Hilda Labrada Gore: Jodi Ledley is the author of Adventures with Jodi: How One Girl Stopped Migraines and Chronic Pain and Accidently Improved Her Family’s Health! Her story is riveting. She saw nineteen doctors and endured medical treatment after medical treatment before she got to the root cause of her debilitating migraines. Jodi, I understand that you suffered with migraines for most of your life. Can you tell us that story? When did they begin, and what was that like?
Jodi Ledley: I’ve actually had migraines since puberty. A lot of women have that problem. They diagnose you as having “menstrual migraines” or “hormonal migraines” or something like that. But at some point, something triggered what I called my “normal” migraines into becoming severe, debilitating migraines.
HG: Can you describe the difference to us?
JL: Any migraine is bad, but sometimes what people call a “migraine headache” is not really a migraine. A true migraine involves loss of peripheral vision and vision disruption (which they call an “aura”); this leads very quickly to severe pain, which in turn quickly leads to severe vomiting—and maybe after that, lying on the floor for three days. It is severe.
HG: For those who have never had a migraine, you could think that the person just has a headache, but when you say debilitating, you’re not kidding around, are you?
JL: No, these are emergency room migraines, and that is only if you can make it there. I’ve gone to the emergency room so many times. You hear people say that they stuck it out and never went to the ER—well, maybe they didn’t have severe ones. You fear you’ve had an aneurysm or something has gone terribly wrong in your head. A lot of times I couldn’t even make it to the ER because I was throwing up too hard to get in the car. I remember my husband once taking me in the middle of the night and I was throwing up so hard that I smacked my face on the front of the car. There is no way to understand that type of pain unless you have endured it. It is unreal.
HG: When you got to the ER, what would they do for you?
JL: They have something they call the migraine cocktail. Interestingly, the migraine cocktail includes Benadryl and other pain medications. It would just calm me down and stop the vomiting, but I still felt terrible for days. It involved a three-day recovery time. When these became debilitating, it was pretty constant. There would be really bad episodes and I would feel unlike myself for days, followed by more really bad episodes. Migraines are very closely related to seizures, so you’re just not yourself at all. The ER visit wasn’t a fix—it was just a little temporary pain relief, if that.
HG: You’re reminding me of a woman I know who’s in college. She has found no relief whatsoever from migraines. They pop up unexpectedly and she is sidelined for days. It seems like she hasn’t found any answers. Is that how most migraine sufferers experience them?
JL: That is everyone’s problem. There is no help for migraine sufferers. I can say that because I saw nineteen doctors and racked up seventy thousand dollars’ worth of medical bills trying to find the cause and some relief. I was getting to the point where I was going to have to be on disability. It was that bad. One reason I wrote my book us that I found the cause. People say they’ve got all sorts of triggers—the weather, heat, certain foods—but really, you have one trigger. You have sensitive nerves. A lot of different things can become triggers, and you can’t really pinpoint what the trigger is.
HG: So for each person, it might be a different thing that triggers it, but the common root that everyone has are these sensitive nerves?
JL: The root is excitotoxicity. That was the main lightbulb moment. After I had been through weeks’ worth of doctors’ appointments, I went to a world-renowned medical facility that had eight-hour doctor appointments for fifteen hundred dollars out of pocket fees. They didn’t have any additional suggestions beyond what I had already done. I had done all of the regular migraine medicines and even Botox for migraines, getting thirty shots in the head and neck every three months for two and a half years. It helped a little, keeping away the big ones, and I was kind of functional. But then it started to wear off. My last appointment was with a pain doctor. He said that he thought that I was getting to the place where I couldn’t tolerate the pain. He wanted to put an implant in my spinal cord called a neurostimulator. I was sitting in the office listening to him and looking at the surgery pamphlet. It showed a lady jogging with her dog, but I knew that if I had that surgery, that was not how it was going to be for me. Luckily, I didn’t get the surgery. When I left there that day, I was so upset. Here I was, young, with the perfect family and everything going right, but I just couldn’t get control of my health—it was a sinking ship. When I got home, I was so upset, I didn’t even tell my husband what the doctor had said. I couldn’t even talk about it. I started searching for things on the Internet because the doctor said, “Your nerves are all firing and I don’t know why. They are rapid firing.” When I typed that in, I got the word “excitotoxins.”
HG: And until that time, you hadn’t heard about excitotoxins?
JL: I hadn’t heard that word before. Excitotoxins are substances that make nerves rapid fire. Most of the time, they are a food additive, but they also are in perfumes and different chemicals. A lot of people who have migraines have trouble being around fragrances. It is not in their head, and it is not that they dislike the fragrance—it is that the fragrance is physically hurting them. Anyhow, I found the word “excitotoxin” and its meaning, and I had some hope. I thought, “this is one more thing I can try.”
