Natural Migraine Prevention

Headaches are very common and can be caused by a host of things.  Dehydration, stress, tension and hormone changes are the most frequent causes of headaches. While headaches are bothersome, migraines are debilitating.

Women are 2-3 times more likely to suffer migraine than men.

Women are 2-3 times more likely to suffer migraine than men.

Migraines are very different to classic headaches, effecting around 7 percent of men and 15 percent of women. A migraine is more than just a headache. It is intensely painful and has distinct phases, commonly included a ‘prodrome’ where sufferers get pre-headache symptoms.  The prodrome may include visual auras such as blurred vision, seeing double, seeing shimmering colours or zig zags and sensitivity to light.  Other accompanying features of migraines include lethargy, mood changes, sensitivity to smells, nausea and vomiting.  Conventional analgesics rarely bring any relief to migraine patients. Female migraine sufferers who get a visual aura are also more likely to suffer from strokes, but this association was stronger for women who were also taking the pill, had high blood pressure or smoked.

Some of the most commonly reported triggers for migraines are:

Dehydration

Low blood sugar / hunger or skipping meals: a sharp change in blood sugar can stimulate migraines.

Processed foods can be a major trigger for migraine.

Food and Drink: including sugar, chocolate, preservatives, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, additives (including MSG), and amines found in processed meats, cheese and wine.

Hormones:  Women often get migraines when there is a change in the level of oestrogen – such as before or during their periods, with menopause, or whilst taking the pill or HRT.

Changes in sleeping cycle: Both missing sleep and oversleeping can trigger a migraine.

Stress: Any kind of emotional trauma can set off a migraine, even after the stress has passed.

Physical exertion: Intense exercise can trigger migraines.

Environmental: Bright lights, fluorescent lights, loud noises and strong smells can trigger a migraine.

Weather changes & seasonal changes

 

Migraines were initially considered to be a problem with the vascular system – where constriction of the blood vessels caused visual auras and then vessel dilatation followed, causing the headache and pain.  While the vascular cause has been the theory for many years, recent research has revealed migraines to be neurological in origin.  Specifically, migraines are now understood to be related to malfunction of nerve cell activity in the brain. What activates the malfunctioning of the nerves causing a migraine, however, is still unknown but may involve genetics.

 

The evolution of a migraine starts with an individual trigger. When your brain perceives the trigger, it brainpainbegins a cascade of events and a headache will start developing within two hours or two days. Initially blood vessels in your forehead enlarge and this puts pressure on neighbouring nerve fibers which in turn release chemicals that cause pain and inflammation.  The inflammation sets in motion a vicious cycle which cause increased swelling and more pain. After an hour or two, the nerve pathways are all sensitised from this chain-reaction process and fire off impulses throughout the head, the base of the neck and spine. This means for the migraine sufferer, everything starts hurting as the pain-nerve cells are stuck in the “on” position and any stimulation hurts – even light, smells and gentle touch or movement.

 

Drugs which have been developed for other diseases such as hypertension, depression and epilepsy have been traditionally used to prevent migraines in about half of migraine patients. But they are only effective 50 percent of the time and have serious side effects.  The discovery of a new cause of migraines has fuelled the development of new drugs such as ones that prevent brain cell impulse transmission.

 

Fortunately, there are some natural migraine prevention strategies to avoid and treat migraines if you wish to avoid pharmaceutical drugs.  Preventing migraines starts with identifying your personal triggers and then trying where possible to avoid them. Keeping a diary of activities, diet and migraine occurrence can help to identify individual triggers for migraine.

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Relaxation and stress management are key factors in migraine prevention.

Keeping well hydrated with water (not coffee, alcohol or soft drinks!) and eating healthy, whole foods and avoiding refined sugars and processed foods is essential. I always find that supporting good digestion and liver function is a key part of treatment. Also managing your lifestyle and stress levels is very important. It may be a good idea to take up a practice that fits with your personal beliefs or activities – such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness or contemplative prayer to help manage and reduce the impact of stress in your life. It is also highly beneficial to maintain a regular routine of sleep and exercise.  Techniques such as acupuncture, massage, chiropractic and osteopathy can help to realign the nervous system and may also help to prevent and treat migraines.

 

Feverfew is a herb well known for treating migraines.

Feverfew is a herb well known for treating migraines.

The herb Feverfew can be used for the natural prevention of migraines. There has been quite a bit of research on this herb, some of it has shown it to be effective in both the prevention of migraines and reducing pain.  Ginkgo is another herb, known for its tonic effects on the brain. Generally herbs work best in combination and when prescribed for each individual and their triggers. For example if stress and anxiety is a major factor for you or hormonal imbalance is a trigger, then specific herbs can be prescribed to directly deal with these issues and thereby reduce the potential impact of these on your migraines. In terms of nutritional supplements, research has also shown that B vitamins (especially riboflavin), fish oils, coQ10 and magnesium are useful for migraine prevention with these nutrients having natural anti-inflammatory and relaxant effects.

 

Simple techniques such as massage, cold packs and deep breathing can all relieve pain.  Many migraine sufferers only get relief through sleep, so when all else fails, hop into bed in a dark room and try to get to sleep. Usually when we have identified the triggers and implemented a treatment plan, most patients experience improvements in both frequency and intensity of migraines.

Lastly, an interesting study has found that the scent of green apples can significantly relieve migraine pain. So next time you have a migraine, cut a green apple, smell it and see if it works!