Archive for the ‘Migraines’ Category

Gluten: Why All the Hype?

Most Americans realize by now that a steady diet of cheeseburgers and soda will lead to heart disease and diabetes.  What they don’t know is there is another offender in the typical American diet that most people would never suspect to be causing them a problem.  That silent villain is gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, kamut, spelt, and oats.  Gluten is a major component of most breads, pastas, flour tortillas, and the majority of processed foods like crackers and cookies.  Gluten is the part of these foods that makes the dough light and fluffy yet still stick together.

For years it was thought that only people with Celiac disease had difficulty digesting gluten.  There is recent evidence however that there is a spectrum of gluten intolerance throughout our population that ranges from the mildly gluten sensitive to completely allergic (Celiac disease).  Current estimates are that six out of ten people are now gluten sensitive and would benefit from cutting gluten out of their diet.

Why is gluten such a problem?

The most likely reason is that the human digestive tract has not evolved to digest grasses yet, especially the new “super-gluten” molecule that has now taken over the majority of American wheat.  The term “super-gluten” applies to American wheat strains which have a much higher gluten content than their European counterparts.  It is how we are able to produce such giant bagels, fluffy biscuits, and pliable pastas.  In fact, many people who suffer from Celiac disease here in the States are able to eat bread products over in Europe without the health consequences.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect to gluten is that the majority of people who are gluten sensitive do not even suspect it to be a problem.  For those who are sensitive, gluten can be the hidden culprit in a multitude of problems.  Inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, muscle and joint pain, neuropathy, osteoporosis, canker sores, migraines, autism, auto-immune disease, chronic fatigue, and rheumatoid arthritis are just a few of the health problems with evidence to show gluten sensitivity is a common cause.

For pretty much anyone suffering from a chronic condition it is worth investigating whether or not gluten sensitivity is a contributing factor.  If gluten is the underlying problem the good news is it is 100% curable!   Just cut gluten containing products out of your diet.  If that seems like too daunting of a task there are a few other options.


There are many diagnostic tests available to help you determine whether or not you may be sensitive to gluten.  Some of the most common blood tests are:  IgA or IgG anti-gliadin antibodies, IgA anti-endomysial antibodies, Tissue Transglutaminase antibody, Total Secretory IgA, and HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genotyping for celiac disease.  There are also stool and salivary testing options which tend to have similar sensitivity and specificity percentages to the above blood tests.  Intestinal biopsy is the conventional standard for diagnosing celiac disease but there has to be significant damage to the intestinal wall for this to come back positive.  In truth, none of these test are 100% accurate.  They can provide an initial screening to help people decide if they should do a gluten-free trial but the gold standard for determining if you have a gluten sensitivity is to completely cut gluten out of your diet for six weeks and see how you feel.  Then slowly add gluten back into your diet and see if your symptoms return.  Not only is this method the most accurate in determining gluten sensitivity but it is also the cheapest.


Gluten sensitivity is an under diagnosed cause of many chronic medical conditions.  For anyone who is suffering from fatigue, chronic muscle or joint pain, digestive problems, skin issues, any of the other conditions mentioned earlier in this article, or anyone who is simply interested in improving their health and wellness it is highly worth doing a six-week trial period of cutting gluten out of your diet to see how you feel.  It is important to remember that going gluten-free does not mean turning to the multitude of processed and packaged gluten-free foods available.  We recommend a strong focus on a whole foods diet including plenty of whole grains, healthy proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables.  Remember a short term elimination of gluten may have a profound effect on your health and you can always go back to eating that fluffy delicious slice of good ole American bread product.

In health,

Dr. Ryan Sweeney

Naturopathic Physician at Root Natural Health, Flagstaff, Arizona


Migraine Headaches: The True Cause

A migraine is a one-sided headache that is often associated with severe throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or an aura. At least 10% of Americans suffer from these debilitating headaches. Not only are they a huge burden for the individual, but the cost to employers is high. In the United States, it is estimated that migraines cost employers $24 billion each year.

The problem that we see as doctors in the treatment of migraines is often the same in what we see globally in medicine, treatments are focused on the symptoms and not the cause. The term migraine is simply a name that we give to a collection of symptoms, but the important take home message is that there may be more than 20 different causes for migraines. Our job as clinicians, along with our patients, is to find the root cause of disease and address each patient individually.

Clinically, there is much we can do for migraine suffers without the use of prophylactic or acute migraine medications that often come with substantial risks and side effects. Through experience, we have found that at least two-thirds of patients who address the cause of their migraines through appropriate dietary and lifestyle recommendations and nutritional supplementation experience significant reduction or cessation of migraine attacks.

The following are common causes, testing and potential treatments for migraines that we use clinically to help migraine suffers. For safety, whenever starting a new medication or over-the-counter supplement, it is important to do so under the supervision of a qualified physician.

Food Sensitivities: This is one of the most common causes of migraines and is often correlated with a collection of vague symptoms, including joint pain, headaches, poor digestion, fatigue, and muscle pain. Blood testing for IgG food antibodies, stool testing or an elimination diet can help migraine to identify potential food sensitivities.

Hormonal Issues: Imbalances in thyroid, adrenal or male/female sex hormones are common migraine triggers. Testing through saliva or blood offer the most accurate evaluation depending on the hormone in question. Other symptoms of hormonal imbalances can include fatigue, decreased libido, irritability, cravings, fluid retention, menstrual irregularity and cramps. Goals of treatment are to balance and promote healthy hormone production with botanicals, lifestyle modifications, whole-foods diet high in phytonutrients, exercise, stress reduction and sometimes with bio-identical hormones.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Along with migraine headaches, this can often associated with fatigue, muscle aches and brain fog and can be tested through urinary organic acids. Treatment can include 400mg riboflavin (B2) twice daily and 100-400mg CoQ10 daily.

Blood Sugar Issues: Abnormal blood sugar regulation is a common cause of migraines due to high or low blood glucose levels. Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), fasting glucose and insulin, and HgA1c all help to fully evaluate blood sugar regulation. Dietary habits, lifestyle, supplements and/or prescription medications are vital to assist in proper blood sugar regulation.

Magnesium Deficiency: This can be tested through RBC magnesium levels, though often it is necessary to supplement even when levels are normal. Symptoms of low magnesium include anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps or twitches, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, food cravings, and palpitations. Consider supplementing with a highly absorbable form of magnesium such as citrate, glycerinate or aspartate in doses that relieve symptoms or before you experience loose stools. Those patients with kidney disease need to do this under the supervision of a physician.

Chemical Triggers: Dietary intake of highly process foods can contribute to migraines, even hours after consuming, due to chemical triggers. It is important to avoid triggering foods which include aspartame, MSG, nitrates, sulfites, high sodium foods and
tyramine-containing foods such as chocolate and cheese. The goal is to eat a whole foods diet and reduce consumption of processed foods.

Though these are leading causes of migraines, it is sometimes necessary to combine multiple therapies for lasting relief. In certain cases we find that herbal medications, acupuncture, homeopathy, and structural treatments including chiropractic care and massage to be useful.
The impact of migraines is considerable with least 1 in 10 Americans suffering unnecessarily and a price tag of roughly $24 billion annually. Migraines are almost completely preventable when the source is identified and removed, allowing individuals to live healthy and migraine-free.

In health,

Drs. Ryan Sweeney and Carrie Norris

Naturopathic Physicians at Root Natural Health, Flagstaff Arizona