Sunday, November 11, 2012

Migraine and 30 Days of Thanksgiving

Chronic Migraine makes it difficult to concentrate on the good things in life, yet at the same time makes it even easier to appreciate them.  I really have been very blessed in my life - I've had dreams I made come true, and I have a loving family and good friends to share those dreams with. 

When we're hurting, it seems the pain is about all we can think of, doesn't it?  Nothing else seems to get through unless we make a concerted effort to go beyond our pain.

I'm reminded daily of the things that my chronic Migraine and other illnesses have taken from me.  Stolen from me.  It's easy to become bitter.  Resentful.  Thinking positively is SO important when I'm hurting.

Then on those rare days when there is a break in the pain, something little happens and it feels like I've won a million bucks! You just can't squoosh me on those days.  Sometimes I know I can be horribly annoying because I just can't seem to stop smiling.  I am and have always been a glass half full kind of girl!

This fall has been especially difficult for some reason.  My pain levels have been higher.  My autoimmune flares have increased in frequency and severity.  Migraines have gotten worse, and I have added different headache problems on top of my normal Migraine stuff.  I knew I needed to pay special attention to those things that keep me going, because I don't want to wallow in negativity that can be so infectious.  So, I decided to participate in a challenge - 30 Days of Thanksgiving.

The idea is to write somewhere each day - Facebook, Twitter, this blog or any of the others in which I participate - and mention something I'm especially thankful for that day.

I'll admit it... the last two weeks have been difficult for me, so this task isn't always as easy as it should be.  When I'm feeling good, all I can do is think about the wonderful things in my life.  When I'm feeling lousy, well, I'm more likely to feel like grumbling or venting than counting my blessings.

30 Days of Thanksgiving has been good for me though.  It pushes me to remember how blessed I really am.  It challenges me to look beyond what I am experiencing in the moment and remember what it is like to feel good.  The big picture is more important than the small stuff.  I wake up in the morning wondering what is going to happen that day that I can write about the next day.  I find myself looking forward to the day and its possibilities, even when the pain is overwhelming me.

In a season where it's so easy to be reminded of all the things we can't do, how do you keep yourself on track and remember to be thankful for the blessings you have?   

This post is my response to the November 2012 Headache and Migraine Disease Blog Carnival.   

A blog carnival is a collection of links to a variety of blogs on a central topic. The Headache & Migraine Disease Blog Carnival has been created to provide both headache patients and people who blog about headaches with unique opportunities to share ideas on topics of particular interest and importance to us.  This month's challenge was:  Giving Thanks: What are you thankful for in your life despite living with a headache disorder or migraine disease? How do you stay focused on it when life gets hard? 

Live your best life,
Ellen Schnakenberg
~patient educator and advocate


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Migraine Myths: Opiates, Narcotics and Glutamate

Migraine factoid: 

One more reason opiates/narcotics can be dangerous for Migraineurs: they leave residual glutamate in the neuronal synapses, which may render other therapies ineffective.  

Glutamate is the working end of MSG and is an excitatory neurotransmitter which can be a potent Migraine trigger.  It has been placed at the top of a cascade that too often results in Migraine attacks.  Examples of these drugs include Tylenol 3, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, Oxycontin, Dilaudid etc.

Here is a post I wrote some time ago re: glutamate and how it works in our brains, as well as a list of other names this nasty little neurotransmitter can hide under in our food, cosmetics and other products.  We need a balanced amount of glutamate to live, but keeping that balance is tricky indeed.

Anything that potentially renders our other therapies ineffective should be avoided if at all possible.  

It's sad, but many Migraineurs, especially those that are chronic, tend to think that their doctors refuse to prescribe opiates and narcotics for their Migraine pain because they don't believe how bad the pain is.  Please understand - this is untrue and those who perpetuate this lie are not helping patients get better!!  

   Silver Creek Falls, Oregon Photo copyright 2011 Ellen Schnakenberg

The truth is, having Migraine is bad enough, but can you imagine if it got worse?  That is what opiates/narcotics can do for us.  Yes, it helps the pain temporarily, but the damage it can cause can be long-lasting.  If it help an episodic Migraineur transform into a chronic situation, so much the worse. 

As an advocate, I do believe there are times when treatment with opiates and narcotics are appropriate.  This should be a last option however, not a first or second line drug to help with attacks.

If you suffer episodic Migraine or chronic Migraine, please talk to your doctor if you are still using opiates or narcotics.  These medicines are designed to help us feel better, but they do nothing to get to the root of the problem which is the Migraine process itself.  It's true, we want relief from the pain, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.  We don't need pain relief, we need something to abort the process or prevent it in the first place.  

Live your best life,
Ellen Schnakenberg
~patient educator and advocate

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Migraine and The Importance of Friendship

Chronic Migraine can suck the life and breath right out of a person.  Living with it is exhausting... that's the only way I can describe it.

What makes living with chronic Migraine, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, dystonia and all these other comorbidities easier?  People who love you.

Today I am so thankful for the friends I have, those who have stuck by me through the best times when I tend to be overly enthusiastic and polly-anna cheerful... and the worst times, when I tend to close myself off in favor of disappearing into a pit of selfishness and despair.  The ones who listen when I blabber on and on, and are there to lift me up when I need it.  These are the same people who kick me in the tushy when I need it too.  

Good friends are like that - we can count on them, and they can count on us.  

         Photo copyright 2011 Ellen Schnakenberg - Tyki the Havanese

I can only hope I have been a good friend to those I feel close to.  To you.  I do try very hard. My heart goes with you wherever you are. 