Two weeks later, at one of our local Weston Price meetings, we had a talk by Dr. Wayne Feister from Rawson, Ohio. He was talking about chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. I took note because the doctors were trying to give me fibromyalgia drugs. Dr. Feister talked about monosodium glutamate (MSG) and mentioned that it goes by about seventy different names. I had no idea! But I remembered that when I went to that world-renowned medical facility, their list of migraine triggers included MSG. I already had been looking for “MSG” on ingredient lists, but I had not realized that it was in 95 percent of processed foods under other names, including yeast extract, soy protein, and protein isolates.
The doctors had already told me to avoid it. I didn’t think that food was my problem since as far as I knew I had been avoiding MSG and it hadn’t helped me at all. I didn’t realize all the other names for MSG. I was eating tons of it, all the time! The difference between a good day and a bad day was dosage. I’ve seen cakes that have thirty of these disguised ingredients in them. That’s a lot of MSG. And the thing that made finding the cause more difficult was that my reactions were severe but delayed. They’d occur up to thirty-six hours later.
HG: So that makes it difficult to make the association?
JL: It makes it very hard. The doctors would tell me to keep a food diary. The normal person will write down “cheeseburger,” “cake” and so forth, but that tells you very little about bakery cakes that have hundreds of ingredients. A food diary isn’t going to help unless you actually read every label. And then there is something else—high levels of free glutamate, the “G” in MSG, can be formed when you heat something to an unnatural temperature. For instance, if you heat broth to a super high temperature, and it releases more free glutamate which could cause problems.
HG: This is important to know because a lot of us try to eat healthy by following a Wise Traditions diet. We often consume broth which may cause problems for sensitive people. Is that what you are saying?
JL: Yes, it can affect anyone with a neurological problem—someone who has sensitive nerves. For those people, it can help to cook bone broth for only three hours.
HG: What would you say to the person who says, “just because you read something on the Internet doesn’t make it true”? Did anyone dismiss you when you started talking about excitotoxins? Are there skeptics out there asking, “What are you talking about? What does this have to do with your migraines?”
JL: Anyone who’s seen me during a migraine would not be a skeptic, that’s for sure, because I was not well. As it turns out, and as more proof, every member of my household has resolved their health issues by getting rid of those food additives and chemicals around us. For instance, my daughter was three at the time and was starting to have what I could call ADD or ADHD symptoms. I couldn’t understand why she was acting the way she was. That was all resolved when we went to real food, used simple ingredients and got the chemicals out of our food. My son had asthma and, looking back, he also was overweight, although at the time he seemed normal to me. When we changed our diet, he dropped the weight and the asthma was gone. We started doing 5Ks together, which he couldn’t do before. He couldn’t make one lap around our house without feeling unwell; he would just sit down and he wouldn’t exercise at all. My husband had high blood pressure and sinus problems. His sinus problems went away. I since have discovered that people who lack certain bacteria get chronic sinus infections. I think all of our fermenting and other changes have eliminated so much.
HG: Is this why your book has the subtitle, “How one girl stopped migraines and chronic pain and accidently improved her family’s health”? In other words, you didn’t expect the side benefits to happen for your family, did you?
JL: I didn’t expect it, and I really thought all of their problems were “normal.” Recently, I found a nebulizer in the closet. It’s a machine to administer Albuterol to people who have asthma. I thought, “Well, there’s my machine, and I haven’t used it in years.” But when I opened the box, there were prescriptions with both of my kids’ names on it—I had forgotten that they were both using it, too. They also were on antibiotics all the time. My daughter had strep eleven times one summer. After we made our changes, she never had strep again. All the changes with the kids—it is so obvious to me now—were food-related. Before, we lacked quality food. I wrote my book because I can’t stand the thought of someone else suffering with migraines like I did. The changes I describe in the book are ones anyone can easily try to see if they would get rid of their migraines. It has helped many of the people around me. Another thing that I talk about in my book is that a lot of the drugs that doctors give—especially to teens—for ADD, ADHD and anxiety—block glutamate as their mechanism of action. I just want to shout from the rooftops: “Just get this stuff out of your food instead of blocking it, and you will feel so much better!”
HG: That is a key point. The people that are on these meds think that the little pill is the solution, but you’re saying there’s a way around that if we simply get rid of the glutamate ourselves instead of relying on the medicine to do it.
