Your Guide to Holistic Migraine Management [Podcast] - PCOS Diva

Your Guide to Holistic Migraine Management [Podcast]

PCOS migraine prevention

“When people are really fed up with chasing their triggers, constantly managing symptoms, and working around their migraines, then they’re ready to work at the root-cause level.” – Erin Knight

Erin Knight’s combination of migraine prevention and management techniques centers around getting to the root cause of your migraine. Her approach offers long-term, whole body health and healing. As she says, I know you’re not crazy when you tell me you have not just migraines, but skin issues and everything else.” If you are tired of migraines impacting your earning potential, productivity, and relationships, don’t miss this podcast. Listen as Erin shares:

  • tips for managing migraines without ibuprofen or painkillers
  • recognizing the layers of internal and external stressors which cause your migraines
  • ways to balance your triggers while living your life
  • her best stress reduction techniques (and gadgets)

All PCOS Diva podcasts are now itunes-button

A full transcript follows.

For more on migraines from Erin, check out “5 Steps to Avoid Another Inconvenient Migraine

PCOS Diva Sparkle Detox

erin knightErin Knight helps women who desire natural solutions providing freedom from chronic migraines, so that they can experience a dramatic increase in productivity and thrive in the active life that they dream of.
Erin has her Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan and is trained in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition™ and nutrigenomics. After a decade guiding Fortune 500 teams through root cause analysis, she now applies these problem-solving skills to our most complex system- the human body.
To find out if a hormone-imbalance could be contributing to your migraines, use this Hormone “Quick Check” .


Full Transcript:

Amy: Hello and welcome to another edition of the PCOS Diva podcast. This is Amy Medling, your host. I am a certified health coach and the founder of PCOS Diva.


Today we’re going to be talking about a subject that I saw a lot of commonality among women who were doing my Sparkle program in this past spring and fall. Sparkle is a 14-day detoxification program. And I was finding that, through the detoxification process, it was triggering migraines for some of the women who are predisposed to chronic migraines.


And I was doing a little bit more digging among my community and it seems like migraines could be another common symptom for women with PCOS. I have to say that I’ve been really blessed that I have never suffered a migraine, but my sister, who also has PCOS, is plagued with migraines. I know that she, over the years, has tried to manage her migraines naturally. I wanted to bring on an expert that was really aligned with that natural way of managing symptoms like we do here at PCOS Diva, and I was thrilled that Erin Knight agreed to come on the podcast.


Erin is an expert at helping women gain freedom from chronic migraines through natural solutions. Erin, I’m so thrilled you’re here.


Erin: Thanks Amy, thank for having me on. I’m excited to talk to everybody today about some things they can start doing right away and then things longer-term to break free from that migraine cycle.


Amy: I want to give everyone a little more information about you, I’m going to read your bio: Erin helps women who desire natural solutions providing freedom from chronic migraines so they can experience a dramatic increase in productivity and thrive in the active life they dream of. Erin has her masters of engineering from the University of Michigan and is trained in functional diagnostic nutrition and nutrigenomics. And after a decade of guiding Fortune 500 teams through root-cause analysis, she now applies these problem-solving skills to our most complex system, the human body.


I would love to start, Erin, by giving us a little bit of your history and how you ended up moving from helping Fortune 500 teams and being an engineer to helping people heal from migraines.


Erin: Of course, that sounds like a big leap, right? If you ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, you’re probably never going to get migraine expert. But I was … Sorry, go ahead.


Erin: Should I start over?


Amy: Yeah, start over.


Erin: It was a big leap; how did somebody go from engineering to helping people with their migraines? If you ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up I know you’re never going to get, “Oh, migraine expert”. But from an early age I had this drive to help people feel good and if you ask anybody in my family what they remember about me when I was a little girl, they’ll tell you these stories about how I’d run up to them with my stethoscope and give them a checkup and really had this desire to help people feel good.


