After four years of suffering from migraines with aura, I discovered my trigger and have been able to avoid further migraines so far. I want to share my experience so that if you are in a similar situation, you might benefit from knowing my trigger, which I would never have suspected and which I still find surprising.
I’ll briefly go over the history of my migraines, the pain and frustration they caused, my attempts to control and prevent them, and what I ultimately discovered. I hope this post benefits you, or someone you know. I understand the painful debilitation, loss of productivity, stress, and loss of confidence that seemingly unpredictable migraines can cause, so if this post helps someone, I will be very, very happy.
Of course, I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice, so talk to your doctor and other healthcare professionals before acting on any of the information in this post. This is just my n=1. Okay, here goes.
I started having migraines with aura when I was 30 years old. At first I didn’t know what to make of them, because I’d never experienced anything like them before. (Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. Upon further reflection, I think I had had a couple of these in the past as well, but was confused by the symptoms and attributed them to food poisoning.)
The first migraine with aura that I clearly remember happened when I was 30, and began while I was driving to an event on a weekend. I began to see what looked like water flowing across my field of vision. I had no idea what this visual disturbance was, so I figured I would just tough it out. I was driving when it started, but fortunately I was close enough to my destination and the aura wasn’t bad enough to impair my vision significantly. Other migraines I had after this had worse auras.
When I got to my destination, the aura left, and I began to feel ill, with all the typical systems of a bad migraine: nausea, gastrointestinal disturbance, and sudden and severe headache (the kind where it feels like an icepick digging around behind your eyes).
I had to have a friend drive me home, and then I proceeded to vomit, try various over-the-counter painkillers, and then lay down in a dark room and ice my head. Six hours later, I began to recover, but the nausea, weakness, and physical discomfort lingered for another day.
Fast forward 4 years, and I’ve become well-acquainted with migraines with aura, what to do when one is coming on, and what to expect. I once had one that was so bad that I thought I was having a stroke, because one of the symptoms I was experiencing was the loss of ability to speak coherently, called aphasia. I actually thought I was dying, and, oddly, had the presence of mind to get dressed, thinking I was going to the hospital and needed to look presentable in my final hours! I’m getting a bit queasy just recalling this.
Putting aside the startling and debilitating symptoms that present in multi-hour pain-fests and then take days to recover from, the loss of confidence in myself was a significant consequence of my migraines. Because I never knew when I was going to have one, I avoided many activities that I enjoyed simply out of fear that I would get sick while I was far from my house. If you’ve had physical issues that present themselves unpredictably, I’m sure you know what I mean.
One of the most frustrating parts of my experience with migraines was learning just how little we know about them. When I first was trying to track down the cause of these strange and debilitating full-body headaches, I would read the list of possible triggers with disbelief.
Doctors didn’t know what caused them, and according to the lists of triggers out there, they could be caused by virtually any type of stimulus, or even lack of stimulus. Putting aside the laundry list of foods and physical activities that were listed as possible triggers, the one that really drove me nuts was stress, or, wait for it, release from stress.
Are you kidding me? Stress might cause these migraines with aura, but also not being stressed enough could cause them? How insane is that? And there were more listed triggers of this type, such as sleeping too little or too much, exercising too little or too much, drinking too little or too much, and so forth.
I tried excluding various foods, such as gluten, dairy, chocolate, red wine, seafood, and so on, for extended periods of time, but the migraines didn’t resolve. Eventually, I found a medication strategy that at least helped me manage the symptoms and speed my recovery, but, I still hadn’t found a way to avoid the migraines themselves.
Well, without further ado, my trigger is stainless steel.
Yeah, I know.
Let me explain.
I’d long believed that stainless steel was safe to drink out of and to cook in. I thought that it was for sure a superior alternative to plastic. So, for a long time, I drank a lot of water from a couple of stainless steel canteens, and I routinely cooked in stainless steel.
When I first started having migraines with aura, I quickly associated the migraines with my stainless steel canteen, because I kept thinking there was some logical cause and effect relationship with some activity I was doing that was close in time with the onset of the migraines, and the use of stainless steel canteens for my water-drinking was almost always associated with my migraines. Except that I concluded it was some kind of mold in the canteen that was causing my problem, and not the bottle itself.
So, I got rid of the stainless steel water bottles I was using, and, lo and behold, my migraines, for the most part, resolved! But, I still wasn’t suspecting stainless steel, and so I was continuing to cook in stainless steel, and to drink from a stainless steel tumbler on occasion, although I had some mental discomfort with the latter, probably because I had by that time developed a strong association of my migraines with drinking from stainless steel. I had persistent bad feelings prodding me when I reached for the tumbler, when I drank out of it, and so forth, to such a degree that I often avoided using it without really knowing why.
Finally, after another few migraines were closely associated with cooking in stainless steel (once with tomato sauce, which can increase the leaching of certain metals into your food, more on that below) or drinking hot beverages out of my stainless steel tumbler (the last and final hot drink I had from the tumbler brought on the migraine with both aura and aphasia), I began to research the safety of stainless steel cookware, and excluded stainless steel from my eating environment at home.
And, no more migraines!
So, importantly, what’s the mechanism of action here? Why does stainless steel bring on migraines for me?
Based on my research and review of the information available on the internet, including the available research studies, it appears that certain metals, including nickel and chromium, leach out of stainless steel generally and during cooking. The amount of these metals entering the food or liquid in the stainless steel cookware is affected by a number of factors, including heat, cooking time, the age of the cookware, the acidity and other factors of the food or beverage in the cookware, and, I’m sure, other factors as well. My theory is that I was suffering from an overexposure to a metal leaching from stainless steel into my food and beverages, and my symptoms of having too much of this metal in my system or taking in too much at certain times presented in migraines with aura, and, probably, in other ways as well.
I now drink from plastic and glass water bottles (check out this category and Ello Pure BPA-Free Glass Water Bottle), and cook in glass cookware. A few months in, and, so far, so good! I’m happy to say that my confidence in doing normal life things has returned, and my curiosity in gaining a better understanding of nutrition has been revitalized!
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