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Can Diet Affect Migraines, Reflux, Asthma, and Mouth Sores?

Posted Apr 05 2010 3:00am

heartburn 300x225 Can Diet Affect Migraines, Reflux, Asthma, and Mouth Sores?

Today, let’s talk about something that bugs me constantly. Far too often, I hear people talk about their ailments. First of all, people seem to wear them like a badge of honor, as if they’re trying to prove that they’re sicker and they have it worse than anyone else. Second, contrary to popular belief (or so it seems), it’s not normal to have various minor ailments that you deal with on a daily basis. I just have trouble believing these daily annoyances are how our bodies are intended to work.

So now we’re going to look at the lifestyle factors that influence some of the daily ailments that don’t get much press. Oh, sure, we all talk about cancer, heart disease, auto-immune diseases, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. But what about the things that sufferers take for granted, like gastric reflux, migraines, and canker sores? Those ain’t normal either. Here are some dietary ways that you’re accidentally messing yourself up and making these things worse.

Gastric Reflux

This is probably the most common of all of them in this post. I mean, you can’t turn on a TV (or so I recall when I owned one) without seeing an advertisement for some drug meant to “cure” your reflux. Of course, their idea of “cure” is “manage by taking our little pill daily.” The other unfortunate piece of the puzzle is that those pills rarely fix the real problem (poor digestion), aiming instead at the suppressing acid production, which only makes digestion worse. Check this out from Dr. Briffa:

This week’s British Medical Journal carried an interesting editorial which suggests that proton pump inhibitors are massively over-prescribed. According to this editorial, between 25 and 70 per cent of individuals on these medications have no appropriate indication to be taking them.
My experience in practice is that many of these individuals are suffering from what might be described as ‘poor digestion.

So first of all, fix your digestion. Eat slower. Chew better. Add use some probiotics to reset the bacteria in your intestines.

And second, avoid these dietary factors that are known to make reflux worse.

  • Our old friend, gluten
  • Sugar
  • Refined carbohydrates


This one is a bit squishier, in that there’s less known about whether nutrition directly impacts asthma or not .

There’s no special asthma diet. We don’t know of any foods that reduce the airway inflammation of asthma. …However, a good diet is an important part of your overall asthma treatment plan. …What’s more, many doctors suspect that the specific foods you eat might have a direct impact on your asthma. But further research needs to be done before we understand the exact connection between asthma and diet.

What is known is that people that eat healthier diets have a lower incidence of asthma, so something somewhere is affecting the way the body works.

There’s evidence that people who eat diets higher in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of asthma. Many of these substances are antioxidants, which protect cells from damage.

One recent study of asthma and diet showed that teens with poor nutrition were more likely to have asthma symptoms. Those who didn’t get enough fruits and foods with vitamins C and E and omega-3 fatty acids were the most likely to have poor lung function. A 2007 study showed that children who grew up eating a Mediterranean diet — high in nuts and fruits like grapes, apples, and tomatoes — were less likely to have asthma-like symptoms.

So foods may not trigger an asthma attack, but it definitely looks like eating Real Food is a good way to help prevent them.

Canker Sores

Ever had one of these suckers, more technically known as aphthous ulcers, in your mouth? I haven’t in ages, but I sure do remember gargling with salt water and the burn. Oh the burn! I have known people that get these pretty religiously and they certainly don’t enjoy it. Unfortunately, they also shrug it off as part of life instead of taking steps to fix it.

Good news…you can avoid these too. Food intolerance seems to be the biggie with these sores, as celiacs tend to have higher canker sore incidence, and gluten removal has shown some promise for people that get these commonly.

Supposedly, citrus fruits are thought to be a cause, but I’m inclined to think it’s something more like nutrient deficiencies which allow the acidity of the citrus fruits to damage the cells of the mouth. Deficiencies of the B-vitamins, along with some others like zinc and selenium have been positively correlated with canker sore incidence.

Of course, there’s also a known genetic correlation as well, so this one might not be completely preventable, but I’m inclined to think that a good diet is a great start. I know I haven’t had one in years and I used to get a couple per year when I didn’t eat quite so well.

migraine 300x299 Can Diet Affect Migraines, Reflux, Asthma, and Mouth Sores?

Migraine Headaches

Oh boy, I used to get migraines a lot during puberty. About once a month, I’d get a crusher that would send me to a dark room because light and sound were like knives in my eyes and ears. Sometimes they made me vomit. The only cure was sleeping. Luckily, those subsided as I got older.

I still occasionally get one, but it’s rare and they aren’t as bad as when I was in a growth spurt. Now, the thing about migraines that’s different than the other ailments we looked at is that it’s not always unhealthy foods that trigger these. It can just be certain amino acids in foods and there are actually some very healthy foods that can trigger migraines. For instance, avocados, oranges, and bananas are trigger foods for some people. I can vouch for avocados…normally, I can eat avocados with no concerns. But if I have a minor headache, eating an avocado is a sure-fire way to take it up several notches.

Apparently, these can also exacerbate the issue (not that these are all “healthy”):

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer (another one I can vouch for)
  • Chocolate
  • Fermented foods, due to high tyrosine content
  • Nuts
  • Dairy
  • MSG

And of course, there’s a good bit of evidence linking our favorite culprit in…well, dang near everything, to migraines: gluten. Food intolerance, in general, is thought to be a culprit and gluten is one substance that is poorly tolerated by many people.

You Don’t Have To Be Sick

So while these ailments might not get the exposure that the less “glamorous” diseases, for people that deal with them, they definitely range from irritating to downright debilitating. Rest assured, none of this stuff is the way the body should work and you don’t have to just shrug your shoulders and say “I guess that’s the way it is for me.”

Of course, diet alone isn’t the only culprit for these, especially for things like migraines, which can also be triggered by long periods of time staring at a TV or computer screen or any number of other things. But just as in other areas of health, it’s a huge piece of the puzzle and always a good place to look for initial steps to resolve the issue.

Any other thoughts on these ailments and how lifestyle factors affect them?

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