Amy: I will never forget, I was around fourth or fifth grade, and we went on this amazing vacation with the family to Spain and I felt so bad when my mom was stuck in a hotel room for a couple of days just really sick with migraines. This left a big impression because not only did I miss out on her being with us, and as a kid just of missing your mom being able to be with you, but also I felt really bad I couldn’t help her. And I think that formed an early impression of, if I were to ever get migraines, there’s just not that much you can do about them, is what I thought at the time. And you just have to manage them, and step out of life for a couple of days, and sit in a dark room. That’s what I learned about it as a kid.


Erin: And then, fast forward a few years, I started to get really into science and was inspired by my grandpa who was a compounding pharmacist. And I thought it was so cool you could influence the body to heal with chemistry, so I had to learn a lot about that. Between that and following my dad’s footsteps, who was an engineer also, I ended up going to school for pharmaceutical engineering. And all that time in school and early into my career I was starting to get migraines myself, so my worst nightmare had come true. Just like my mom, they were debilitating and I would get them, I’m sure it had something to do with the stress and not eating very well as a student, but I would get them multiple times a week. And thinking they were genetic I didn’t know there was much you could do to really get rid of them, I just went the conventional route at the time.


Amy: It wasn’t until years later, at the ripe old age of 27, my body just started to fall apart. I had debilitating fatigue, chronic pain, digestive issues, all hitting me at this one time. And that’s really when I said to myself, I can’t put up with all of these things for the rest of my life. I know doctors are telling me there’s nothing they could do, there was nothing generally unusual or wrong with me, but deep down I knew that, as an engineer who solved problems and things like that, if I really put my mind to it I could figure this out. So, that’s what I would consider the breaking point where I was like, I need to really look into this and luckily that’s when I also discovered functional medicine.


Functional medicine and functional nutrition for an engineer is so aligned because it’s all about looking at the root causes and treating the systems and underlying issues instead of just treating the symptoms over and over again. Loving that, I just dove into that and started spending hours a day studying and tens of thousands of dollars on trying out different modalities and continuing my education in that direction. So, I can finally get to the root causes of, not just the pain and fatigue, but as I started to work out these things, I noticed that I was more resilient to what used to cause migraines. Whereas I used to be really sensitive to bright lights or missing a meal or jetlag or something like that, those weren’t triggering migraines anymore. I had built more resilience as I had worked on my health at this deeper level.


When I noticed that resilience I was just amazed and realized if I could help other people like me that were busy professionals and needed to get to the bottom of their migraines and move past them, or people like my mom where it was really impacting her ability to enjoy life, that I really had to do that. And so, I went back, looked at the key several things that had made that impact on my own health and reverse-engineered what I now call Migraine Freedom Plan.


When you look back at when you were 27, when you hit your rock bottom, what kind of things were going on in your life that you think may have started really triggering the migraines and leading to the decline in your health?


I think migraines I’d had for a decade at that point. And that should have been a red flag to me that there was some kind of imbalance going on in my body. That was my body trying to get my attention and do something, but unfortunately, I didn’t listen until more things started to fall apart. Years of taking ibuprofen and things like that really impacted my gut. All through school I can’t say I ate terribly well, I ate pretty terribly actually, and would stay up late studying and what have you. So, that wore on my body over time and then all it took was a big emotional stressor that put me over the edge.


It’s really common to hear, when we hear people’s stories, they look back and realize there was maybe a divorce or loss of job or some kind of a rift in the family, or something major like that emotionally can trigger the physical side to just fall apart, which I think is just super fascinating to look at.


Amy: My husband just had his first migraine, he’s 48. And he just had some major surgery to fix a heart defect and it’s been about I guess three weeks post-op and he had his first ocular migraine. He didn’t really have the pain, but he had the aura and the vision issues. His doctor and we’re all thinking it was from the stress and the trauma of the surgery, that now it’s triggered the migraine. And hopefully as he gets back into his normal routine and self-care that he can stave off any further ones. But that’s interesting, like a major life event can trigger.


Erin: Sometimes surgery or a big infection or life event will trigger autoimmune issues or some other breakdown of the system at that deep level.


Amy: Yeah. So, can you give us some tips for somebody who suffers chronic migraines that wants to manage them, hopefully without ibuprofen or painkillers, or stave off the symptoms, what can we do?


