Migraines - Help Yourself
Migraine headaches cause periodic disruption in the lives of millions of people. It averages just over 10 percent of our population, making it the most prevalent neurological illness. Migraines have genetic, hormonal, immune, and environmental components. Migraines usually begin with a throbbing pain on one side of the head, which can spread to both sides.
About 60 percent of people experience symptoms twenty-four hours prior to the actual migraine, which include mood changes, food cravings, repetitive yawning, thirst, fluid retention, stiff neck, irritability, fatigue, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, lack of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, a feeling of coldness, lethargy, changes in vision, or seeing bright spots.
Medications and other techniques work best if used at this point. These symptoms may disappear when the headache appears or remain. Although symptoms vary from person to person, they have a consistent pattern in each individual. Migraine attacks may last from hours to days and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light.
Migraines usually come on in response to a “trigger.” Common triggers are foods and beverages, alcohol, stress, emotions, hormone changes, medications such as estrogen therapy, visual stimuli, or changes in routine. A recent study of 494 people with migraines cited the following triggers: stress in 62 percent, weather changes in 43 percent, missing a meal in 40 percent, and bright sunlight in 38 percent.
Cigarettes, perfumes, and sexual activity also provoked migraines in some people. Other triggers are red wines, exhaustion, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Jean Munro, M.D., an English doctor who specializes in working with people with multiple-chemical sensitivities, breaks migraines into four types.
The first type is a classic migraine, which begins with a visual disturbance of some sort—flashing lights, blackening, or blurred vision. It usually involves one side of the head, and people often vomit. The migraine usually lasts one to three days and can be quite severe.
The second type is called a common migraine and is almost identical to the first except that there is no visual warning. It begins on one side, sometimes progressing to both, and there may be vomiting. The third type is called a basilar migraine, when the blood vessels at the base of the head dilate.
It can be quite frightening and often causes a panicky feeling, accompanied by a sense of doom. A generalized headache is accompanied by a pins-and-needles sensation around the mouth, nausea, and tingling hands. The fourth type, called a motor migraine, is a variation on the basilar and may be quite severe.
Half the body feels weak, head pain centers around the eye, and vision is distorted. Of 282 patients with migraines whom Dr. Munro studied, 100 percent had food allergies or sensitivities; more than 200 of them were sensitive to wheat and/or dairy products. Other common trigger foods were tea, oranges, apples, onions, pork, and beef.
She found that foods eaten daily provoked more reactions than chocolate, alcohol, and cheese, which are thought to be the most common triggers. Dr. Munro also found that people who eliminated these foods from their diet and cleared their homes of environmental contaminants had the best results in prevention of migraines.
Using mild household cleaners, getting rid of gas appliances, removing house plants with molds and fungus, frequent cleaning, and making a bedroom an oasis by removing carpets and curtains resulted in fewer migraines.
Although these people were still exposed to smoke, perfume, and other environmental triggers outside, changing the home environment and diets lowered their threshold enough so that they became more tolerant.
More recent studies show that IgG4 and anti-IgG antibodies increased after food challenges in people with migraines, which supports the food-sensitivity or -allergy hypothesis. Other researchers have confirmed that many of the foods identified by Dr. Munro provoked symptoms. However, virtually any food can be a trigger.
John Diamond, M.D., of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago believes that foods high in amines also provoke migraines in some people. Dietary amines, which promote constriction of blood vessels, are normally broken down by enzymes, but some people with migraines have lower than normal amounts of the appropriate enzymes.
The amines that provoke vasoconstriction are serotonin, tyramine, tryptamine, and dopamine. They are found in the greatest quantities in avocados, bananas, cabbage, eggplant, pineapple, plums, potatoes, tomatoes, cheese, canned fish, wine (especially red), beer, aged meats, and yeast extracts.
Some physicians give intravenous M nutrients to people with migraines. An IV with 23 grams of magnesium sulfate, 200 to 300 milligrams of vitamin B6, and 1,000 milligrams of arginine will often give migraine relief in just minutes. This injection must be given slowly to prevent a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Hormone fluctuations in women can worsen, improve, or trigger migraines. Many women only experience migraines at specific times in their menstrual cycle from ovulation through menstruation. Birth control pills and other estrogen-containing medications are widely recognized to trigger migraines in susceptible women.
