Ketogenic eating

I am not a frequent migraine sufferer, but I do not think a month has gone by in the last fifty years when I have not had a migraine or very severe headache. But for the last three months I have been pain free!

The change? I started to follow a ketogenic (very low carbohydrate) diet, for other reasons, and noticed that my migraines disappeared. Other members of 'keto' groups I have joined report the same. One woman had had migraines since age three - and is now clear!

Now this is totally anecdotal. I haven't searched for any references or studies - there isn't much into low carb eating generally and the medical establishment is generally in the pockets of the big food manufacturers. Healthy eating of unprocessed foods isn't overly profitable for the food empires, so there seems little interest, or resources invested in the possibilites. It is entirely up to you each to consider whether it might help.

Ketogenic eating, with carbohydrates under 20grams per day, moderate protein and high fat intake is a big change, and was quite a shock to my system. That was even though I ended up there fairly gradually, first cutting out sugar and grains, then other very starchy vegetables, then seeing that keto might be the answer and really working on learning what foods contain carbohydrates. However it has transformed my health in a myriad ways and been entirely worth the effort.

If you are desperate, and I know a lot of people are, its worth trying, I would think. You will know in a month if it is making a difference!

39 Replies

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  • I wonder how and why this works?

  • As I said, all I really have is anecdotal evidence at this stage. All sorts of inflammatory processes seem to stop or slow down on this diet - in large part probably due to the lack of sugars. There also seems to be a suggestion that ketones actively affect migraines. You could try exogenous ketones (ie eating them direct) if you didn't want to try the diet, but I have moved away from anything processed so prefer to produce my own.

    But as to any scientific explanation of mechanism, I haven't found one I felt held water. However, given that we don't really understand what migraines are, I'll settle for being pain free!

    There is this article, which gives some clues and some sparse links to research. And some amazing claims

    3dayheadachecure.com/blog/w...

  • Thank you this is great. Also check out

  • Hello Ruthi,

    Does this mean you don't eat grains and pasta, potatoes etc? I have been very unsuccessfully trying to move to a plant based diet anyway and until I became pregnant was doing the 2-5 fasting diet so didn't eat any carbs on those days.

    Can I ask what the benefits of a Ketogenic diet are, eg is it mainly to reduce chances of developing diabetes? On the news today they were saying there may be a link with meat and diary products being linked to cancer and diabetes in people who are under 65. The only thing they don't seem to be able to find out anything bad about is plant protein! I don't eat much meat anyway but I love bread and eggs and milk, its all so difficult!

  • No, I don't eat any starchy food at all. No fruit, no liquid milk, in fact basically its meat/fish/eggs/hard cheese, leafy veg and butter/olive oil/coconut oil/double cream. It seems very restrictive but its amazing how much you can improvise even with a limited palate.

    In addition to the improvement in headaches/migraines I have seen so many other gainss that I do not think I will be going back to 'normal' eating.

    I sleep better, so much better that I wake after 7-8 hours full of beans and ready to go. I have an underactive thyroid and despite optimal medication I haven't been this lively in 20 years!

    My brain fog is much improved

    My digestion has been transformed. I have been chronically constipated for 50 years, living on a combination of added fibre, laxatives and enemas. Now I take nothing, and despite less fibre in my diet I go daily with minimal effort. I no longer burp or fart. I have no acid reflux or gastritis.

    I have been an anxious person all my life, consciously working all the time to overcome shyness and anxiety. I would wake several times a week in mid panic, and take hours to calm down. I do still wake in the night to go to the loo, but I haven't had a night panic since I started. If I encounter stressful situations in the day (I run my own business, its a regular occurrence!) I sort it and move on. No more churning it over for hours!

    Finally I am losing weight. Anyone who is hypothyroid will tell you that weight loss is nigh on impossible. It certainly is on a conventional low fat (but surprisingly high carb) diet like slimming world. Well, I may not be losing rapidly, but my BMI has dropped from over 28 to under 25. My size 12 clothes are now getting a bit too roomy, and I will soon need to go shopping AGAIN!

