, zig zag patterns and many more), nausea, vomiting, debilitating head pain, pins and needles, numbness in the limbs and even paralysis.

Key facts about migraine

  • 1 in 7 people in the UK suffer from migraine.
  • Migraine costs the UK around £2.25 billion every year.
  • The World Health Organisation has classified headache as a major health disorder and found it to be the sixth highest cause worldwide of years lost due to disability.
  • Migraine affects twice as many women as men.
  • Migraine affects people from all age groups (even young children).
  • A migraine attack can last for between 4 and 72 hours.
  • Sufferers experience an average of 13 attacks each year.

What triggers migraine?

Migraine can be triggered by many different factors and these are specific to the individual.  The onset of a migraine is normally the result of several factors which individually can be tolerated but when occur together or accumulate can pass a threshold at which an attack is triggered.

Common triggers are related to lifestyle, environment and diet.  Whilst some of these triggers are easily recognised you may be unaware of other that could be making your migraines worse.

There is no definitive list of triggers but some of the more common ones are listed below.

Emotional stress Anger Tension Worry Shock Depression
  Excitement
Physical stress Over-exertion Tiredness and fatigue Late night Irregular sleep pattern Tension
  Travel
Foods Caffeine MSG Citrus fruits Marmite Cheese
  Red wine Onions Chocolate Pork Seafood
  Wheat Aspartame
Environment Flickering lights Bright lights Loud noise Change in climate Intense smells
  Smoking Stuffy atmosphere
Hormones Menstruation Puberty Pregnancy Contraceptive pill HRT
Others Eye strain Medication Congestion Toothache

Keep a diary

Keeping a dairy can help you to identify any triggers that are causing symptoms. Once these have been identified you can start to remove them one at a time to see if there is any improvement in the intensity and frequency of your migraine.  Whilst this may seem simple, don’t be disheartened if you cannot identify any specific triggers as they are often difficult to pinpoint.

You can download a migraine diary from Migraine Action.

How does diet affect migraine?

Dietary triggers only occur in a small percentage of migraine sufferers and it’s advisable to start cutting out large swathes of food groups from your diet unnecessarily. Interestingly, sweet cravings can occur in people before the onset of migraine so don’t automatically assume that foods such as chocolate are a trigger.

What affect does blood sugar have on migraine?

It may not be what you eat but the time between meals that could be triggering your migraine as fasting (more than five hours between meals during the day or 13 hours overnight) has been identified as a major factor for sufferers.

The body uses glucose to supply energy to all the major organs including the brain whose function is impacted on when blood sugar levels are low.  One response to low blood sugar is an increase in the flow of blood to the brain, which is thought to contribute to the pain of headaches and migraine as nerve tissues become more sensitive to the dilated blood vessels.

Try to eat every 4 hours during the day and no more than 12 hours overnight.  If you have a very active lifestyle that also includes vigorous exercise, then you may want to introduce small healthy snacks between meals to account for the energy used and to help keep blood sugar levels balanced.

What should you eat to keep blood sugar levels balanced?

Plan your meals around foods rich in protein (lean meat, poultry, Quorn, tofu, beans and pulses) alongside wholegrains (brown rice, wholemeal pasta, oats, wholemeal bread), healthy fats (oily fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado) and plenty of vegetables.  This combination of protein, healthy fats and foods rich in fibre can help to maintain steady blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full between meals.  Try to avoid sugary snacks and drinks as these can cause rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.

Are there any alternative remedies?

Herbal remedies such as Feverfew have traditionally been used to help tackle migraine as have supplements such as vitamin B2 and magnesium (low levels of which have been associated with migraine).  These offer a natural alternative that may work for some and if you want to explore these options then take for a few months to establish whether they have any effect.

Migraine can seriously impact on the day-to-day life of sufferers and whilst there is no definitive cure, there may be areas of your lifestyle that can be addressed to help tackle the condition.  There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treating migraines as the factors that encourage the onset of an attack can differ between individuals.  Understanding what the common triggers are and taking the time to monitor your lifestyle may be a useful approach to proactively dealing with the condition.

My essential curry formula

My essential curry formula

I have been interested in food and cooking since my early teens and Indian cuisine has always been a favourite.  Early recipes involved a simple cook-in-sauce with the addition of meat and veggies.  This evolved into an exploration of ready prepared pastes and powders.  Since then I have perfected my own personal formula to make ‘curry-in-a-hurry’, whether made with meat, fish or an alternative protein such as beans, pulses, tofu, Quorn or paneer.

Health benefits of curry

Whilst some people may view curry as somewhat of an unhealthy food synonymous with boozy nights out or take-away nights in, I actually think they can be hugely healthy if prepared in the right way.  Dried spices have been shown to be beneficial to heath in many ways including their ability to help reduce inflammation.  Spices are also a rich source of minerals such as iron.  Using spices in foods such as curries also helps with the bioavailability of certain compounds found in spices – fat helps the body to absorb the active compound in turmeric called curcumin. 

(You can find out more on the health benefits of curry here

My curry preference

This is my take on what makes a good curry and once you get to grips with the formula you can whip up a curry in no time at all.  Everyone’s tastes differ but for me this basic formula works every time and delivers on what I want to get out of a curry.

My preference is a recipe that delivers on freshness and has a rich umami taste that satisfies the savoury flavour I desire from a curry.  You can enhance this richness of flavour by cooking the curry down for longer time before adding the yoghurt.

The basic elements

The basics are onion, garlic, chilli and ginger.  My favoured blend of spices is a good curry powder, ground cardamom and turmeric.  I like to add blitzed cherry tomatoes (these add to the umami flavour).  After that it’s up to you.  Chuck in a protein which may be meat, fish, beans, pulses, Quorn, tofu or paneer.  Add plenty of vegetables – those that work best for me are peppers, okra, cauliflower, potato and squash.  I like to thicken the curry with spinach and add a subtle creamy texture with Greek yoghurt.  Coriander is my herb of choice for any curry.

My fancy ingredient!

My fancy ingredient is always fresh curry leaves, which are available in larger supermarkets or health food stores.  To get the best out of curry leaves I like to fry them in oil at the very beginning of the recipe before adding the onions, garlic, chilli and ginger.  You only need to add a handful of curry leaves to a recipe and any left over can be placed in a container and frozen.

 

My basic curry formula

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 onions (peeled)

2 large garlic cloves (peeled)

250g cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp oil (light olive, coconut or groundnut)

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips

1 fresh chilli (chopped)

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp turmeric

400g protein (meat, fish or veggie alternative)

500g chopped vegetables such as peppers, cauliflower, squash, sweet potato or green beans

500ml stock (meat or veggie)

100g spinach leaves

1 heaped tbsp Greek yoghurt

1 handful fresh coriander, chopped

Sea salt

 

Method

  1. Blitz the onions and garlic in a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
  2. Blitz the cherry tomatoes in the same food processor.
  3. Heat the oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan set over a medium heat.
  4. Add the onion and garlic then fry gently for 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
  5. Add the ginger and chilli then fry for a further 2 minutes.
  6. Add the processed cherry tomatoes and fry for another 3 minutes.
  7. Add the spices and cook for 2 minutes as they become fragrant.
  8. Now add your protein of choice and cook for 3 minutes, stirring regularly.
  9. Add the chopped vegetables and then pour in the stock. Cover and cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes.
  10. Remove the lid from the pan, add the spinach leaves and turn up the heat then cook for another 5 minutes to reduce down (you can decide how ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ you prefer your curry).
  11. Take the pan off the heat and stir through the yoghurt and coriander.
  12. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.
  13. Serve with wholegrain rice, quinoa or wholemeal pitta bread.