Erin: I think the first thing is to start thinking about them differently. I like to teach people that it’s a layering of stressors. When you have different stresses in your life, whether they’re internal, from let’s say a dairy sensitivity, or external, like sitting in traffic, when all those things start to layer up, then you’re more sensitive to what you might know as your migraine triggers. So if there’s some things you can do to lower that overall stress practically, then you’ll have more tolerance for the things that you don’t have control over.


Amy: For example, some things that we do have control over, we can try to have a nice sleeping routine where we go to bed and get up at the same time or eating balanced meals and things like that versus we know we have a big project that’s coming up at work that’s going to potentially add some layers of stress in our life. Those are the times that it’s good to say, “Okay, in the past I’ve been more prone to migraines during the end-of-the-year rush, but, because I know that, I’m going to that I’m going to be a Diva and take extra good care of myself this season”.


Erin: So that even if, let’s say you know that you don’t handle chocolate that well and it makes you more prone to get migraines, well giving up chocolate for the rest of your life seems like a big burden, right? But if there’s a stressful time in your life when you know you might be more prone to migraines, then taking an extra care to avoid chocolate or red wine or other triggers and stressors can lower that whole stress level in your body so that the work doesn’t get to you or the trip you have coming up doesn’t push you over the edge to get one. That make sense?


Amy: Yeah. To me it sounds like just learning to live more intentionally. I know as we’re recording this we’re in the middle of the holiday season. And I know over the years I used to … I felt like I’d be sliding into home plate after New Year’s, just being banged up and bruised and feeling like I had really abused my body with staying up late and probably extra alcohol and sugar. A couple years ago, I started really entering the holidays more intentionally, and I actually carry around a little notecard in my purse and I have one by my bed and in my bathroom just reminding myself of how I want to feel come New Year’s Day. I want to feel vibrant and alive and ready to take on the new year, not that version that I had several years ago.


I think that setting my day, seeing that notecard on my bathroom mirror and seeing it at the end of the day, it really allows me to enter my day more intentionally of how I’m going to take care of myself. And it sounds like when you’re dealing with chronic migraines, you need to live your life with more intention and that can help in more mindfulness.


Erin: I think that’s really a great way to put it: intentions around the daily routines. The holiday’s a perfect example. Another example is travel because I feel a lot of people, whether it’s a work trip or even a vacation, they say, “Oh, I’m on vacation, I’ll forget about the whole eating healthy and how I treat my body at home,” and then they end up getting to their destination feeling, or getting home, feeling rundown, maybe getting more migraines when they get there and things like that because they’re in this mentality of anything-goes, I’m on vacation.


But if you need to show up at your destination sharp for an event or you just want to get to Peru and explore and enjoy this trip, then that’s the time to put a little bit of extra thought into packing healthy snacks and planning your flights and things like that so that you arrive feeling great. It takes a little extra planning, intention, like you said.


Amy: Yeah. And I know for me when I’m travelling, not getting dehydrated, it’s so easy to do. I’m prone to urinary tract infections and that usually happens when I’m not living with intention and making sure that I’m drinking my water. I think that that is really important when you’re travelling too.


Now, I would love to hear some of your ideas for stress reduction. Like what do you do? How do you take care of yourself to lower your stress?


Erin: Well, my latest effort that I’ve been walking around with the last few weeks is box breathing. Did you ever try that?


Oh yeah. Why don’t you take us through that.


Amy: Yeah. Discuss that. It’s a really simple breathing technique that you can do even if you’re just walking down the hallway or walking to someplace or driving in the car. That’s why I love it, because you can catch yourself feeling stressed and then what the box breathing is it’s just slowly inhaling for five counts, holding for five counts, slowly exhaling for five, and then holding. You have this pattern and it takes a little bit of your attention to get into it and then it’s really calming. If things get a little hectic at the holiday party or whatever, that’s even a perfect time to just quietly do that and no one will even know that you’re doing it. But it soothes your nervous system. So, breathing exercises like that are really cool.