    Fasting is another matter. It has a number of claimed benefits, and is certainly easier on a ketogenic diet where you are already adapted to burning fat. I tend not to eat before mid afternoon, because I am not hungry. So I am eating in a limited time window. But it depends on the day. Yesterday I woke hungry so had a breakfast of avocado smoked mackeral and salad. Today I haven't felt hungry so I haven't eaten yet.

    I am not diabetic, or even pre diabetic. But I had a killer sugar habit (helped enormously by a herbal candida cleanse). I do still have to keep the sugar monsters under control but it is SO worth it!!!

  • The problem is that it's quite possible there was a food you were eating that caused your migraine, and you've cut that out.

    I wonder if in fact it's using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

    I've never found a food related link, but I've read a migraine doctor who said citrus is often to blame and he's stopped womens migraines by getting them to give up their lemon water. Quite possible this is why cutting out the carbs helps, also some people find chocolate an issue..

    I personally don't want to go onto restricted diets, I have some food allergies and as it is my friends have to deal with me being restricted to certain restaurants. I can't imagine any restaurant that would be viable for this, it sounds so incredibly restricted.

    Good luck keeping it up, I just can't imagine cutting that much out.

  • It is possible, of course, but I have done full blown exclusion diets in the past and not identified anything that caused headaches. Certainly I am not affected by citrus or nightshades which are the 'popular' culprits.

    And then there is the slew of other benefits.

    Steak and salad is easy to order in most restaurants. But I have managed to eat in some fine dining places without a problem. No bread or pudding, of course, and pass on the spuds. But everything else is fine with careful choices. The last time we ate out I had pate to start (I have had to ask about ingredients for years since I went gluten free) then I had a gorgeous stuff veal thingy, with green veg. The sauce probably had things in it that had carbs, but I didn't eat it with a spoon so its unlikely to have taken me over my limits. I could have had cheese for afters, but was too full to manage it. If I was too full for cheese, I was too full for pudding! I even had a full Christmas dinner in France and the only thing I had to pass on was the Buche de Noel.

    Do I want to stick to such a restricted diet? well no, not in an ideal situation. And I will probably try re-introducing things like root veg and fruit in time. But if I start again with all the nasty symptoms that will be it.

    Everyone makes their choices in life. If migraines ruin life enough, and the prospect of a restricted diet isn't too ghastly, then try it. But its a valid choice not to try. I think, in general, I would rather try a dietary solution than be dependant on drugs - and none of the migraine drugs worked for me anyway.

  • Hi Ruthi - great to hear that the ketogenic diet is working for you. I've read before of its potential.

    It's currently used as an option for treating epilepsy in children - hence the oft-cited neurological link with potential benefits for migraine reduction. You can read more about the science of it here: epilepsysociety.org.uk/keto... or on this NHS page: gosh.nhs.uk/health-professi...

    Doctors (epilepsy ones anyway!) say that improvements can be seen after a few months. They use the diet for up to 2 years and then bring people off it. It doesn't need to be a lifestyle change forever by the sounds it...

    I've been tempted to try it too... but I don't eat meat and fish (though could easily be lured back to the latter!) and it really was too restrictive to try and be vegetarian as well as ketogenic!

    Please keep us updated on your progress! :-)

  • There are keto vegetarians, I don't think that is a real obstacle if you are motivated enough in other ways.

    But it takes one heck of a lot of motivation. It took me 30 years to finally go gluten free and about 4 years of reading Jason Fung before I decided I needed to take the plunge. And I wasn't new to the business of drastic dietary change, having had to eliminate all dairy and additives when my daughter was a baby. So I think this sort of thing probably holds less fear for me than most.

