The Curse of Migraine Food Tracking
Adding food tracking to Migraine Buddy is one of the top user community suggestions. It is indeed a very popular topic across the board: ‘Migraine + Food’ returns 5 million results in Google, about half as many as ‘migraine + relief’ but twice the number of ‘migraine + prevention’ results. Would that mean that food can either be considered as prevention or relief? Somehow prevention suggests change, a scary and negative concept when applied to one self, whereas relief comes with the dream of the side effect free magic pill...
We have worked over a year to add food tracking to Migraine Buddy. Here are our findings.
As a migraine sufferer, why would you track your food?
There are usually three answers to this question:
Because my doctor asked me to
Because I read that there are food triggers / I believe I have food triggers / I want to confirm that X is a food trigger of mine
Because I already track my food for other purpose (most of the time for weight loss/gain) and I want my food tracking app and Migraine Buddy to communicate so that I can see food reports in Migraine Buddy
What would you track your food for then?
Find my food triggers if I have any. This brings another question: what is a food trigger? And more generally, what is a migraine trigger?
Unlike with allergies, there are not real migraine triggers as such: migraine is a complex neurological condition involving head blood vessels, nervous system, brain etc. What we call trigger should rather be called risk factors: they raise the risk of developing the symptoms but are not the cause of the symptoms themselves. Migraine risk factors are multiple and stackable: they pile up until the migraine threshold is reached and symptoms appear.
Some of them cannot be controlled, such as a strong family history, trauma, weather conditions, odd smells or hormones. Others are more controllable, such as food, disrupted sleep pattern, stress, hunger, dehydration, bright light or loud noise environment.
What is a (migraine) food tracker?
A food tracker is a spreadsheet that is somehow similar to a migraine diary, in which you fill every day what you ate and drank. Not fun! Pretty cool apps can help you though: they include picture recognition, barcode scanning, custom recipes, calculate your actual daily nutrients and energy (calories) intake and compare it to your daily weight target. They are really great tools when it comes to their main purpose: to help you gain or lose body weight.
One of our first thoughts in the Migraine Buddy food tracker project was obviously to interface with one of these great apps. We quickly faced a major show stopper though: migraine food risk factors have little to none to do with nutrients and energy, the only values existing food tracking apps care for.
Unlike a common thought, migraine food risk factors are not meal related: migraine food risk factors are chemicals. Chinese food or chocolate are not a risk factor as such. Meals contain multiple ingredients. After over a year of research, we have identified 200+ ingredients that contain 20+ migraine risk factor chemicals: added sugar, alcohol, aspartate, caffeine, capsaicin, casein, corn allergens, garlic, glutamate, gluten, glycoalkaloid, histamine, nitrate/nitrites, omega- 6, onion, phenylethylamine, salicylates, salt, sulfites, tannins, tyramine.
Milk chocolate may itself contain 10+ of these chemicals!
Migraine food tracking, unlike weight gain/loss food tracking, has to be very precise as we may be extremely sensitive to some migraine chemicals. Thus, a migraine food tracker needs to track thoroughly each and every ingredient in everything you eat and drink, so that it maps your exposure to these 20+ chemicals.
How does it work?
You need to track each and every ingredient contained in everything you eat and drink, everyday.
At the moment no picture analysis artificial intelligence is capable of detecting whether a soup plate contains salt or whether a glass of soda contains added sugar or artificial sweetener.
Consequently, your migraine food tracker will track ingredients lists, either manually or through a barcode reader, providing it retrieves the full and up to date list of ingredients. It will then, for each tracked ingredient, list the migraine chemicals factors it contains and consolidate for each day.
This is demanding and time consuming. Every day. It requires a significant amount of knowledge on ingredients and food chemicals they contain. If you have this knowledge, you will need 1 to 1.5 hours daily to meticulously build your migraine food risk factors journal manually.
Since food factors can increase the risk of reaching the migraine threshold for up to three days, your food journal will display 3-day consolidation. Add your migraine days to the report and you will see what food chemicals you may be sensitive to.
Unfortunately, nothing! We have done it thousands of times, with always the same result again and again: a very nice and useless report...
Why? 3 main killers:
Chemicals intake: 3-day western food intake generally contains 18-20+ migraine food chemicals. This is pretty stable over time, makes it next to impossible to draw any trend, even after days or months of thorough tracking, and is quite depressing: there are so many factors day after day that none seems to ever float.
Risk factors pile up and in most cases we are sensitive to multiple food chemicals, as well as non-dietary risk factors, such as weather changes, stress, hormones… which, when all added to the report, make it even less readable.
Last but not least, consistency in high quality of tracking is a must, not only on good days, as failing to track chemicals intake can ruin the output quality.
The above is disastrous for the interest of migraine food tracking to find out your migraine food sensitivities. We made the maths… even with robust statistical tools, it would take you over a lifetime of high quality daily tracking, to be able to find out your migraine food sensitivities.
Even if you are one of the happy few sensitive to only one easily identifiable chemical, such as gluten or casein, it would still take you 10% of your wake time for months before you can come to a conclusion with a migraine food tracker. You probably do not need to go through the hassle of migraine food tracking for this, do you?
At Migraine Buddy, we strive to build useful features to our users, that bring tangible outcome.
Food tracking gives the illusion of a pain-free and easy way to identify migraine food sensitivities. However, it proves to be extremely demanding everyday and useless for this purpose.
This is why we decided not to include a food tracker to the app nor to interface with any existing food tracking app.
Instead, we put together a 30-day specific coaching program, during which you get rid of all 20+ migraine food chemicals and control non-dietary risk factors. If after 30 days of strictly following the plan, migraine frequency/intensity decreases by 50%, then you know that you have food sensitivities. You can then test the 20+ chemicals one by one: in just a few months, you will find out your sensitivities and know what food to avoid.
For more information: Migraine Buddy food services