According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 6-8% of men, and 15-18% of women in Europe and America have migraines each year. A migraine is defined as a headache that lasts between 2 hours to several days, and pulsates on one side of the head. It's often aggravated by being physically active, harsh noises, and bright lights. A migraine can also be painless, instead creating visual impairment such as halos.
Many times a cause can not be found for migraine sufferers, although often it is triggered by stress, environmental conditions, or food.
Over the years I have suffered terrible migraines...the kind that have me throwing up, unable to do much else other than lie in a dark bedroom, forehead pressed into my pillow. Through mild experimentation I have come to find these foods as triggers: red wine, smoked aged cheese, and movie popcorn butter.
Recently I have made a discovery that's made a tremendous difference in my life. Carrageenan, a derivative of seaweed, brings on a 48-hour migraine for me.
What is carrageenan used in, you ask? (Even if you didn't ask, I'll tell you.) Ice cream. Yogurt. Many frozen dinners. Artificial crab (made from white fish, which is cheaper). Wisegeek.com explains that carrageenan is used as a food thickener--in place of animal-based gelatin, for example. Being that it's made from seaweed, it's considered 100% vegetarian.
Problem is...like anything that's been processed...it can have side effects for some people.
Again, I took a look at a study by the World Health Organization. Interestingly enough, one of their studies determined that carrageenan lowered cholesterol and lipid levels in humans (2003 study). A good thing, right? But it also mentioned gastrological problems in mice. WHO found carrageenan safe for consumption. And I found nothing on migraine problems mentioned in their studies.
However, if you look at other sites on-line, you'll find I'm not alone in my carrageenan discomfort. Considered a MSG, it brings suffering to others as well. (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/ans/psychology/health_psychology/msg.htm)
Would you like to know how I discovered carrageenan as a substance to avoid? I ate ice cream. Yes. Simple as that. I had a two day migraine (milder than the type I was accustomed to getting...no throwing up and I was able to function on a nearly normal level, though the pain was intense). Chalking the migraine up to having eaten late that day, I consumed the ice cream again. Same thing occured: two day headache. I checked the label and noted that the only item that wasn't in other foods I'd eaten in the recent past was carrageenan. Fast forward a week. I ate a seafood sub from Wegman's grocery. Migraine city. Two days. Again. Next time I visited the store, I checked the ingredient list on the imitation crab. Yep. You guessed it. Carrageenan. Since then, I've tried to check labels before purchasing. But a few times I'd been in a hurry and had forgotten. Every time I came down with a migraine, I discovered I'd consumed something with carrageenan in it.
What I'd like to know is why it does this to me and not everyone else. But that is something to discover another time. For now, I have made a calculated observation: carrageenan can cause migraines.