Migraines run in my family, so it was no surprise that I started to suffer headaches when I quite young. Eventually proper migraines started when I was about 17. Drugs like aspirin or paracetamol generally don’t work for this condition. Strong medications, specifically designed for migraines can cause a rebound headache. You can get stuck in a loop of migraine and medication, which can be difficult to break out of. The next intervention in the conventional medical model involves taking prophylactic medication such as anti-depressants or beta blockers to stave off migraines. As you can see, none of these options are very sustainable.
Being a migraine sufferer is one of the reasons I became so interested in natural medicine. I am glad to say I am largely migraine free these days. Migraines are very multi-factorial. What works for one person will not work for another person, for the simple reason that the causes will be different for different people.
Here are a few common triggers, and what you can do about them:
- Food Sensitivities. Having a sensitivity to a food you eat regularly can lead to migraines. Common foods that trigger migraines are dairy and eggs. To find out if you have a sensitivity, you can do an elimination diet. This means cutting out all the foods which you suspect may be an issue, and seeing if the migraines resolve. If they do, you can then methodically add them back one by one, and see if a migraine is triggered. This is best done in collaboration with a nutritionist to understand which foods to remove. This method is time consuming, but is ultimately the gold standard in determining which foods you are sensitive to. I use special software in my practice which can plan your meals when on an elimination diet. Other methods involve testing. I frequently use hair testing to assess an individual’s reaction to foods, and also blood tests to look at IgG and IgA reactions to food. Many people find that reduced amines in their diet can reduce their migraines.
- Gluten. This can be inflammatory to lots of people, not just people with coeliac disease. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. Cutting out gluten and seeing if your migraines resolve is actually not as hard as it might sound. Guidance from a Nutritionist can be important to know where gluten can be hidden in foods. Finally, be prepared for the inevitable questioning regarding your lack of coeliac disease!
- Hormones. Many women find migraines go hand in hand with fluctuating hormones. Taking the pill, HRT or even oestrogenic foods like soy can exacerbate them. Ultimately this comes down to the ability of your body processes the hormones. If your liver isn’t working at full speed, it won’t be detoxifying the oestrogen your produce every month. This causes an overload of oestrogen in your body, and this can make you feel pretty sick. Therefore focusing on some gentle detoxification of you liver can help reduce and even eliminate migraines.
- Magnesium deficiency. A high quality, reasonably high dose of magnesium can be very beneficial for migraines. Taken every day, this can be a great preventative. Take an extra dose of magnesium if you feel a migraine coming on. Magnesium relaxes your muscles, and consequently keeps the blood flowing to your brain. An extra bonus is that it can really improve your sleep quality, which in itself will reduce migraines.
- Sleep. Not enough sleep or poor sleep patterns can trigger migraines. For shift workers, this is hard to avoid. Parents of young children can also struggle to get a decent night’s sleep. Maintaining good sleep hygiene and lifestyle changes can help with sleep.
- B vitamins. Diets deficient in B vitamins can lead to migraines. Eating a healthy diet can provide all the B vitamins you need. However you may need a supplement for a short time to top up you levels if they are low.
Finally, physical therapies looking at muscle imbalances and tightness can also be very useful. Find a osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist who specialises in migraines and headaches. Speak to me for a referral.