If you suffer from migraines, you know how debilitating they can be. So in this post, our Sussex health expert looks at the available and more natural help for migraines.
Symptoms of migraine may include:
- Moderate to severe pain on one or both sides of the head
- Pulsating or throbbing pain
- Pain worse with physical activity
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Typically begin in the morning, peak within 1 hour, and last 4 to 24 hours
Approximately 20% of people with migraines experience an aura prior to the migraine. Symptoms of an aura include flashes of light, zig zags, or blind spots in vision or tingling in one arm or leg.
- Affects 15-20% of men & 25-30% of women
- Usually begin in childhood, peak in 20’s or at menopause
- Familial incidence
- Sequence of events is believed to be excessive constriction of intracranial arteries (causing decreased blood supply to the brain), followed by a rebound dilatation of the extracranial vessels (the headache phase)
- Dilation of extracranial vessels naturally occurs with heavy exercise, hence the association of exercise-induced migraine
- Evidence suggests migraine sufferers have an inherited abnormal control of their vascular system, so that they faint more easily on standing
- The platelets of migraine sufferers cluster together more readily than normal platelets, both normally and when exposed to certain neurochemicals. (Platelets are fragments in the blood that form clots and stop or prevent bleeding)
Food restriction will invariably improve symptoms in the majority of migraine sufferers.
There are various mechanisms by which food intolerances may induce migraine:
- Abnormal response to chemically active substances in food e,g. tyramine, histamine etc. (see chart below)
- Deficiency in an enzyme called MAO (mono amine oxidase)
- Platelet abnormality (as above)
- Food allergy – allergic reactions to food cause the release of the chemical messenger, serotonin
- Some migraine sufferers have an abnormality of blood-sugar regulation, known as reactive hypoglycemia, which can be controlled with dietary changes that control blood sugar levels. Controlling hypoglycaemia involves strict avoidance of refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and eating small, frequent meals (up to 6 times per day). This will often improve both frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
Foods that may trigger migraines
|Foods and Additives||Responsible Chemical|
|Beers, wines, certain liquors, cheese, processed meat (e.g.hot dogs), seafood, peas, pickles, olives, sauerkraut||Tyramine and phenylethylamine (these chemicals tend to become more potent in foods that are stored improperly)|
|Banana, red plums, avocado, pineapple, kiwi, strawberries, Deadly nightshade group, spinach, cabbage. Smoked meat, aged cheeses, oily fish. Champagne, black tea. Yeast products, vinegar, peanuts, chocolate||Histamine (also tends to become more potent in foods that are stored improperly)|
|Apple juice, coffee, red wine, tea||Tannin. Caffeine withdrawal (coffee, tea)|
|A common seasoning, most commonly found in food prepared by Chinese restaurants but also contained in many commercial products||Monosodium glutamate (MSG)|
|Chocolate, Cheese, Alcohol||Vasoactive amines that cause constriction of blood vessels|
|Red wine||Flavonoids that block the activity of MAO|
|Preservatives in wines, dried fruits, and other products||Sulphites|
Sleep patterns – Improving sleep habits is important for anyone who suffers with migraine.
Aerobic exercise – Exercise is certainly helpful for relieving stress and some studies do show that aerobic exercise might help prevent migraines. It is important, however, to warm up gradually before beginning a session, since sudden, vigorous exercise might actually precipitate or aggravate a migraine attack.
Avoid oral contraceptives – Hormonal agents, such as oral contraceptives (OCPs) or hormone replacement therapy, have a mixed effect on women with migraines. OCPs have been associated with worsening of headaches and have also been linked to a higher risk of stroke in women with classic migraines (with auras).
On the other hand, some evidence suggests that OCPs may help prevent true menstrual migraines (which do not have auras). Keeping a migraine record for at least three menstrual cycles can help to confirm whether or not you suffer from true menstrual migraine.
Infection with Helicobacter pylori may predispose people to migraine headaches and studies show that intensity, duration, and frequency of attacks of migraine are usually significantly reduced when the H. pylori infection is eradicated.
Acupuncture, Dry needling and Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS – an electrical nerve stimulation technique) have all been shown to be useful in the treatment of migraines.
Manipulation has been shown to be equally as effective as medication for migraine sufferers that have neck pain, tenderness of the spinal joints of the neck, and limited ability to move the neck.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Magnesium –people with migraines have been found to have lower blood and brain levels of magnesium. Supplementing with magnesium has a very high success rate in reducing the frequency of migraines.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) – has been shown to reduce both the frequency and severity of migraines by more than two-thirds.
Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) – has been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks by at least 50%.
5-HTP – The cause of migraine headache is believed to be related to abnormal serotonin function in blood vessels. Serotonin is produced in the body from 5-HTP.
EPA/DHA – Fish oil containing EPA and DHA has been reported to reduce the symptoms of migraine headache. Fish oil may help because it increases production of prostaglandins, which are the body’s natural anti-inflammatory substances.
CoQ10 –supplementation of coenzyme Q10 for three months has shown reduction in migraine frequency by 60%.
SAMe – Preliminary research suggests that oral supplements of SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) may reduce symptoms for some migraine sufferers.
Melatonin – Some migraine sufferers would appear to have a disturbed cyclic production of this hormone. Melatonin is produced by a small gland in the brain at night and is associated with control of the sleep–wake cycle. For those affected, supplementing with melatonin (under medical prescription only) can significantly improve severity and frequency of migraines.
Botanical treatment options
Butterbur – Double-blind trials have demonstrated that butterbur extract can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks significantly better than placebo.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur. Butterbur is in the ragweed plant family, so people who are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemum should not use butterbur.
Feverfew – The most frequently used herb for the long-term prevention of migraines is feverfew. Multiple double-blind trials have reported that continuous use of feverfew leads to a reduction in the severity, duration, and frequency of migraine.
Ginger – A double-blind study found that a combination of feverfew and ginger may be effective for acute treatment of migraines.
Ginkgo biloba extract may also help because it inhibits the action of a substance known as platelet-activating factor, which may contribute to migraines.
Cayenne – There is preliminary evidence that capsaicin, the active constituent of cayenne, can be applied inside the nose as a treatment for acute migraine. Intranasal application of capsaicin produces a burning sensation and should therefore be used only under the supervision of a certified healthcare practitioner.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2022. All rights reserved
Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Visit www.purebio.co.uk for all your nutritional supplement needs
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