    I'm not epileptic, but was undoubtedly at risk of diabetes given my sugar habit. I think the problem for me will always be that once I start on the carbs, the glucose in my blood stream will draw me back to the sugar. That is certainly what happened the one other time I managed to go low carb. People who go back to high carb eating tend to regain not just the weight, but also all their health problems (I know nothing about the stats for epilepsy) so it probably is not an option. Hopefully I'll get to the stage where I don't have to count every gram of carbs, but if I do, I'll probably cope!

  • Big big congrats and hugs to you, Ruthi. What a startling joyous discovery. There is a diet that sounds similar to Ketogenic that is healing many people of lifelong mug sines, without use of any drugs whatsoever. The online Facebook group is called, Migraine Sufferers Who Want To Be Cured. The woman, PhD, who heads it up has written a book about her process/ protocol.

    To join the group one must first read her book and also answer a group of questions so she can analyze your individual needs and tweak the diet to a personal fit. The testimonies by people who have had success are astounding. I plan to start soon although am leery because I love eating vegetarian and get a sick tummy when I use cream. I am a happy grain freak and quite thin, so DO NOT wish to lose weight. I also have severe osteoporosis so need to get feedback on that connection.

    It is a high fat, heavy cream, no sugar, low carb, lots of meat diet. I haven't yet seen the word Ketogenic-- it may very well be in that arena.

    Again, I am so happy for your good fortune in ridding yourself of migraine. 💛💚🦋💚💛💚

  • There are ketogenic vegetarians about. It is obviously much trickier because so many vegetarian protein sources are bound up with carbs, even nuts. And no requirement to eat cream. Jason Fung counsels against too much protein. The evidence is not strong, but high protein consumption may carry risks.

    Could you bear to eat fish? Eggs?

  • Ruthi, curious, when you first started the ketogenic diet, did you get sick from the shock to your system? I've heard the transition can be dicey.

    And in reference to the comment just above re, too much protein, the adrenals and kidneys can get taxed and possibly shut down without a balance of carbs, from what I understand. I don't know specifics i.e., how much of each is the necessary balance ! Worth researching and I will. Thanks.

  • I rather stumbled towards the diet rather than starting it suddenly, so I avoided the 'keto flu that some suffer when they switch suddenly. I started by cutting out added sugar, and cutting down to one piece of fruit a day. Then potatoes and rice went. Then I realised that root veg were highish in carbs. Finally I started thinking about things like nuts, chestnuts etc.

    It is a total fallacy that a lack of carbs will damage adrenals and kidneys. You do need blood glucose to remain in a narrow band, but the liver will break down fats to make glucose if needed, and indeed does so every night when we fast.

    This is not a high protein diet like the original Atkins diet. Jason Fung and others advocate moderate protein at around .6-.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For me that is a max of 110 grams of protein, which is quite a lot. I probably stay nearer the lower end of the scale,but I don't count obsessively any more.

    What is high is fat. The low fat mantra which is so damaging because it forces you to find calories in carbs is the hard one to overcome. But boy is stuff tasty! And it's really no higher than people ate in the past, when fatty meat and butter and cream were prized. So I put butter or olive oil on my veg, thicken sauces with cream, make my own vinaigrette etc etc. Fat is calorie dense so a little goes a long way.

    There are calculators to help you work out how much you need in the way of carbs, protein, fat. And My Fitness Pal gives you the figures. Like so much it's just a matter of learning how. And if you get it slightly wrong the sky will not fall in!

  • Thanks so much, Ruthi, for your thoughtful & witty Reply!

