Migraine Headaches

information on nutrients, diet, lifestyle & research on treatment

Self Help   Symptoms   Causes   Natural treatment

Migraine headache symptoms can be extremely dibilitating. There are a number of treatment modalities such as acupuncture and massage, along with targeted nutrients that can help prevent and/or reduce the intensity of migraine headaches.

Self Help for Migraines

  • As preventatives, Vitamin B2 and Butterbur can help reduce migraines.
  • Sleep routine wake up at the same time each morning
  • Exercise produces endorphins and can lessen the amount of migraine pain, but it does not stop migraines completely.
  • Watch your diet including foods that are known to cause migraines for some people (especially after consuming them for 2-3 days in a row). These foods may included cheeses (aged), dairy, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol and possible allergens such as tomato sauces and spicy foods for some people.
  • Alternative healing practices can help prevent and even relieve an active migraine including: acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, aromatherapy, cranial sacral, biofeedback therapy and massage. Other actions that can help include ice packs, relaxing in a warm, dark room, nutritional therapy, elimination of food allergies.
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Massage acupressure points including the following: in the middle of the eyebrow (yinyao), the temples (GB1), 1/2 inch above the middle/top part of the ears (GB5 area), and in the indentation under the cranium (GB20).
  • Also, releasing the tight neck and shoulder (trapezius) muscles will greatly relieve the migraine symptoms.
  • You might also pay attention to possible food allergies. Here's a discussion of allergies testing methods.

Migraine afflicts 28 million Americans, with females suffering more frequently (17%) than males (6%). Migraine headaches still remain largely under-diagnosed and under-treated. Less than half of individuals suffering from migraine headaches are diagnosed by their doctors.

A migraine headache is a type of headache brought on by dilation (vasodilation) of the blood vessels in the brain. There are nerve fibers that curve around the blood vessels and the enlargement stretches the nerves, bringing about the release of biochemicals that further enlarge the vessels and cause inflammation and pain.

Migraines have the effect of activating the body's sympathetic nervous system mobilizing the body's nervous system fight-or-flight response.

Symptoms

Early symptoms may include the "seeing" of auras, flashes of lights or vague shapes. (Also see ocular migraines.) Some lose vision temporarily to one side. Other early symptoms can include: dizziness, tingling or numbness in the fingertips or weakness to one side.

Full onset of symptoms include severe head pain, sometimes accompanied by nausea leading to vomiting and/or acute sensitivity to noise and light.

Symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes or hours to days.

Causes

Migraine headaches are caused by enlargement of blood vessels and the subsequent release of specific chemicals from nerve fibers around the blood vessels causing inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery. The increasing enlargement of the arteries magnifies the pain.

Though the specific causes are not directly known, the following are triggers for many sufferers: stress, specific odors, fluorescent lights, teeth clenching, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar levels, hormonal changes, caffeine, and specific foods including chocolate, aged cheeses, tyramine (found in wine, beer, sauerkraut and dry sausages), foods containing nitrites, monosodium glutamate and/or aspartame.

Some research also indicates that there is a connection between dry eye syndrome and migraines; that dry eye suffers who have migraines tend to have more severe and longer lasting migraines, or that dry eyes may trigger migraines.

Conventional Treatment

Abortive - to stop the migraine headache at the beginning of symptoms. Abortive drugs include the triptans, which specifically target serotonin. These drugs include: almotriptan, eletriptan, frovatriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, sumatriptan and zolmitriptan.

Also used for treatment are acetaminophen, dihydroergotamine, ergotamine tartrate and over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine.

Some drugs are mainly used for nausea related to migraine headaches in addition to pain treatment such as metoclopramide and prochlorperazine.

Natural Treatment

Ayurvedic Approach

Ayurvedic wisdom says that migraine headaches are usually caused by an abundance of pitta, or heat / fire. That being the case, you are more likely to have migraines when pitta is aggrevated. Pitta is aggrevated by fatigue, spicy foods, cheese, caffeine, tomato (especially sauce), onion and garlic. Pitta is greatest in the middle of the day and during hot summer months. Pitta is aggrevated by the glare of the sun. The approaches above in the sidebar all will pacify pitta - stay rested, don't spend long hours in front of the computer, eat simple healthy foods, stay cool and refreshed, wear sunglasses and avoid pitta aggrevating foods.

Herbs

A combination of ginger and the feverfew flower can reduce or even eliminate migraine pain - twice as effectively as ibuprofen, according to a 2011 study. Ginger reduces inflammation whch contributes to migraine pain, and feverfew apparently has the effect of blocking responses in the brain that trigger migraines. The combination can be found as an elixir (which may be more effective) or tea. In the 2011 study, 60 patients treated 208 migraine episodes using either ginger/feverfew under the tongue or placebo. These were patients who had a history of migraine with more than 15 headaches per month and were capable of distinguishing a migraine headache from a normal headache. On average 32% of the patients were pain free after 2 hours with prescription medications, and 16% were pain free after 2 hours with placebo while 63% of the patients taking feverfew/ginger were pain free after two hours.1 The only adverse side effect of feverfew/ginger were numbness in the mouth or nausea.

Research

See footnotes and research on vitamins and supplements for migraines.

1. Cady, RK, et al, A double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study of sublingual feverfew and ginger (LipiGesic™ M) in the treatment of migraine, Headache, July-Aug 51(7), 1078-86, 2011.

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