Healthier Living

Solving The Mystery Behind My Migraines (And What Finally Helped)

Leah Gottheim February 27, 2024

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I’ve had many migraines in my life, but there is one that stands out vividly in my memory both for its severity, and for how it caused me to come up with a hypothesis to explain my medical mystery. It turned out later that my theory was completely wrong. But let me backtrack a bit and explain the whole story.

The story unfolded during the night of Renee Schwartz’s vort. (Yes, the same Renee you know as the recipe editor of Kosher.com, a longtime friend of mine.) As I returned home from her party, a terrible migraine set in. It felt like someone was pounding nails through my head, and the sensitivity to light and noise made it an agonizing experience. Yet, I had a 12-page term paper due the next day!

I resorted to lying down in a dark room for a couple of hours until the pain subsided enough for me to sit up and write. I stayed up most of the night and turned in the paper just in time.

It was during this episode that I began to think seriously about the possible triggers of these intense migraines. I had eaten plenty of delicious desserts at the vort. I became convinced that sugary foods must be the trigger, perhaps combined with my erratic college-student sleeping habits.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I made a discovery that I had somehow managed to miss for far too long.

It was the year I decided to experiment with avoiding all coffee for the week leading up to Tisha B’Av. The initial days were marked by terrible migraines, but surprisingly, by the fast day itself, I felt great and migraine-free.

I compared how I felt that day, to how I usually feel on a fast day. On a typical fast day, by afternoon I’d have to lie down in bed with a severe migraine.

Connecting the dots, I finally realized the true culprit- my strong sensitivity to caffeine withdrawal. Any deviation from my daily coffee routine would trigger those pounding migraines. Sometimes even just drinking my coffee later in the morning than usual would derail my whole day.

Unwilling to be enslaved by a daily cup of coffee merely in order to be able to stay upright and function, I bid farewell to the beverage that had seen me through countless college finals, and later, sleep-deprived nights with a crying baby.

I still miss my morning coffee, but learning what triggered my migraines has been such a wonderful gift. I no longer have to worry about when the next migraine will strike, how I’ll get through a fast, or how I’ll manage the kids while I’m lying in a dark room with my eyes closed.

Adjusting to #decaflife became a new normal until last spring when I made another discovery.

I was working on a project together with Rivka Golombeck when I came down with strep.

When I mentioned to her how sick I was, she was so sweet and completely surprised me. She brought over a care package filled with nourishing foods like chicken soup, grilled vegetables, and last but not least, ginger turmeric tea.

At first I was hesitant to give the tea a try. I had a preconceived notion that it wouldn’t be my taste. Ginger? Turmeric? Really? But Rivka encouraged me to give it a try, saying it’s great for strengthening the immune system and restoring health, so I tried.

To my surprise, I discovered it was actually delicious! It has a slight sweetness (but by no means sugary). It’s pleasant and refreshing, with a slight zing to it. I was never a big fan of ginger, but it doesn’t have that strong gingery flavor, it’s a subtler taste. I keep a box on my desk at work for dealing with that 3pm energy dip. I also made it part of my evening routine, because I find that it helps me feel calm and also curbs junk food cravings at night.

Finally, I had found a hot drink that made my body feel better instead of worse. (If you want to try it out for yourself, here’s a link to get Wissotzky ginger turmeric tea on Amazon.)

This whole story taught me that sometimes, the answers to our health puzzles are right there in our daily routines. Cutting out caffeine wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. Sometimes you have to do what your body needs, even as everyone around you downs yet another triple espresso.

Sponsored by Wissotzky Tea