  • In regard to "Migraine Sufferers Who Want To Be Cured" group, there are two groups managed by Dr. Angela Stanton, one of them is mild ketogenic diet. The non-ketogenic one depends on the fact that you need to balance potassium to sodium ration in your diet, the recommended ratio is 2:1.5 but some individuals might find out that they need a different ratio. She also advices to depend on whole foods, eliminating sugars and grains and recommends a low carb diet. I think if you managed to stay on a ketogenic diet, it's better than having to make sure each meal is balanced in regard to potassium to sodium ratio. Angela herself is now on a keto diet and says she no longer have to worry about the potassium to sodium ratio. Here is the link for her website:

    stantonmigraineprotocol.com/

    I'm trying here recommendations but finding it challenging in regard to making sure a meal is balanced. I had tried the ketogenic diet in the past, and I feel a lot better in my head, but my heart palpitations and insomnia got worse :-(

    Here are some links which you might find interesting in regard to the effect of ketogenic diets on migraines:

    perfecthealthdiet.com/2010/...

    3dayheadachecure.com/blog/w...

  • Heart palpitations and insomnia on ketogenic diet are due to low electrolytes. It's naturally diuretic, so you need to replace the lost electrolytes. I generally use the adrenal cocktail, but with lemon or wholefoods vitamin c.

  • Thanks Ruthi for the reply. I did that but still struggled. I'm currently using the Adrenal cocktail using vitamin c but sometimes it seems to be triggering my migraines/headaches so I avoid it some days. I suspect that I've adrenal fatigue which contributes to a lot of the symptoms I've (pain overall my body, fatigue, palpitations, headaches/migraines, hair loss, etc) and at some point the Myers Cocktail IV vitamin drip helped. But due to the distance I've to travel and the costs I felt it's not sustainable in the long run and decided to reduce them to once a month. What happened is my symptoms got worse again and I'm suffering as a result :-(

  • For the ketogenic diet, you don't really need the Vitamin C. So if lemon juice won't do it, just take the salt and potassium.

    Can you pick apart what is in the drip and try individual components.

    Your symptoms could be thyroid related, or due to low B12. Have those been tested?

  • I don't use lemon as it's a migraine trigger for me as other citrus fruits, but I use a vitamin C powder and I do not always add it. The potassium or salt seems to cause the pain and I think this is related to Dr.Angela's theory that which cause the pain is the imbalance of potassium to sodium. She is actually against the use of potassium supplement and says when need to get it from diet. I've actually stopped using potassium in the Adrenal cocktail but sometimes I add it if I feel I might be low in potassium.

    I've tested for thyroid and the doctors said I don't have a problem, but my symptoms clearly indicate something is wrong! I take a B vitamins supplements which contains vitamin B12 in addition to other B vitamins in forms which are supposed to be more bio-available (Metabolic Maintenance, B-Complex, Phosphorylated). I've tried taking most of the vitamins/minerals in the drip before trying them for many years but it doesn't seem to help. This is probably due to absorption issues!

  • Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough reply.

  • Vitamin C powder might be citrus derived, of course. I know the one I take is.

    Do you have the actual results of your Thyroid test? Doctors will say you are fine if the TSH is in range, but in range and half way acceptable are two very different things. They left me till I could barely get out of bed before it was admitted that my thyroid was struggling.

    And the B12 in the average B complex is woefully inadequate if you are suffering a defeciency, let alone if you have Pernicious Anaemia (which is a disorder of absorption, and actual anaemia is an end stage symptom). You need the test, along with folate, ferritin and vitamin D (although you are probably taking that already)

  • What an interesting post , I have been following the Stanton migraine protocol for 18 months and seen great improvements . The other group called 'keto mild for migraine' has an enormous amount of info with regards to ketosis / migraine all researched by Angela Stanton whilst testing all theories on herself. Highly recommend all to join her page if doing the ketogenic diet as this diet should be followed with caution and the support of a dietician if possible .

  • I'm sorry, but I disagree about the caution and dietician. If you ease in gradually there is no danger, no adverse side effects and absolutely no need for a dietician. If you can find one anyway - they are trained to believe that sugar is fine for diabetics!