So today, I am telling my friends "I LOVE YOU!"  If I could shout it from a rooftop I would.  This is my rooftop today.  

Do me a favor... place your right hand on your left shoulder and hold it there.  Place your left hand on your right shoulder.  Now close your eyes, take a slow cleansing breath, and squeeze gently.  This is a hug, from me to you.

I may not talk to you every day, or even every week or every month.  That's okay because I know that true friendships can endure the test of time and distance.  WE endure the test of time and distance... and chronic illness.


Live your best life,
Ellen Schnakenberg
~patient educator and advocate

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Desiderata - Peace for the Mind, Body and Soul

I ran across this video that includes the words of Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, spoken by Les Crane.  It made me smile today.

God created the universe, and His plans for our life are often hidden from us.  Those of us struggling with chronic illness tend to forget that our sight is limited.  However, I know that I am where I am supposed to be this day...

"...You are a child of the universe.  No less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should..."

Live your best life,
Ellen Schnakenberg
~patient educator and advocate

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Migraine and Overgrowth of Bad Bacteria Part 2

Migraines respond well when we maximize our health, and this includes the health of our digestive system.  Bacterial overgrowth may not directly affect your Migraine attacks, but it may have an indirect influence that shouldn't be ignored.  It can be so easy to fix - if you know you have the problem. 

In part one, we created an analogy of cows and deer, grass and weeds to describe how good and bad bacteria work in the digestive system.  Now we'll talk about why this is important to know...

Feeding the good, starving the bad

To have healthy cows, we must be sure that the grass in our pasture is healthy.  If all we have is weeds, then the only thing we have that can survive is deer, and we don't want deer.

In this analogy, we need to feed our good bacteria.  Good bacteria especially love to be fed fiber.  Yep, the same fiber found in bran muffins, apples, celery, oatmeal and lots of different good-for-you foods.  Healthy bacteria need 30 grams of fiber each day.  In those patients who have diets low in fiber, it is not unusual to see a multitude of bacterial overgrowth related problems including diarrhea, constipation, yeast infections and malabsorption to name but a few.

By keeping the pasture healthy, the cows will proliferate and our guts will be full of good bacteria, with few bad bacteria to complicate things. Bad bacteria cannot eat fiber.  They exist on sugar.  Sugar comes from carbohydrates.  Those whose diets tend to be low in fiber also tend to be high in carbohydrates, so is it any wonder that they are sick?!

The ideal diet for human beings is one that is low in carbs and high in fiber.  We need animal products to survive (vegans supplement the missing nutrients) but we subsist primarily on fruits and vegetables - this is how our bodies were designed.  The average American diet today is outrageously high in carbs and so low in fiber that the majority of people live in a constant state of digestive upset and low or errant immune function. 

You medicine could be making you sick

The number two reason for bacterial overgrowth is a direct result of medical treatment.  The medicines we are taking to help us can in reality make us very ill.

It's unfortunate that most doctors have begun to rely heavily on medicines to do the work that can be done without them.  The fact remains however, that Migraineurs depend on many medicines to get them through life with Migraine disease.  This means that it is really important that we learn how to optimize our good gut bacteria so we can stay as healthy as possible, hopefully minimizing the chance that episodic Migraine will transform into chronic Migraine.

The most common medicines to alter gut flora balance are antibiotics.  Since stress can also alter gut flora balance, it's possible that any treatment or disease can contribute to bacterial overgrowth, but antibiotics kill the very bacteria we need to survive.

Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria and they are very good at their jobs.  However, they are very non-specific.  They kill everything.  All bacteria.  This means that they kill the bad bacteria in our digestive system and any infection we might have, but they also kill off all the necessary good bacteria as well.  We re-populate our gut flora after the antibiotics have been completed (you really do NOT want to ask me how) but because our diets are so poor in fiber and high in carbs, we tend to become riddled with bad bacteria that can be so harmful to us.

How harmful?  

E. Coli is very well known by most everyone.  Have you ever wondered about it?  How and why it gets into our food chain?

A long time ago, people realized that feeding cows a lot of sugar made their meat very sweet.  So, farmers "finish" feeder cattle off with enormous amounts of grain and sugar over a short period of time.  This results in a very sweet tasty steak, but because they have essentially eliminated all good bacteria from their digestive systems, they are now riddled with bad bacteria including E. Coli.  Their livers can get fatty and swollen and sick.  If a steer was forced to remain on this diet for long, it would actually die.  When the animal is butchered, the proliferation of bad bacteria is more likely to be accidentally spread to the meat, causing illness in those who eat it.  This is one of the causes of the immense resurgence in grain fed beef - the meat itself is healthier because the cow it came from was healthy and fed a healthy species appropriate diet.

E. Coli is in your digestive system right now.  It is one of the main *bad* bacterias we have in us all the time.  The trick is in learning to keep it under control so that it doesn't make us sick.  We do this by starving it, and by feeding our good bacteria.

So what do we do if we have had antibiotic therapy?

Thankfully the difference between good and bad bacteria was discovered a long time ago.  Good species necessary for our survival were cultivated and can be purchased as a supplement to re-populate the digestive system.  We call these healthy bacteria Probiotics.

Physicians do realize the benefit of probiotics, they just don't typically make it a habit of prescribing them, which is unfortunate. Patients who are forced to undergo prolonged antibiotic therapy are however, required to take massive doses of probiotics to keep the gut populated with helpful bacteria.  Remember, without it we would die of malnutrition.

There is much to discuss when we start down the path that connects the gut and the brain.  More posts will follow later on this vital connection.  The facts are fascinating and might help you in your journey toward better health :)

Live your best life,
Ellen Schnakenberg
~patient educator and advocate