Hello, I have been paleo for only about two and a half weeks. Already have felt some benefits, including more energy and my seasonal allergies have almost dissappeared! However, I got headaches the first day or two, they went away, then about a week into it, I started having headaches again. The last week or so I've had a constant, annoying headache. I can still function, but it is not pleasant and I've had to pop more advil than I'm comfortable with. I read the thread about "meat headaches" and a couple people said that could be from ketosis, so up the carbs, so I did but that didn't help. I really, really want to stay paleo, but I know that I'll give up if these headaches don't subside soon. I expected them the first few days when I was going through the grain withdrawal, but I didn't expect them to come back a week later. Has anyone had headaches this long while transitioning? I've been almost 100% true paleo, very small amount of cheating (a licorice stick one day, a small amount of chocolate another.) Any idea how long they will last? I have suffered from headaches now and then before, but never daily like this! Thanks! Julia
Headaches are difficult to diagnose, even for neurologists. Think of this more as me "thinking out loud" than an as "answer." Maybe it will it will send you down a path you haven't explored yet.
Serotonin seems to have a central role in headache pain (nociception). Migraines are linked to too little serotonin activity resulting in vasodilation and tension headaches are linked to too much serotonin activity resulting in vasoconstriction. (See this paper) Abnormalities in magnesium or calcium availability also tend to adversely affect blood vessels in the brain ability to contract and dilate appropriately.
Going on any variant of low-carb dieting causes serotonin activity to drop off because of how the how the blood-brain barrier works and the decreased availability of the amino acid tryptophan. When blood sugar goes up, insulin is released which causes most other amino-acids to be taken up from the blood stream by muscle tissue, but not tryptophan (reference). The resulting high ratio of tryptophan in the blood stream allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier preferentially which makes it more available to be converted to serotonin (and later to melatonin). Hence, less carbs in the diet leads to less insulin which leads to less serotonin. This could cause vasocongestive type headaches.
The lowered insulin levels of low-carb/paleo/primal eating also result in lower sodium retention by the kidney and hence have a diuretic effect (ref). The resulting diuresis may lead to depletion of sodium, magnesium, calcium. As I mentioned earlier, this cation depletion can result in abnormal vascular dilation/contraction in the brain leading to headache.
Another aspect to consider is the removal of grain-based opiate-like peptides (OLP) from the diet by going paleo. These OLPs have similar actions to opiate narcotics and removing them from your diet can cause some withdrawal symptoms like increased pain (nociception), increased bowel motility (cramping or diarrhea, increased irritable bowel symptoms), irritability or emotional lability. Any of these sound familiar? If so, this may be a clue.
You didn't mention any other problems or changes you have experienced from going paleo. You say that there are "lots" of carbs in your diet which may be true but if "lots" is still significantly less than what you previously consumed then you still may be experiencing serotonin-depletion type headaches. Similarly, you stated you eating greens and nuts but if your early diuresis was significant and you haven't increased your intake of sea or Himalayan salt to replace the sodium you are no longer retaining then you may be experiencing some mild hypovolemia (low blood volume) which can cause headaches but I would expect dizziness, especially upon standing, to be the first symptom if that were the case.
Some things to try. If I were a doc I'd give you sumatriptan which is a serotonin agonist. If it made your headache better than we'd know it was a serotonin depletion type headache. If it made it worse, then that it was a serotonin saturation type headache. Since I can't do that, then I suggest trying a nutritional supplement called 5-HTP. 5-HTP is 5-hydroxytryptophan which is a metabolic precursor to serotonin and may help increase serotonin availability. The other thing is Natural Calm magnesium supplement which is preferred because of its superior absorption. Almost everyone is magnesium deficient to some degree and like everything else I state here, you can do you your own research to refute that if you like. Magnesium given intravenously has been able to stop severe headaches successfully. Magnesium sulfate IV is what is given to pregnant women experiencing a life-threatening condition called eclampsia that is a syndrome of malignant hypertension progressing to seizures, miscarriage and possibly death. Magnesium is nature's calcium channel blocker. Don't underestimate the power of magnesium.