  • Ruthi I am in total support of ketosis but it has to be followed with caution and knowledge which can be obtained from the Facebook page i mentioned previously. I'm not scaremongering but also not a scientist / dr which Angela is and guides people through all the necessary steps to follow the diet safely . One example is to make sure you are not going in and out of ketosis by monitoring blood sugar levels with a glucose monitor and not ketostix because they are unreliable ... All explanations are given on her page. I would just recommend people arm themselves with the relevant information before diving in. If you take a look yourself you will see why ketosis works and get a full explanation. Hope your migraine free days continue!

  • OK, edited to try and avoid offence. Keto strips for testing urine are notoriously unreliable. Not worth the money. There are blood keto meters, also regarded as pretty unreliable, in part because ketone levels are so volatile and a blood test is a snapshot.

    I disagree strongly that blood glucose is an indicator of ketosis.

    Ketosis occurs when any available excess carbohydrates have been burned, and the body turns to burning fat. Ketones are a biproduct of that process, and indeed can be burned for fuel. This is a regular occurrence in everyone, because our overnight fast rapidly depletes glucose and then ketosis will occur to fuel the body until the next meal.

    Glucose is so essential to the working of the brain, that if there is none ingested the liver breaks down fat to form glucose. In a healthy person free of insulin resistance that glucose is remarkably stable, although it does change with the time of day - peaking around dawn to help us start the day at full speed. So for me free of diabetes, (and according to the tests also not insulin resistant, although I cannot understand how that can be given how much sugar I was consuming) blood glucose will remain low while I keep off the carbs. It won't go below a certain level, of course, because that way lies coma and death.

    BUT if I were insulin resistant then my blood sugars would remain relatively high no matter what I ate. That is because the mechanism for reducing blood sugar - insulin - doesn't work properly when the cells are resistant. Hence blood glucose measurement is really only a measurement of blood glucose, and has no indirect link worth talking about to ketones. Its a valid measurement for diabetics, because they can then track how well blood glucose is dropping due to insulin.

    If you keep your carb intake below 20grams, ketosis will occur for most if not all of the day. I haven't bothered to measure mine, unreliable stix or blood tests - no thank you! I don't do needles, especially those I have to inflict upon myself.

    What I don't know is whether it is the presence of ketones that protects against migraine, or whether it is the elimination of carb rich foods(which may or may not contain other nasties). I arrived at the ketogenic diets because I was so concerned about my previously enormous sugar intake, and the desire to lose a certain amount of weight. The lack of migraines was just a happy bi-product - along with all the other benefits I am experiencing.

    I have always regarded drugs with their attendant side effects as a remedy of last resort. So if I can 'cure' myself through diet I will try to do that. I can't say it is always easy - I have to make sure that I don't go into a shop when hungry or stressed, for example.

    I do not think a normally healthy person, needs to be particularly cautious with this approach. If you start suddenly on a keto diet there could be a period of 'keto flu' as the body adjusts to more fat burning. But it passes. Or you can gradually reduce the carbohydrates in your diet as I did. However If you are a drug/insulin dependant diabetic you need to monitor your blood sugars very carefully, because less carbs/glucose in will mean you need less glucophages or insulin. And in an ideal world your doctor would be on side, but some are still stuck believing diabetics (well everyone) need carbs. The medical profession is very slow to change its views!

  • I'm not here to argue just offer some extra information / help to others wanting to try keto ...

    [Edited by HealthUnlocked]

  • OK, I apologise, that was not the most tactful way of expressing myself. Now edited to remain factual.

  • Apology accepted , I'm not here to cause trouble at all . I've done ketogenic myself and fully understandthe health benefits but also the controversyit can cause. ( which is just misunderstanding of the diet) There are many variations of keto and it's important migraineursfollow traditional keto with whole foods and no subbing with sweeteners and cheat foods as these are no good for us ... Fine if you're just doing for weight loss tho...

  • There are apparently 255 keto groups on facebook, each with their own set of rules!! So it is a complete minefield and we each have to find our own way. Which I know is hard for the people who like to be told exactly what to do and when - I am pretty well opposite and will never do anything because I am told to!!

