Christy Nielson’s first memory of having a migraine was in third grade. She remembers an excruciating headache that left her curled up in the back of the bus she rode home from school, and how she didn’t have the words at the time to express the extent of the pain to her parents. Now 45, Nielson, a PR consultant and freelance writer, not only has the words but an answer to the severe headaches that have plagued her since childhood. “My parents tried everything to help me with my headaches as a child,” she recalls. “We tried glasses, dental work—everything. When I hit puberty, it only got worse,” she explains. She was far from alone in her agony: Over 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, with almost five million experiencing their debilitating symptoms at least once a month.
When she met her husband at 24, she considered her severe migraine headaches an unavoidable part of her life. “I was in the throes of having migraines frequently. Neither of us knew what life could look like without them, we didn’t know any different,” she recalls. Desperate to find anything that would release her from the grip of the piercing pain, she often took a combination of several pills. “I got to the point that when one hit I would show my husband the pills in my hand so that if anything happened to me, he would know what was in my system. It was that bad.” Light and scents were a trigger, and a lit scented candle could send her spiraling into the debilitating pain that confined her to a dark room for hours at a time.
Nielson turned to alternative medicine when the prescription drugs began to fail her. “I was told about this naturopath by a coworker, and I thought, ‘let’s give it a try—why not,'” she recalls. Nicola McFadzean-Ducharme, MD, a naturopath practicing in San Diego, listened intently to Nielson’s symptoms and tested her for possible allergies. While awaiting results, she put Nielson on a strict elimination diet for 30 days, restricting her food intake to fruit, vegetables, and meat. “The first weeks of the diet were very difficult,” Nielson recalls. “I was detoxing, and I felt awful—but on day 13 it was as though a veil lifted. Not only were the headaches gone, but I was energetic.” The lab results revealed that Nielson had a severe sensitivity to eggs and wheat, which had been in her diet as long as she could remember—her step-father had been a wheat farmer.
“I grew up eating a normal American diet, but I had been essentially poisoning myself for much of my life,” she says. Today, Nielson says the migraines are gone for good. She sometimes gets mild headaches that she can manage with over-the-counter painkillers. “I’m in maintenance mode now,” she says. “I’ve got my finger on the pulse of my well-being, and it feels great.”