You can learn about individuality in food sensitivity reactions by reading a great book about migraine. Migraine by Dr Oliver Sacks is a whole book about every aspect of Migraine. If you have migraine, or someone you know has, you should learn as much as you can from what, Sacks, a brilliant neurologist, provides. He tells wonderful stories of his many patients with many different types of migraine. He shows just how many different types of migraine there are and how differently they can present. Some may think there is too much detail but it is worth persisting to help you think about all that is presented.
The aspect of his book that particularly interested me was how many associated symptoms he says occur with migraine. Now we know these symptoms occur in food-sensitive people, so the book is also a book about how it feels to be food sensitive. But this is not what Dr Sacks set out to do. In fact he did not think food had any role in migraine when he wrote the first edition in 1970. He did note that it is of historical interest that in the dim past migraines had been linked to melted butter, fat meats, spices, meat pies, hot buttered toast and malt liquors. (We could have a wonderful discussion about how refrigeration was poor in the past that meat and butter could easily be aged, and therefore high in amines, spice is high in salicylates, and liquors are high in both!) But he dismissed these. His thinking did change before he published the later edition in 1992. By then MSG was recognised as causing Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, and tyramine was recognised as a problem for patients on MAOI medication. Since there was sufficient reports of these reactions, or a scientific reason why these could be believed, Sacks acknowledged MSG or MAOI medication could have a role.
He can be forgiven now when It is hard to believe that food reactions have been reported and believed to a gradually increasing degree for only the last forty years. He suspected that where migraine occurs after ham or chocolate it is often “the establishment of a conditioned-reflex”. We now know that diet investigation will show whether ham or chocolate have a more physical role than just association. The diet detective method includes using the Family Sensitivity History to learn more about family symptoms and suspect foods. Sacks is wonderful as he often asks families about detail that may be related to migraine in the family, supporting the idea that there is some aspect of heredity here.
What he can be given special thanks for is describing what it really feels like to have migraines. And he really shows how differently migraines feel for different people. Migraine is an important book for anyone who wants to understand migraine, but more importantly for us is that it is a great book about how food-sensitive people feel. Why? Because we can be amazed that he describes the experience of having the many complicated symptoms his patients report having with or around their migraines. Look at the many symptoms he reports as happening with various migraine patients: nausea and vomiting, a “stuffiness that is not the usual sinus headache”, lethargy, increased dreams or nightmares, changes in body odour. He reports mood changes including irritability, anxiety and even rage reaction, as part of the experience for some. Some patients report they cannot miss a meal or their symptoms will occur. Some cannot tolerate a “heavy meal” (which often means “rich-in-amines”), and some cannot tolerate more than one drink” These would all be relevant in diet investigation now. He includes many symptoms that relate to IBS, such as reflux of bitter stomach contents: “waterbrash”, and constipation. There is even a section on abdominal migraine which nowadays is sometimes labelled IBS, or is recognised as the continuous severe gut pain of abdominal migraine. In some with abdominal migraine the pain can occur abdominally for some time before becoming classical head migraine. He does not mention skin issues or asthma happening in migraine people.
We can be sure that many of those with migraine are not food sensitive, and that even where they are food sensitive, many of the medical treatments, which Sacks helps explain, are very useful. Oliver Sacks is a neurologist so his appreciation of how people feel when there is something wrong is beautifully described. He is happy to describe and acknowledge symptoms that other doctors may not see as relevant, but you will be happy to read about if you have any food-sensitivity symptoms.