With all the stressors of today’s hectic paced lifestyles and economic uncertainty, less than optimal nutrition, and deprived sleep patterns, it’s no wonder more and more of my patients complain of getting headaches. Did you know that about 90% of the population gets at least 1 headache a year? That’s a lot of headaches!
In addition about 16-17% of people get a specific type of headache, a migraine, or vascular, headache at least once in their life. They usually affect women more than men because of hormonal differences, but men certainly do get them. Some people get them as frequently as once a month and can be so intense that they cannot do their everyday activities!
If you’re one of the people who suffer with migraines frequently, or even occasionally, I’d like to talk to you about what a migraine is and the various causes in order to help you prevent them. Then I’d like to share with you some helpful, nonaddicting, natural remedies for them.
What Is A Migraine Headache?
Simply stated, a migraine headache is a vascular headache. The term ‘migraine’ comes from an old French word, megrim, which refers to a syndrome of dizziness, head pain, and nausea. It eventually became known as ‘migraine” and people who get them are called migraineurs.
It is believed that a migraine headache occurs due to an outside trigger that causes nerve spasms within the brain or the sheath covering the brain. This spasm constricts the blood vessels and creates the migraine “aura”, or lights, that people often experience.
Next, the blood vessels over relax allowing too much blood flow to the brain. This causes pressure to build and pain to occur. Migraines can last for a few hours or, in some people, a few days! In short, migraines can be short and intense in duration or prolonged and miserable.
What Causes A Migraine Headache?
Recent research has identified a few neurochemical associations with migraines, namely dopamine and serotonin. These two important substances are “feel good” chemicals. When they become significantly imbalanced it is thought that this shift brings on a migraine headache. There are several causes, or triggers, that can cause these chemical imbalances. They include:
- Smoking: Decreases oxygen and introduces chemicals into the bloodstream.
- Certain Foods: Chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nuts, alcohol, cheese, are known irritants to migraine-sensitive people.
- Erratic Meals: Eating on the run, missing meals, going without food for long periods of time can cause a shift in these brain chemicals.
- Dehydration: Your brain is about 80% water. Dehydration can trigger a migraine.
- Erratic Sleep Patterns: Not sleeping enough, or too much, can disrupt brain chemicals.
- Hormone Fluctuations: Monthly hormonal shifts of estrogen and progesterone in women can trigger brain chemical imbalances.
- Stress: Especially if chronic, can lead to all kinds of chemical imbalances in the body that can have a domino effect, i.e., one causes the other.
- Sensory, Environmental Stimulants: Bright sunlight, bright colors, blinking lights, strong unpleasant smells, loud, pounding beat music, altitude and weather changes.
- Certain Illnesses: Epilepsy, abnormal cholesterol levels, depression/anxiety, Tourette syndrome, hereditary tumors, stroke, certain eye diseases, inner ear/balance problems.
Symptoms of A Migraine Headache
Although many of my patients complain of occasional headaches, not all of them are migraines. Migraine headache shares many characteristics of the common headache but are generally much more intense. Every person who gets a migraine may also have their own specific symptoms, but these are the characteristic symptoms of a migraine headache:
- Prodrome – a pre-headache period where you feel out of sorts and spacey.
- Nausea – intense pain may trigger vomiting.
- Inability to tolerate light or noise – prefer a dark, quiet room.
- Irritability and fatigue – person wants to be left alone and to sleep.
What Helps A Migraine Headache?
There are many prescription drugs on the market called triptans that work to relieve migraine headache pain. However, did you know that there are many natural, alternative treatments that can remedy a migraine headache? Here they are:
- Magnesium – many people who get migraines have magnesium deficiencies which can cause the nerve and muscle spasms that bring on the migraine. 400-600 mg a day.
- Feverfew – this herb has been used since ancient times as a headache remedy and is popular in Europe as an alternative migraine treatment. If you’re allergic to ragweed, chamomile or yarrow, or if you take blood thinners for any reason, do not take feverfew.
- 5-HTP – produces serotonin which can rebalance natural levels. Research shows it to both prevent and greatly reduce the severity of a migraine headache.
- Butterbur – an herb proven effective in double blind studies at 75 mg twice a day to prevent migraines. Again, if you’re allergic to ragweed, don’t take butterbur.
- DLPA – short for DL-phenylalanine, a naturally occurring amino acid/neurotransmitter that stimulates endorphins, another feel good hormone. Rebalances dopamine and serotonin and relieves pain. Research shows people who get migraines are almost always deficient in endorphins so DLPA can be beneficial. Found in health food stores.
- Acupuncture/acupressure massage – stimulates certain meridians on the body and has proven effective in relieving stress and migraine pain.
- Biofeedback – helps reduce stress if that is a trigger for you.
- Chiropractic – an evaluation by a chiropractor can detect if there is a musculoskeletal/nerve component to your migraine. Nerves trapped between your neck or upper back vertebra of your spine may be triggering the pain.
As I tell my patients, headaches, especially migraines, can be miserable. I like to have them try natural remedies first, perhaps a combination of them, before we turn to prescription drugs. In addition, I like to focus on prevention as much as possible. Try some of the suggestions here to both prevent a migraine from occurring and stop it if it does. Keep a log of under what conditions your migraines occur and try to avoid those conditions as best you can in the future.