Aside from insomnia, migraine headaches are the one of the most frequent complaints I hear from my clients. And migraines are no joke. Did you know they are one of the most common reasons people end up in the emergency room? Women are about three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.
If you experience migraines, you’re probably familiar with the symptoms:
- pulsing, throbbing pain on one side of your head (can be both sides)
- pain behind one of your eyes
- nausea, vomiting
- pain that is so severe it interferes with your daily activities
- sensitivity to light and smells
- seeing auras
Most headaches or migraines are not caused by serious health problems, but in rare cases they may signal tumors or infections. Migraines can occur along with other health issues such as asthma, depression, or sudden hormonal fluctuations. Conventional treatments from your doctor are typically abortive drugs, meaning you take meds when you sense a migraine coming on. There are over the counter drugs specifically for migraines, and they typically include a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. They may ease moderate migraine pain, but aren’t effective alone for severe migraines. Your doctor may prescribe Triptans, which work by promoting constriction of blood vessels and blocking pain pathways in the brain. Other meds include sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt), almotriptan (Axert), naratriptan (Amerge), zolmitriptan (Zomig), frovatriptan (Frova) and eletriptan (Relpax).
The main issue with treating migraines with drugs is that you’re not uncovering the underlying cause. Migraines can be triggered by any number of factors, so my first advice is to do some investigative work to uncover your possible triggers.
Causes of Migraines
- Food sensitivities, especially gluten, can contribute to migraines. Try eliminating gluten, dairy and soy and see if that helps. If not, take a look at other foods you’re consuming regularly. Wine and chocolate can be triggers too. Eggs and peanuts are other common food allergens. Food additives and chemicals such as aspartame should be eliminated. Keep very detailed food journals to help you identify potential trigger foods.
- Neurotransmitter imbalance/brain inflammation: Until recently, abnormalities of blood vessel (vascular) systems in the head were thought to be mainly responsible for migraines. Now, doctors believe there are more numerous complex issues involving the central nervous system. Serotonin is one of your feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) produced in your brain and in the gut. Altered levels of serotonin, dopamine, and stress hormones may trigger migraines. Taking 5HTP and tyrosine together may help, but you’ll need to work with a skilled practitioner to help you determine how much to take.
- Magnesium deficiency. Try taking up to 900 mg in divided doses per day, and get magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Too much can give you the runs, so beware. I recommend this form of magnesium specifically designed for brain health.
- Estrogen fluctuations in women can contribute to cyclical migraines. Dropping hormone levels around ovulation or before your period can be a factor. Have your female hormone levels tested (a saliva test is most accurate).
- Food preservatives or additives such as MSG and nitrates can cause migraines. Caffeine withdrawal can be a factor too (wean yourself off the coffee slowly!).
- Lack of sleep, emotional stress, high altitude, and skipping meals can be triggers too.
How to Manage Your Migraines Naturally
- For long term prevention, do an elimination diet: start by removing gluten, dairy, wine, chocolate, food additives, and processed soy products. Keep very detailed food journals so you can start to make connections about triggers, both food and environmental.
- Massage and acupuncture can help.
- Balance your hormones, try magnesium, and try a B vitamin complex.
- Take a CoQ10 supplement. CoQ10 is a mighty antioxidant that benefits the heart and brain. I recommend 300mg daily.
- Some say the herb feverfew helps, but the jury is still out on that for me.
- Essential oils such as lavender and peppermint may help. Rub peppermint onto your temples, or inhale it deeply if you feel a headache or migraine coming on.
- Ginger tea can help migraine-related nausea.
- Stay hydrated!
- Eat in regular intervals to maintain stable blood sugar balance/prevent hypoglycemia.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.