The Allergy & Nutrition Centre

Bloating, Migraine and Insomnia

Bloating, migraine and insomnia can all be caused by food...

Melissa's Story - bloating and fatigue
Melissa was a very interesting patient. She had been an air stewardess for twenty years and she looked wonderful - tall, slim and very attractively dressed.

"But," she explained, "I'm really desperate! My stomach is so bloated most of the time that it looks obscene. I daren't ever take off my jacket on the plane or when I'm in a hot country, because I'm afraid people will stare at my bloated and distended stomach.

"I feel tired all the time. Once I've been up for a couple of hours I want to go back to bed. And I have to get up three or four times every night to urinate."

Melissa's eating habits were quite peculiar. Because her stomach was flat if she ate nothing at all, she was scared of eating a real meal and only ate snacks.

But it was the snacks that caused the problem. She flew long haul flights, often on the plane for 10 to 15 hours, constantly nibbling the tasty snacks for the first class passengers - Belgian chocolates, cashew nuts etc.

"And as soon as we get to the hotel all the girls go on snacking - we can't resist the chocolate, crisps and peanuts in the mini bars in the hotel bedrooms. I'm specially partial to Bailey's liqueur or vodka and tonic."

Cut out snacks
Abdominal bloating and feeling tired all the time is often caused by an intolerance or sensitivity the patient has developed to a particular food. The suspect foods are almost always those the patient is eating most often - particularly those for which they have developed a craving

I told Melissa to cut out all snacks and eat real meals. I also told her to leave out every food that she was eating every day - tomatoes, bananas and potatoes.

Potatoes are particularly interesting because she loved crisps and vodka, which is made from potato, endorsing my suspicion that they were a problem for her. Also she often ate home-made vegetable soup - which always included potatoes - when she was at home.

I was worried whether Melissa would follow my instructions because she was off on a flight to South Africa for ten days. But when she came back a fortnight later she was ecstatic. She had lost half a stone in the first eight days. "I ate real restaurant meals," she said. "They were enormous, but I ate them all the same and when I got back to my hotel my stomach was flat - it was wonderful."

I told Melissa to continue with the diet and three weeks later she was even more pleased. Remarkably, in order to avoid the temptation of in-flight snacking, she had taken ten cans of tuna and mackerel to have with salad. "The other flight attendants are amazed."

The two other most common causes of bloating are yeast overgrowth (often called Candida) and inappropriate food combining. We specialise in helping people with bloating and with Candida and you can read more about the latter by clicking on the articles headed Candida and Food Intolerances and Bewildering Symptoms - more on Candida or call us on .

Kathryn's story - migraine
Kathryn, 26, was bright and attractive but suffered one very debilitating problem - migraines. She had one every week and a particularly severe one before each period. "They make my life hell," she said. The overwhelming cause of migraine is food intolerance. One study, carried out at the Great Ormond Street Hospital and reported in The Lancet, found that 93% of the children suffering severe frequent migraine recovered completely once the offending foods were omitted.

Chocolate, cheese and red wine can be bad for migraine sufferers because these foods are high in the brain chemical, tyramine. Kathryn had already tried cutting out these foods with little improvement. But what she didn't realise is that other foods can be just as important in triggering migraines.

Cow's milk, according to three studies between 1979 and 1983, is the most common culprit. Chocolate came second in two of the trials; wheat came equal first, second and fourth respectively; and egg was the next most frequent offender.

Guilty oranges
I put Kathryn on a diet of fruit, vegetables, fish and rice for a month and in that period she did not have one migraine. Obviously other foods were to blame.

When she tried reintroducing them, one by one, she found the major culprits were oranges, wheat and dairy products.

Migraine is one of the hardest ailments to conquer. Detection of the trigger foods is difficult and working with a practitioner experienced in this field is a must.

Jane's story - insomnia
Jane was an exceptionally busy person, always on the go, and she couldn't understand why she couldn't sleep at night without the aid of two-thirds of a bottle of red wine. She drank a lot of coffee throughout the day and often ate out in the evening with a cup of coffee to follow. Caffeine is a more profound stimulant than many people realise - it still affects the brain five or six hours after drinking. So the first rule for insomniacs is to have their last cup of the day - whether it be tea, coffee or cola - no later than 5 or 6pm. If Jane had to have coffee after 6pm she should drink decaffeinated. The next best thing in terms of relaxing the body for sleep is exercise. Going to the gym, swimming, paying squash, badminton or tennis straight after work helps almost everyone to sleep better at night. But don't exercise too soon before bed. If you are still exercising at 10pm you will probably find it hard to get to sleep before midnight.

If you follow these two tips and still can't sleep, sedate the mind, naturally wherever possible. Soothing music, the kind on New World cassettes, works for me and cuts out background traffic noise. Herbal tranquillisers are effective too. Many different ones, mostly containing the herb valerian or hops, are available and they are better than going to your GP for sleeping pills. If you get off to sleep when you first go to bed but wake in the early hours and can't get back to sleep, then your insomnia is more difficult to treat. All of the above recommendations may still not do the trick. One possible cause, and insomniacs must confront this, is depression. If you wake several times and immediately feel depressed, then counselling is the answer.

Stimulant foods
But if the cause is physiological rather than psychological then food sensitivities may come into play. Some foods to which a person is sensitive have a stimulant effect for a few hours, and actually make the person feel better before these effects wear off to be replaced by dullness and apathy. The offending foods need not have stimulant properties of their own for this to happen.

A sensitivity to wheat, for example, will often make you feel more alert for five or six hours, but dreadful 12 hours after eating it. So a wheat sensitive person may eat wheat for dinner - pasta, or biscuits with cheese - and find they are woken up by this at 3 or 4 in the morning. They may feel good and clear headed, and quite incapable of going back to sleep for at least a couple of hours. When they do eventually sleep, they wake at 8 o'clock feeling awful and it is only once they have got their breakfast toast inside them they will begin to feel better again. This may sound surprising, but food insensitivity really can be the cause of insomnia and can also cause constant trips to the loo at night. Only by discovering which foods are causing the problem can the problem be solved.

The Allergy and Nutrition Centre
London, Sussex and Oxford

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