Day Fifty

Days Without a Cigarette: 49.88958333
Days Without Nicotine: 0
Dollars Saved: $150.41
Time Saved: 70 hours, 41 minutes

I feel like an asshole every time people ask me about the benefits of quitting. I’m not trying to be petulant about it, but you’d never guess that from my answers. People ask “have you noticed that your sense of taste and smell have gotten better?” or “do you have more energy?” or “can you exercise longer?” and to each of those I have to answer “no.” Or, to be honest, I have to answer “no” to the first two and “how the hell would I know?” to the last one.

The one clear benefit of quitting that I have noticed is a marked decrease in wheezing, phlegmy coughs. Hell, our listeners have noticed a marked decrease in them just based on the sound of my laugh. But with that exception, I don’t have any of the typical “guy who just quit smoking” benefits to brag about. And what I do have to brag about, as it turns out, is pretty controversial.

For most of my life, I only knew migraine headaches by reputation. But at some point in my mid thirties my brain realized it was way behind its migraine quota and made a concerted effort to catch up. They get better and worse, of course, but ‘better’ is one or two migraines a week, and ‘worse’ is one or two a day.

This was my life for at least the last eight years. And then, on the day I quit smoking, they stopped.

At first I was reluctant to draw a line between those two things. They weren’t common, but I’d had spells where I’d go a full week without a migraine now and again, so at first I wrote it off as coincidence. But that was followed by another week, which was followed by another. And now the omnipresent bottle of Excedrin Migraine that I keep on my desk (and the one I keep in my car, and the one I keep in my medicine chest, and the one I keep in my backpack) have been collecting dust for seven weeks and a day.

To be clear, that’s not supposed to happen. The internet is bursting with lists of the myriad benefits of giving up cigarettes and this isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s generally the exact opposite. I was really concerned by all the warnings I saw that suggested I was likely in for an increase in headaches as I weaned by body off of nicotine. And if you ask WebMD if quitting smoking will clear up (or even lessen) your migraines, they’ll give you an unequivocal no.

Of course, there are ways that cigarettes are linked to headaches. Smoking decreases your liver’s ability to breakdown analgesics, apparently, so it can make headaches harder to shake. The smell of cigarette smoke can trigger headaches in some people. But apparently the current science doesn’t show a link between the restricted blood flow caused by cigarette smoking and the onset of headaches of any kind. And overall, the data show a marked increase in headaches for former smokers.

All that being said, it’s still hard to believe that by coincidence eight years streak of more than a hundred migraines a year just ended abruptly at the same time I quit smoking. What the data show is that there’s no statistical correlation between the two things, meaning it would be careless for me to suggest to others that giving up cigarettes would cure their migraines. It would also be careless for me to assume mine were cured. They might just be on hiatus. Or maybe they’re just building up for the big one when I give up nicotine altogether. But that doesn’t mean that my particular migraines can’t be cured by eliminating the cigarettes. Heads are some complicated shit and all the data can point to are statistical trends. My circumstance may be atypical, but that doesn’t mean there’s no relation. The most important trend in my case is the correlation between “days without a cigarette” and “days without a headache.”

But for the moment, regardless of the culprit, I’m wrapping up my fiftieth consecutive migraine-less day. And as any migraine sufferer will tell you, that’s at least as worthy of celebrating as the seven weeks without a cigarette.

Published by Noah Lugeons

Noah Lugeons co-hosts a bunch of podcasts: The Scathing Atheist, God Awful Movies, The Skepticrat, and Citation Needed

7 thoughts on “Day Fifty

  1. Not gonna pull my MD card (although I could :P), but instead a “migraine sufferer” experience, and to me if I smoke too much, it definitely causes migraines… I know there’s not scientific evidence to support it, but what can I say?.. I’m on team Noah on this, and I’m glad they have improved

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  2. Noah:

    Congrats on the progress.

    I believe the migraine connection is possible: human physiology is very complex. One of the challenges of medicine is that people are unique.

    For example, I developed an allergy to inhaling peppermint: I’d get a full blown asthma attack if I inhaled it but all the allergy tests came up negative. My allergist said he’d never seen such a thing, but there it was. He offered excellent medical advice: don’t inhale peppermint.

    Look at the bright side: stopping migraines is one hell of an incentive to not smoke!

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  3. ive had migraines and headaches my whole life, went to the eye dr for the first time the other day – turns out i have astigmatism. and that’s probably the cause of the past 38 years of head pain. sigh.

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  4. Yeah that is awesome news. It really would be a huge life changer to not have to face migraines. (Even if it just happens less frequently or something)

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