Visual Migraines and Upset Stomach - word of warning

So I’ve read around these forums and found a few examples of similar symptoms when first trying Huel. I tried it with the intention of replacing occasional meals with it, in an attempt to make myself eat healthily even on days when I don’t have time, or the inclination to cook something from scratch. I think it would have worked really well for me had it not been for the frankly horrific side effects.

I started by having a two scoop serving each day for breakfast. No gastric issues initially (other than a bit of fairly sulphuric wind) but the headaches started almost immediately. I occasionally suffer with visual migraines. No terrible pain, but visual disturbances like a strobe light off to the side and twinkly lights. Sometimes I lose my near sight in one eye (the way the brain deals with near and long distance is complicated and can result in the loss of near vision but not long distance vision, but I won’t go into detail about that now). I’m used to this happening at my time of the month. They usually last no more than an hour and I know they are related to elevated levels of oestrogen. So the day I started on the Huel, the migraine started and my vision went, but it lasted all day. Then all day the next day and the day after that. It subsided each day a little in the evening but started up again by midmorning the next day (around an hour after my Huel breakfast). Initially I thought maybe it was just a coincidence, or that I hadn’t drank enough water (Huel is satisfying and I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty for several hours after it), but the headache didn’t subside even after drinking a litre and a half of water, so I don’t think it was that. I had to take two days off work in the end (I’m an intensive care nurse so I can’t afford to not be on my game at work. I certainly can’t draw up IV medications with no near vision in one eye!). Around 3pm on day three the stomach cramps began. Now, I usually have guts of steel. I’m never sick. I never get an upset stomach. I’m known for it. My mum used to give us totally rank gone-off food when we were kids, she would just pray over it and trust god to keep us from getting food poisoning (yeah, I know!), and the result of that, I think, has been that my gut can handle pretty much anything. These stomach cramps, and the apocalyptic bowel movements that followed were like nothing I have ever experienced. I haven’t had any Huel for three days now and I still can’t leave the house due to the sheer unpredictability of my arse. The migraines have subsided but I have done a lot of reading and realised that flaxseed is full of phyto-oestrogens, like soy but stronger. So even if the gastric issues subside, as many people on these forums suggest they will, I don’t think the migraines will.

Because of the risk factors involved with migraine sufferers and oestrogen-rich hormone treatments (such as the combined contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy, which I’ve been told never to take because my migraines mean I have a drastically increased risk of stroke), I have decided that because of its high estrogen content, Huel is definitely not for me.

It’s a shame because I liked the taste, it was filling and I think I’d have done well on it otherwise.

I guess I’m sharing my experience because others, particularly women with hormone issues (such as migraine, acne, polycystic ovary syndrome etc) may have the same problems I had, and I’d be very wary about using Huel without consulting a doctor, due to the potentially increased risk of stroke.

If anyone would like to buy an unopened bag of Vanilla Huel (expires end 02/2018) for a tenner, let me know.

I’d appreciate a response from Huel on this. My wife’s been considering Huel but also suffers from migraines & can’t take hormone treatments you describe for the same reason of high stroke risk. Is Huel contraindicated in these cases & is this made clear on the website, anywhere?

I don’t think it is. It’s probably not something they’re even aware of because the studies done so far haven’t been very extensive. Large scale studies haven’t been carried out because of the cost of doing so.

The above is simply my theory as to why I suffered migraines on Huel. It makes sense to me that this could be the cause, so I’m deciding to steer clear of it. The effect I had was pretty much instant, so maybe your wife could try the sample pack and see if it affects her. I tried the sample a few weeks ago and I don’t remember the dates but I had a bad visual migraine round about then which at the time I just put down to my time of the month. In hindsight it was probably the same day as I first tried Huel, I just didn’t make the connection initially.

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I suffer from migraines, which only subside after vomiting 2 or 3 times which seems to alleviate the pressure.

Fortunately, I only get 2 or 3 a year but as yet I don’t think I’ve had one since I started on Huel 5 months ago.

I think mine are related to sudden changes in weather though, such as when the pressure drops from a sunny day to thunder storms.

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That’s interesting. Migraines can be caused by all sorts of things. Stress, environment, heat, allergens hormones etc. I think probably only migraines caused by an hormonal imbalance would be worsened by the flaxseed. I’ve even seen flaxseed mentioned as a possible cure for migraines caused by digestive problems. Migraines are a complicated subject and because they are a neurological disorder and a pain disorder, the experience of them is quite subjective, and comparatively little is known about what exactly causes them in all circumstances. Occipital (visual) migraines are known to be caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels which restricts blood flow to the part of the brain that processes sight. In my teens I used to also get horrific migraines that caused numbness down one side of my body, vomiting and sometimes affected my ability to speak properly. Again, my doctors said that this type is caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels at certain times of the month, and advised me never to take any hormone treatments containing oestrogen as it can further constrict blood vessels.

I think with your type of migraines you might be ok… If you haven’t had any since starting Huel them that’s a good sign!

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Thanks for the response. I use Huel myself, so if she decides to give it a try we always have some to hand.

I used to get migraines like that as an adolescent. I still remember the perplexed look on my English teacher’s face as I said to him somewhat enthusiastically “I’ll take these aspro clear, throw up & then I’ll be fine”… anything to be rid of the pain.

Now I just get visual migraines occasionally. No vommitting required, just a lack of further visual stimulus.

I didn’t know that. Thanks. This forum is great for learning about all sorts of health matters; a very interesting mix of people.