When women stop taking the medications, their migraines typically disappear. The truth is that migraines have many triggers that vary from person to person. Finding your triggers and the treatments that work best for you is the key. You certainly won’t need all the therapies listed below, but hopefully you’ll find relief from some of them.
- Make dietary changes. Remove all sugars, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and caffeine. One study found that a low-fat diet of less than 20 grams daily lowered the incidence of headache from nine each month to three each month. Headache intensity and the need for medications also dropped substantially.
- Investigate food sensitivities and allergies. Avoid foods you are sensitive to. Make your home environmentally safe by using only natural cleaning supplies, removing gas appliances, cleaning out mold and mildew, using a dehumidifier, and making your bedroom into a safe harbor by removing unnecessary items, such as carpeting and drapery.
- Use riboflavin (vitamin B2). Forty-nine people with recurrent migraines were given 400 milligrams of vitamin B2 daily with breakfast for three months. The number of migraines declined by 67 percent and the severity diminished by 68 percent.
- Take vitamin B12. Twenty people with a history of migraines for more than one year and with a frequency of two to eight per month were given 1 milligram vitamin B12 daily for three months in a nasal spray. Half of the people had a 53 percent reduction in migraines.
- Explore possible candida infection. A recent study of the relationship between candida and migraines found that thirteen out of seventeen migraine sufferers responded to a three-month program of diet and medication with fewer and less severe headaches.
- Take magnesium. Numerous studies have documented the relationship between low magnesium levels and migraine headaches. It is estimated that magnesium plays a role in at least half of all people with migraines. When magnesium is supplemented at levels of 600 milligrams daily, the number of migraines significantly decreases.
- Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats. Fish oil supplements contain high levels of DHA and EPA oils. They have been shown in many studies to reduce the severity, duration, and frequency of migraine headaches.
- Try feverfew. Numerous studies have shown the herb feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) to be effective in preventing and minimizing the severity of migraines. Others show no effectiveness. You can try it for yourself and see if it works for you.
- Try butterbur (Petadolex). Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a European herb that has been used for centuries for such diverse problems as plaque, cough, asthma, and skin wounds. It works by lowering inflammatory markers that cause pain. Most recently it has been shown to be effective for hay fever.
- Try acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of migraine headaches in some people. Study results vary. You may find great or no benefit.
- Explore behavioral techniques. Many studies have been done and biofeedback, hypnotherapy, and stress-reduction techniques have all proven useful to some migraine sufferers. They may be 35 to 50 percent effective. Plus, you’ll have better stress-management skills to use in all areas of life. Behavioral techniques help us better understand stressors and how to cope more effectively.
- Avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG can provoke migraine headaches, asthma, diarrhea, vomiting, and gastric symptoms. These problems can occur immediately after eating or may be delayed up to seventy-two hours, which makes their relationship to MSG more difficult to discover.
- Try quercetin. Quercetin, the most effective bioflavonoid because of its anti-inflammatory effects, can be used to reduce pain and inflammatory responses and control allergies. Take 500 to 1,000 milligrams three to four times daily at onset of migraine; take 500 milligrams daily as a preventive measure.
- Try chiropractic manipulation and massage. Chiropractic manipulation and massage can help blood and lymphatic supply and relax muscle tension.
- Examine effects of caffeine. Caffeine plays a mixed role in migraines. For some people, it significantly reduces the number and severity of headaches; for others it triggers them.
- Try niacin. Some physicians use niacin intravenously during a migraine to decrease the severity and duration of headaches. The dose contains at least 100 milligrams niacin, which is infused slowly.
- Take antioxidants. Migraines are often triggered by substances that promote free radicals, such as cigarette smoke, perfume, hair spray, pollution, and household chemicals. One researcher found lower levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD) in platelets of people with migraines than in people with tension headaches.