If you refuse to try supplements because of some religious-like aversion to them that I see among some paleos (Grok didn't eat supplements, dood!) or plain stubbornness then I can only suggest bananas - lots of bananas. You state that you didn't have a weight problem and the combination of starch and potassium in the bananas may be enough to quiet the beast between your ears. Before I ate VLCKD, I once killed a horrible headache (probably one of the top two of my life) that would respond to nothing else with four bananas.
Good luck and I hope you will follow-up if any of the above insanity turned out to be helpful.
Side-rant: No Grok didn't eat supplements but Grok didn't grow up eating the SAD for a decade or two (or three or four) while living sedentary, away from UV, under fluorescent lights 24/7 before going on our distinctly neolithic version of "paleo." It's apples and oranges. This is why I believe Dr. Kurt Harris gets it more right than anyone else in the paleo-sphere: because his focus is correct. It's not about re-enactment -- it's about doing whatever you need to do (allowing for and requiring in certain cases, some n=1 tinkering) to re-create a paleolithic-like or evolutionary metabolic milieu.
I think most of these answers are pretty legit but here are a few more things to look at:
"But, basically I have eggs, maybe some leftover meat and fruit at times for breakfast, some more meat (and cheese - haven't been able to give that up, but I am eating mostly raw cheese)"
--Dairy is really something that needs to be cut out when starting paleo, especially when you are experiencing some sort of health issue. 30 days of strictness is essential before trying to add certain things back in.
Questions for you: 1. What specific vegetables are you eating? Any tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, or other nightshades?
What are you dressing your salad with?
Are you only eating berries? Berries are pretty low carb
"If I need a snack I have nuts or fruit, so obviously there are still a lot of carbs in my diet."
Do you always need a snack? Seems if you don't then your carb in take isn't very high.
Nuts are another good thing to eliminate for the first 30 days if you are having health issues.
"I do eat sausages from the store, about half of it has been without chemicals (too spendy for me to go totally natural.)"
"Regarding fat, I use tons of butter and coconut oil"
How much water are you drinking?
What is your sleep schedule like?
How much stress are you under?
Are you absolutely sure you are gluten free, even with your little cheats and sausages?
Be really careful with the Advil, you can get into a rebound headache situation easily.
Does caffeine help your headaches?
I don't think it's an allergy issue, as I haven't added any new foods True, but if you are gluten intolerant, that can be showing up now. Eliminating casein is also possibly helpful if the headaches are migraine type (serotonin depletion).
You might want to go to fitday.com and upload your approx food intake for a few days. I find it easy to remember approx what I have eaten in one day. I just guestimate the amounts. Fitday can (for free) calculate your nutrients intake, carb and fat intake, etc. That can help you tell if your food consumption is likely short on any specific nutrients (or at least the ones that fitday calculates). It will also tell you about how much fat, protein, and carbs you are intaking daily. All you have to do is tell it that you ate one apple, one banana, 6 oz of steak, etc.
Myself, it took me about 2 months to physically adapt to paleo such that no more tired and no more weird intermittant headaches. During that time, I had bouts of feeling tired and then not so tired. SOme say it takes 3 months to almost fully adapt. I think it just varies by person. Also, it seems to me (maybe biased), that women take longer on average than men. Maybe that is because women get more easily addicted to carbs? (total wild guess there..) -Eva
I noticed you mentioned cheese in your diet - and imagine you ate plenty while on the SAD diet as well - but cheese is one of those few foods that can trigger migraines in some people. Other food triggers for migraines include excessive caffeine, dark chocolate, MSG, aspartame, and a few other items (MSG and aspartame are big ones though for some folks!). I haven't been paleo for long myself (only 8 weeks or so), but have helped my wife with her migraines for years - and she gets really bad ones. She has to avoid cheese, dark chocolate, MSG, and aspartame or else she will get one for sure (many times we have gone to a so called "msg free" restaurant only to have her knocked down for days with an MSG triggered headache).
