Book Review: Avoid a Migraine, Stop a Migraine

This monograph approaches the relief and prevention of migraines both specifically and holistically. The author brings together numerous relief techniques of her own experience (one of which she herself discovered) and a sizable chunk of current thinking, sometimes rather edgy thinking, in the field of holistic and preventative health. Avoid a Migraine, Stop a Migraine can be useful for migraine sufferers but also as a starting point for a wider personal investigation into health and wellbeing.

Author Sandra Spewock Feder begins with a caveat: “This book does not in any way give medical or any other kind of advice. At the request of fellow migraine sufferers, I am sharing my own observations and experiences. Before you do anything and if you have any questions, consult your health care provider.” One might wonder where the line is between suggestions and advice, of course. Writers know, even if they can’t admit, that their caveats are going to be regularly ignored; people – especially suffering people – are going to try suggested techniques without consulting a doctor first.

Then again, there are also doctors who succumb to the lure of a quick buck, endorsing products of unproven and questionable value. We see these charlatans on TV all the time. One feels more comfortable with an honest approach like that of Feder, who simply presents her findings based on personal experience and research, reporting on what has worked for her and what she believes caused the efficacy.

Feder gives a lively description of migraines, those headaches from hell: “Three days of pain, and another day or two recovering from being wiped out…It was like trying to stay afloat when something was relentlessly pushing me under. Each time I would give up and let the pain close over me.” But the key, the topic sentence, is this: “Migraine is a symptom. Pain comes for a reason.”

Before laying out her relief techniques, Feder presents several sections on the conditions that can lead to migraine (and pain in general) and what causes those conditions. Excitotoxins, for example, are ingredients in food that lead to an excess of certain neurotransmitters, notably glutamate. Everyone knows about MSG – monosodium glutamate – but I didn’t know (for example) that the textured vegetable protein I like to use as a substitute for ground beef in chili and other dishes contains free glutamate that could be causing havoc in my brain. (I am a migraine sufferer, although mine, thankfully, do not last as long as those Feder describes.)

Feder has some tips about what to look for in lists of ingredients on packaged food. For example, what are “spices”? Why don’t they just say what the spices are? Red flag. She also explains what nutrients can counteract the effects of excitotoxins and what foods are good sources of those nutrients. She stresses eating raw foods and drinking plenty of water, and explains the importance of maintaining a proper pH balance in the body, a difficult task given the typical, acid-forming American diet.

Feder ends by describing 25 relief techniques, some old (put ice on it), some new (specially formulated supplements), some novel (use conductive tape to bridge a break in the flow of chi). Detailed material on the related subjects of sinus health and skin detoxification is also included. For an experienced migraine sufferer, this short book will likely be a useful supplement to the research he or she has already done on this terrible, much studied, but not fully understood problem. For someone just beginning to deal with migraines, the book, combined with basic Internet research and a visit to a doctor, will be a good starting point.