Another one that I like to do is alternate nostril breathing. I do that when I get home from a long day of meetings or something like that, it’s a good way to really soothe the nervous system. In that case, you have to Google it to see what it looks like, but you hold one side of your nose closed and then the other side. So, that might not be something that you do when you’re walking around, but it’s a good thing to do when you get home or get to your car or whatever.


And then for the people that are more tech-y and like the bio-feedback, I really like this tool called HeartMath. It has a little heart-rate-variability sensor that you attach to your earlobe and then can plug right in to your phone. And then, as you’re doing some breathing exercises or mental relaxation exercises, you can get feedback right on your phone about how your nervous system is reacting. For people that are more data-driven, it gives you that instant feedback about whether what you’re doing is working or not. So, that’s really cool too.


Amy: Yeah. Another … I have HeartMath and I really enjoy it. Another little app that I’ve discovered recently and device is called the Spire, S-P-I-R-E. And it monitors your breathing and if you start shallow breathing it sends a little alert to your phone so that you can be more mindful of your breath, and I’ve really enjoyed that as well.


I have to tell you another way that I’m taking care of myself this holiday season. I decided that when my daughter is at dance on Tuesdays, right next door to her dance studio is a community acupuncture co-op. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of those. And they’re great because you don’t have to have insurance, it’s a pay scale, you pay what you feel you can afford, anywhere from $15 to $30 for a session, and the session is really as long as you want it to be. I just went last night and it really helps me to relax and support my adrenals during the holiday season. I’m sure that acupuncture could be really helpful too for people who have migraines.


Erin: Oh, yeah, totally. And really anybody that’s trying to knock their stress down a bit. I love acupuncture. The other one I’ve been doing lately is keeping soothing music on hand. Whether I’m cooking or working away at a presentation or something like that, just having that on and the ambient noise somehow is really soothing. Keeps the tension down.


Amy: Yeah, I love piano music. I do the same thing. And then the other thing too that I think is helpful is diffusing some essential oils. I find that really helps reduce my anxiety and stress levels as well.


Erin: And it’s a good time to just pause and take a minute and consciously relax and have that ritual around de-stressing too. You had a great podcast recently about essential oils, so good to bring that up.


Amy: And we actually have a new mini-course coming too on PCOS and essential oils in the new year, so I’m excited about that.


Let’s go back, bring this full circle. I was talking about women going through my Sparkle Cleanse that were experiencing some migraines and what we really did was work with the ladies to slow down the detox process. Instead of doing two shakes a day, we started them off on just one shake a day if you’re dealing with migraines, and that really seemed to help. Tell us what you think are some of those root causes for migraines, and I think detoxification is one of them.


Erin: Yeah, detoxification is absolutely one of them. And you’re right, if it’s happening really rapidly for somebody they’re going to have more severe reactions, however that shows up, whether it’s their skin or their migraines or anything like that. But overtime, continuing to work on the detoxification should make them more resilient because that is a root cause.


Another one would be hormone imbalances in general, which your audience would be familiar with and interested in looking for anyway and it also can be an underlying issue that’s contributing to them. A lot of women report, for example, that they get more migraines a certain time of the month, or they’ll see a shift in their migraine patterns after pregnancy or leading up to menopause and things like that. As their hormones start to shift, their migraine patterns will change.


Amy: And what about gut? How does that come into play? And digestion?


Erin: Digestion is huge for a couple of reasons. One, if you’re not digesting and assimilating the nutrients then your body is always on that constant level of stress because it’s missing key components. So, poor digestion is one thing. And then another common issue is food sensitivities because if you’re immune system is on high-alert constantly having an immune reaction to foods that you’re taking in, then that’s contributing to overall inflammation and stress level in your body too. So, digestion is a really big one.


On top of that, parasites and bacterial balances are incredibly common. Parasites, for example, will add their … Eating nutrients in your gut they’ll spit off toxins that your body then has to process and it adds to that liver burden, so it’s just one more stress. Those are all examples of underlying issues that we look at in functional diagnostic nutrition.