Like the others said, there are many causes for headaches, most prevalently just tension and stress. The thing is - there are no sensory neurons in the brain, and modern science doesn't even know why we feel headaches, only that certain things do cause them. In serious cases they can do an MRI and take a look to make sure there is not an anurism or other physiological cause (and most of the time there isn't). Another big one with women is associated with the early onset symptoms of menopause or other low estrogen conditions. Estrogen and testosterone can both drop when you go too low fat with your diet (and they do have patches and creams that can help with that if it isn't dietarily related).
Try watching the migraine triggering foods, watch the stress/tension/anxiety, and as I have been told recently (with my own low energy issues!) - make sure to get some good fat levels in the diet. Hope this helps!
What a gear source of info and encouragement this post has been. I'm on day 11 Paleo. The first 5 days I encountered grueling fatigue. I pushed through my workouts though to remain consistent. But, I HAD to have a nap afterwards (which I hadn't needed per Paleo). I too, have been experiencing relentless headaches. I was under the misunderstanding (or hope) that Paleo would immediately cure my long history of frequent headaches. Instead, I found them to be more frequent. I'm in the midst of trouble shooting. That additional reading and research, has brought me to this thread. Thank you all for Sharon your experiences and knowledge, as it certainly benefits many more people than just how who post here. It's validating to know that others are experiencing a rough transition/withdrawal as well. It gives me fortitude to pursivere. I know that Paleo will in the long term be monumental in my health. It will also require personal research and tweaks based on my personal symptoms. And of course, tracking (journaling), self discipline and patience. Thank you again for the allergy, food sensitivity and supplement etc information!
When you say you upped the carbs, what were they before and what were they after? What are the source of your carbs? How much fat and protein are you eating? Are you getting enough fat? Because too much protein and not enough fat can make a lot of people sick. We need more info about what you are eating. Also should give some info on types and duration of exercise, especially if it is high intensity.
Well, I can't tell you percentages or anything of fat, protein, and carbs, I'm not that "detailed" about my diet - it would drive me crazy too much. I'm trying to follow the spirit of it, and just not eat neolithic foods and increase the good fats, anything else would be too much and I'd not be able to follow it over time. But, basically I have eggs, maybe some leftover meat and fruit at times for breakfast, some more meat (and cheese - haven't been able to give that up, but I am eating mostly raw cheese) and raw veggies (salads, carrots, other greens) for lunch, and then at dinner meat or eggs again with a salad and some steamed veggies. If I need a snack I have nuts or fruit, so obviously there are still a lot of carbs in my diet. It's summer and I live by farms, so there are berries and tree fruits everywhere right now, so I haven't been stingy with fruit (I have no weight issues, actually probably need to gain.) I've been eating lots of eggs, but I have always eaten lots of eggs, just even more now. The meat I eat is mostly grassfed, organic beef, and I do eat sausages from the store, about half of it has been without chemicals (too spendy for me to go totally natural.)
I don't think it's an allergy issue, as I haven't added any new foods, just more of the old paleo foods I used to eat anyways.
Regarding workouts, I'm not as dedicated there. I just have been much more active since I started - lots of hiking. I did do a couple spouts of interval training, where I run for about 20 minutes, putting in sprints every 90 seconds. Trying to do that a few times a week. But I've always been active too, just a bit more so now, so no big change there.
Regarding fat, I use tons of butter and coconut oil, so I really do think I'm getting enough fat. And I love, love, love the fat on beef - I eat other family members' fat when they cut it off, always have! They think I'm crazy, and it's always been the family joke about how much fat I eat and how thin I stay.
Hope that's enough info. This headache this AM is just awful! Thanks. Julia
Thanks so much! I will definitely try the Natural Calm and the 5-HTP, and have bananas on hand of course. I appreciate greatly your in depth answer; I'd really like to make this paleo lifestyle work, I am convinced of its effectiveness, just need to get over this bump in the road I think. Everything else is great - better mood, energy, not craving carbs, and just generally feeling good. I'll post later on how it goes, thanks again!
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