    I avoid sweeteners and processed foods whether defined as ketogenic or not. The sweeteners because I think they will lure me back to the sugar, and the processed foods because its is just counter-intuitive.

    Keto for weight loss alone is just another diet, IMHO. And it will all come back and more if the dieter returns to the same old high sugar/high carb way of life once they reach their target. Its a way of life that makes us fat/sick/in pain and its a change in the way of life that is needed for a long term solution. What I hope is the keto-ers realise the benefits and stick close to it for good.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I have been considering a keto diet, my GP is keen I do, but have been resistant as I am also vegetarian and on the migraine diet so a huge amount of restrictions. Plus I have a very sweet tooth and love roast potatoes more than anything! I have looked into it a bit and notice not many keto recipes online say the carb, protein, fat amounts which makes it really hard also.

  • Sadly it's probably the sugar, and possibly potatoes (they are in the nightshade group).

    I had a killer sugar habit. I would eat it from the packet, and didn't always bother with a spoon! I knew it was harming me, but it's not that simple. What helped was a herbal Candida cleanse. I'm still addicted, but with the siren call to sugar from the Candida I can resist.

  • Great discovery Ruthi ! In my case, my headache (migraine) will 100% be triggered by eating red meat and it won't go away until I take Rizatriptan (in my opinion, Rizatriptan is better than Sumatriptan). Even eating chicken / duck will cause headache but that will go away by taking paracetamol. I shall also get headache if I eat oily fish and too much eggs (more than 1 egg a day is too much for me). If I eat cheese I shall certainly get headache. If I eat fatty food, particularly anything deep fried, I shall get headache. So I can't even eat fish & chips as it guarantees a bad headache. Hence I have given up eating these stuff. So trying Ketogenic eating will be difficult for me, but it may work for others, so it was a great idea to share your experience.

  • That is tough, troy04. Even if ketogenic worked for you, it would be hard to get there!

  • Maybe there is sugar in the fish and chips breaking! Sugar is a peak migraine food for me along with any alcohol, additives, chocolate.

  • Troy04 your problem may not be the good themselves but the balance of pottassium / sodium in them which disrupts electrolytes and therefore hydration . I would recommend you take a look at the Facebook page mentioned further up in the thread. 'migraine sufferers who want to be cured' this is a great protocol but very strict!

  • @Juliapester3 Thank you, I just had a look at stantonmigraineprotocol.com/ and 'recommends the use of an electrolyte and a magnesium supplement'. Then it says - "I am not financially affiliated with the company that sells them and receive no monetary reward from advertising the products." However if you click to buy this products, it takes you into a website : healthbyprinciple.com and in it, the About us page tells all about Angela A. Stanton ! I am not saying if the products are good or bad but this trick is not necessary. She gets either commission or dividend - there is no doubt about it. Again - it is perfectly normal but to claim she does not is unnecessary.

    I shall nevertheless see if I can benefit from her advice.

  • That is why I so like Jason Fung. He likes good science, and only good science, and (so far) sells nothing other than his own services (and that was very much by popular demand).

  • A quote from one of the keto facebook groups I am in

    Hey all! I've been a keto-r to help cure migraine attacks since July of 2014. My migraines (grand mal with aura) went from 3-4 severe attacks per week, to 1-2 PER YEAR.

    Hiiiiighly recommend this lifestyle. ✌️😎

  • Another helpful Facebook group is Dr T migraine miracle group. Josh Turkett is an actual medical doctor, neurologist, and has a Book and website. Advocates low carb diet and going keto as one option. He and his wife were migraineurs who found a decrease in migraine when they followed ancestral diet. He also looks at other aspects of migraine too. I am a vegetarian so going keto isn't for me but no sugar and low carbs is helping. Angela Stanton isn't a medical doctor. She advocates vegetarians go back to eating fish or meat which I can't/won't do. Her son runs the company that sells the electrolyte and magnesium supplement. I did find both websites helpful initially but now am using dr T more.

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