JL: Right. The sad thing is that a lot of these young people with anxiety—a lot of them are girls—think there is something wrong with them, but there is not. It is what is being done to them through our food system.
HG: I want to back up a bit. When you described excitotoxins, you said it was like your nerves were “rapid firing” all the time. Are you saying that glutamate and other things in our diet are causing those nerves to rapid fire? And when you pull them out, it solves the problem?
JL: Right, but specifically free glutamate. The body actually needs glutamate and has glutamate receptors. Regular glutamate is bound, so it absorbs really slowly—which is good—and doesn’t affect nerve function. Free glutamate, on the other hand, comes along in mega-doses and the body can’t tell the difference, so it really disrupts your nerve function. It can even make nerves rapid fire until they die. Going back to just good quality food that is not processed is everything as far as neurological function goes.
HG: What foods should avoid the most? Let’s say someone has a problem with anxiety or ADD, what are the foods that are the biggest triggers? Which ones contain the most free glutamate?
JL: This is what people don’t like to hear, but it is pretty much all of the foods at certain restaurant chains, or products with “natural” ingredients. You look up the ingredients and there’s twenty things in one soup that mess with your nerves. It just boils down to looking at every single ingredient. An easy way to eliminate a lot of the excitotoxin ingredients is to buy foods with only five ingredients. That’ll eliminate a lot. It is helpful also to learn all the names for MSG, which I eventually did. One of the easiest ways to know whether to eat something or not is to see whether it contains “natural flavors.” Different food additives have different levels of free glutamate in them. It is getting pretty easy to find foods without the main types of MSG, but the very last one that is hardest to get rid of is natural flavors, because they are in everything.
HG: “Natural flavors” sounds so good.
JL: You would think so, but it is actually a legal loophole. Companies don’t have to disclose what is in natural flavors. Many times, natural flavors consist of things that have been highly processed, and this is the case even in organic food and in organic natural flavors. You have to worry about the formation of excessive levels of free glutamate. If you make everything at home, you will not have a problem.
HG: For the people who don’t want to memorize all the names of MSG, they would have to buy their ingredients from a farm or other good source or grow their own food and make most of their own food at home. You can control what is in it that way.
JL: Yes, you can. And buying locally is a lot better choice. I was at a major retail grocery store that I love, and I noticed they were putting natural flavors in their fresh ground beef. You would assume fresh ground beef would be okay, but you can’t assume anything anymore. With the ground beef, luckily, they actually have to put it on their label. Most people wouldn’t think to read the label on fresh ground beef, but you have to because they are cutting corners everywhere. But here’s the silver lining: it has been about five years since I discovered the cause of my migraines, and in that time, it has gotten so much easier to find foods. There are many prepared foods in the grocery store, especially Krogers—I can get everything there. I used to have to go to Whole Foods, which was an hour and a half drive. These foods are now in demand. People are wanting their foods to be real food, not with all the chemicals and additives.
I went five years without eating in any restaurants, which is shocking, but last week I found that I could eat at Chipotle without incident. They were close last year, but their tortillas still had xanthan gum in them. For people who are gluten-free, there is xanthan gum in gluten-free tortillas or bread-like products. Xanthan gum and other gums are on the list for MSG. If you have a gluten problem, you would want to avoid xanthan and other gums in gluten-free products. Recently, Chipotle removed that, and the tortilla now contains regular, basic ingredients, flour and water. It was so nice that I was actually able to have one meal out with my family. I checked all of their ingredients and I couldn’t find any dish that had any form of MSG. A restaurant like that is really hard to find.
HG: Absolutely. You know, the Weston A. Price Foundation is working on its 12-Spoons Restaurant Rating Project, which will help people find restaurants without a lot of these additives. Chapter leaders in the U.S. are working on identifying and compiling restaurants that they would recommend. In your case, your health was at risk so you pushed yourself to do some of that research on your own. For those of us who are not willing to take that time, I suggest keeping your eyes peeled for that 12-Spoon Restaurant app. We really want to help people find places where they can find great food. As we conclude, I want to ask you what I often ask my guests and I’m curious to see what you will say. If listeners could only do one thing to improve their health, what should they do?
JL: Read ingredient labels. That will steer you in the right direction every time.
HG: That is fantastic. I applaud you for all that you’ve done and for getting the word out.
JL: Yes, I’m excited to share my story. There are so many people, women in particular, who have the same problems as I do. They go about their day on migraine medications, just trying to make it. If I could just morph them into my body and they could feel the absence of pain, they would see how wonderful and possible it is. It is hard work looking at ingredient lists, making your own food and buying it locally from trusted vendors, but it is 100 percent worth it.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2018.