Earlier, when we were talking about managing the environment and taking extra care to avoid triggers when you’re in a stressful time, those are great things to do to manage migraines and work around experiencing them so frequently, but if you really want to get to the bottom of them and build resilience from within, then you need to start looking at those underlying systems and making sure everything’s working properly and in balance. Looking for healing opportunities at that deeper level is often the key to real freedom from migraines.


Amy: If women listening are interested in learning more about your Migraine Freedom program and how they can work with you, can you give us some information on how we can get in touch?


Erin: Yeah, absolutely. A good place to start would be to take a five question quiz I put together. I get a lot of questions from people like, “Okay, that’s great you’ve got all these different underlying causes that could be behind my migraine, so where would I start?”. And I usually walk people through a conversation asking a few questions so I put those together on my website, That’s just a quick five question quiz where you can see what areas you might want to investigate first basically. So, if we were chatting what I would tell you would be a good place to at least take a deeper look at and see if there’s an imbalance there that could be behind your suffering.


Amy: Great. We will post the link to that at the bottom of this podcast. And then you have a process that you take women through called Migraine Freedom, based on … Is that an online program or is that a one-on-one coaching program?


Erin: That right now is a one-on-one coaching program. The four steps at a high level are dreams, dive, heal, thrive. First off with that we have to talk about what your life would look like if you were really free from migraines. Because a lot of people have had migraines for so long it’s hard to even imagine, but I want people to recognize how much these migraines are impacting your life and your family and your social life too.


I actually remember the day I went to go see a naturopath for the first time. I had been burnt out and in a lot of pain and fatigue for months and doctors had told me they couldn’t help me, so I didn’t know what to do. I would come home from work and lay on the couch like a zombie. And I actually remember this one day, my boyfriend asked me if I didn’t love him anymore. I just had no energy for that relationship, and I was just getting through one day at a time at that point. I hadn’t even realized how my poor health was impacting this relationship. So, that really was a wake-up call and helped me realize that I needed to get help.


Thinking through those kinds of things can be important and really drive motivation to stick with a healing protocol later on. So, that’s we why spend a lot of time talking about how migraines might be impacting earning potential, productivity, your relationships, or anything else that’s holding you back from doing in your life.


And then we dive into the data. I know you’re not crazy when you tell me you have not just migraines, but skin issues and everything else. We’ll look at the functional lab data and prove you’re not crazy by finding these root causes that we were talking about earlier. And look at patterns and hormones and digestion and start to find the hidden imbalances. And clients often tell me that they learn more about their bodies in this one step than after years of going to neurologists and other doctors, just because after they see how their systems are interrelated, they really start to understand how their body’s functioning, which is empowering, I would say.


And then the Heal step. This is a time to set aside extra time for self-care and really learn how to treat your body to support it in the way it needs to heal and repair itself. But of course, in a way that’s still approachable, even if you’re a busy professional. I was a busy engineer when I was going through all this, so I know it’s not necessarily possible to just skip out and go to a yoga retreat for six months while you heal, but we find ways together that you can work it in.


And then in the last step, Thrive, you’re starting to get your energy back and start to participate in life again. We still have to find ways to sustain these healthy habits that have gotten you this far and keep them up in a realistic and simple way. That’s where we start to talk about more tools and long-term strategies to makes sure that you can maintain this new sense of freedom that you’ve found.


As you can see, it’s not really for somebody that wants a quick fix. There’s plenty of tools for that and there’s certainly always going to be a demand for that, which is fine. But when people are really fed up with chasing their triggers and constantly managing symptoms and working around their migraines, then they’re ready to work at the root-cause level, then those are the people that we’ll approach.


Amy: Yeah, yeah. It’s so similar to the approach managing your PCOS too. I think that doing the Migraine Freedom program would probably end up helping PCOS symptoms too. Well, you know what, it was really a pleasure talking to you Erin and sharing your insight and knowledge about migraines. Thank you for taking the time to be with us today.


Erin: Thank you, Amy. Hope this helps people.


Amy: And thank you for everyone listening and I look forward to being with you again soon. Bye-bye.


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