That really does sound horrendous. And I thought I had problems explaining my symptoms to most people :wink:

That’s really worrying that it has high levels of oestrogen :flushed:

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Not oestrogen, phytoestrogens: plant-based, chemically similar. Occur naturally in beans, grains, seeds and a host of other plants. People have worried that they’ll feminise men or promote or prevent cancer in women, but the research evidence is slim and inconsistent at the moment, so far as I understand it. The summary of current research on Wikipedia indicates that phytoestrogens are currently regarded as safe, even as soya-based baby food. @Balthazaar is obviously an extremely unfortunate exception to this :frowning:


@chughes thank you so much for clearing that up I’m on treatment for hormones and last thing I need is it having a negative effect on that … I enjoy Huel and don’t want to have to feel paranoid that I’m not putting goodness in.

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Hi @Rach: so just to be clear, I’m not a doctor — if you are specifically on treatment in that area then it’d do no harm to drop your GP a note.

@Balthazaar has shown that if you’ve a sensitivity, Huel can trigger it, but there’s someone else in the forum who was measuring their oestrogen levels and found them utterly unchanged by Huel.

My gut feeling would be that if phytoestrogens were likely to be a problem for you, your GP should have already told you to avoid soya and a bunch of other foods.

There will be no effect of Huel affecting oestrogen levels. Some people have experienced stomach upsets, but these have subsided after 3-4 days. As for the migraines, there are no obvious links with any of Huel’s ingredients.

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A quick search of this forum for stomach upset, diarrhoea, or cramps would suggest that there are many people who have gastric issues for much longer than 3-4 days. There are also so many people reporting suffering with severe headaches or migraine, especially when they first start on Huel, that it would be worth an open discussion rather than just a shutting down of the conversation with a wishful thinking statement. I’d have thought you’d want to know about people’s genuine experiences with your product?

HI @Balthazaar

I’m sorry you feel that I was ‘just shutting down the conversation’; I can assure you I wasn’t (I didn’t lock the thread). I was merely responding to @Michael_Rozdoba request for a Huel response on the oestrogen issue and I thought I should respond to the other two issues too.

Some peoople have had cramps and diarrhoea for longer, and some of these have been resolved by some suggestions from other members or the Huel team: eg, increase the intake slowly, sip it slowly, blend instead of shaker, look at other foods.

There have, indeed, been people with headaches. However, I will stick with what I said above: there are no obvious links with any of Huel’s ingredients, because there aren’t. It may be that it’s a change from a previous diet or that, at the same time as starting to use Huel, people make other changes, like cutting out caffeine, or something else.

However, I welcome other people’s thoughts.


I had a similar issue with Vanilla Huel and headaches which I had attributed with the inclusion of the sweetener Sucralose, as I have had no issues with Unflavoured & Unsweetened Huel - perhaps that could have something to do with it?

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I’ve never had the problem with headaches or migraines but I definitely get an upset stomach, cramps, bloating etc…But I’ve known for a few years now that I don’t handle oats well so that’s what I’ve put it down to. I can manage 1 bar a day but the shake goes straight through me, so I’ve used what’s left to make protein balls.

@JamesCollier I find it interesting that you say this with such conviction.

(Background: I’ve been following this, and similar, threads with interest as a young female who takes a low dose combined pill primarily to control dysmenorrhea and secondarily as birth control, and who also suffers from hormone triggered migraines. I started having Huel earlier this year but have since stopped, somewhat begrudgingly, because of the phytoestrogen levels, until I have had an opportunity to read the literature and talk to my doctor. However, to add another anecdote to the pile, during the three weeks I was having Huel I had also noticed that my “monthly” migraines were unusually bad.)

I believe that you and the Huel team genuinely aim to produce a product which is nutritionally complete and suitable for the majority of the population (and wouldn’t have purchased it in the first place if I didn’t) but I do wonder if flaxseed is really the ingredient of choice for this given the uncertainty around the effects of phytoestrogens. I note that a fair bit of the discussion on the topic revolves around the effects of additional oestrogen on males - I personally would be more concerned about the effects on females given the proportion of the population who take hormonal birth control or with sensitivity to hormone level fluctuation.

Going back to your comment above, I would like to hear your thoughts on the results of this particular study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Supplementation with flaxseed alters estrogen metabolism in postmenopausal women to a greater extent than does supplementation with an equal amount of soy”. You mentioned in another post that there is 12g of flaxseed per 100g Huel, so two portions of Huel with 24g of flaxseed correlates fairly well to the 25g portion of flaxseed in the muffins used in the study.

Sections of particular relevance (bolded for emphasis):

Urinary concentrations of 2-hydroxyestrone, but not of 16α-hydroxyestrone, increased significantly in the flaxseed group (P = 0.05). In the flaxseed group, the ratio of 2-hydroxyestrone to 16α-hydroxyestrone was positively correlated with urinary lignan excretion (r = 0.579, P = 0.02). In the soy and placebo groups, no significant correlation was observed.
This study showed that dietary supplementation with 25 g ground flaxseed but not with 25 g soy flour significantly alters the metabolism of estradiol in favor of the less biologically active estrogen metabolite (2OHE1) in postmenopausal women. Our study showed for the first time that changes in urinary lignan excretion with flaxseed supplementation are positively related to significant changes in 2OHE1:16αOHE1.
Results concerning the effects of phytoestrogen supplementation on serum hormones are conflicting. Although the present study reports no change in serum hormone concentrations, another study reported that consumption of 5 or 10 g ground flaxseed/d for 7 wk significantly reduced serum estradiol concentrations in postmenopausal women (3). The 10-g dose also reduced serum estrone sulfate concentrations (3). In support of our results, Lucas et al (35) found that supplementation with 40 g flaxseed/d for 3 mo had no effect on serum estradiol or estrone concentrations in postmenopausal women."

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