I have worked with migraineurs for many years, and one of the most common questions I get asked, is:

“Why do I always crave salt or sugar after a migraine attack?”

crave salt or sugar after a migraine attack

Stress is one of the most prominent migraine triggers, which often causes another ailment: adrenal fatigue syndrome.  How do they relate to one another?

After years of treating these patients, investigating symptoms, and poring over medical literature, I have an explanation for you, but first, let’s cover the basics.

What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

The adrenal glands are pea-sized structures on top of each kidney. They are responsible for the body’s stress responses and keeps you active and moving.  They release several stress-coping hormones like:

  • Cortisol
  • Aldosterone
  • DHEA
  • Adrenaline
  • Testosterone
  • Norepineprhine

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When someone is under a constant state of high stress for an extended period, these glands produce high levels of these hormones; however, they start to get worn out, leading to burnout symptoms like:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Low immunity
  • Overuse of stimulants
  • Salt and sugar cravings

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What Does Adrenal Fatigue Have to Do with Migraine?

This is a common question I get from patients.  In early 2016, I wrote a piece about how adrenal fatigue is related to migraines, which you can find here.  The culprit is always stress, and it is part of the 3 stages of general adaptation syndrome (GAS).  Let’s briefly review these stages:

  • Stage 1: Fight or flight! Cortisol and other hormones are released from the adrenal glands in response to stress or perceived danger.
  • Stage 2: The Resistance Reaction.  Cortisol is released continuously to give you the energy you need to deal with the stress or danger
  • Stage 3: Exhaustion. Here is the “coming down” phase, where the glands are just beat.  This causes other glands and organs to compensate, exhausting themselves in the process, including depletion of serotonin, DHEA, and other vital hormones.

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The Connection – Why You Crave Salt and/or Sugar After Migraine and Why It’s NOT Good

You crave these foods because the ingredients “amp up” the glands, allowing them to push through the day, but is it helpful?

Of course not!

While the sugar and/or salt foods give a jolt of electric-like energy to your adrenal glands, the coming down can put even MORE stress on your body, leading to even worse migraines and exhaustion.

Who’s responsible for this mind trick of sugar and/or salt cravings? Primarily aldosterone.

Aldosterone is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands.  It is responsible for:

  • Maintaining salt balance
  • Regulating potassium
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Balancing fluids and electrolytes

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Low levels leads to food cravings to compensate for the loss.

How to Avoid Sugar and/or Salt Cravings with Migraines

Here are some tips to address these cravings, which are making your migraines worse:

  • Change your diet.   We must stop pretending like what we eat doesn’t matter.  Try focusing on the Paleo or Ketogenic diets.  Check out my article about the Ketogenic diet here.  These two diets keep the food sources clean and healthy, giving you plenty of balance in vitamins and minerals.
  • Make some lifestyle changes to reduce stress. This is a hard one, but start with easy meditation practices or journaling. Take a couple of minutes each day to center your mind.
  • Consider using supplements that will help restore your adrenal glands.

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Sometimes, the easiest solution is the hardest decision.  There is a definite connection between adrenal fatigue, migraines, and food cravings; however, we must remember that foods can make or break us migraineurs, so the very first thing on your list should be focusing on your diet and lifestyle behaviors.  You don’t want to amp up after a migraine, just to fall right back into the cycle.  Will this be a hard journey?  Yes.  Will it be worth it?  Definitely.  As always, talk to your doctor before making any critical changes, especially if you’re on any medications.  Healthy living is right around the corner.  Don’t wait any longer.

Sources:

  1. Eating Right for Your Adrenal Glands
  2. Bottom Line: Craving Salt? Could be low aldosterone
  3. Natural Solutions for Migraines
  4. What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

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