If you suffer from migraines, you don't need to be told how debilitating they are. I hear it often from the many women who have to live with them on a regular basis.
Migraines are a type of intense headache, with throbbing pain and often light or sound sensitivity. And they like to hang around. They can last from a few hours to days at a time.
According to research undertaken in 2003, it is estimated that there are 190,000 migraine attacks experienced every day in England. 6 million people suffer from migraines in the UK, with women much more susceptible than men, especially in the 35-55 age group.
What are common migraine triggers?
Hormones – migraines are often associated with your monthly cycle, sometimes referred to as menstrual migraines. Why do they happen?
- Oestrogen and/or progesterone - the drop in sex hormones just before your period, or during menopause, can trigger migraines
Serotonin - often referred to as serotonin migraines, low serotonin levels can leave you more susceptible to pain (serotonin helps with pain regulation). Common causes include;
- Low oestrogen - oestrogen has a vital role in serotonin production
- Lack of daylight and Vitamin D
- Low protein intake (you need Tryptophan)
- Nutrient deficiencies – B6, zinc, magnesium, iron, Calcium, folate, Vitamin C
- Digestive issues – 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut
- Certain medications
- Hormone disrupting chemicals – BPA, pesticides, Phthalates – acting as xeno-estrogens
- Prolonged stress
Inflammation - inflammation anywhere in the body can impact the brain
- Menstrual induced inflammation - when you bleed, your immune system releases prostaglandins, inflammatory agents that are produced to ‘heal’ injury and bleeding. They can cause muscle contractions – which are the cramps we can feel. This increase in inflammation can affect the whole body, including the brain.
Gut inflammation - as we now know, inflammation in the gut can link directly to inflammation in the brain. There are a couple of main reasons;
- Infection - bacteria, yeast, fungus, viruses, parasites - microbial balance is vital to reduce inflammation.
- Food sensitivities can trigger migraines - eg gluten, dairy, chocolate, caffeine, red wine, spicy foods, aged cheese, yeast extract, some additives or preservatives, and nitrates found in processed meats. Also food containing histamines or tyramine.
- Musculoskeletal - inflammation can also be caused by injury or damage to muscles, bone, ligaments etc
Stress– cortisol can alter neurotransmitter function and increase tension which can trigger migraines. Not just the obvious stressors, but also things that increase stress on the body such as intensive exercise, illness, surgery, injury, menopause, health conditions or internal imbalances.
Lack of sleep - too little, too much or an irregular pattern may trigger migraines.
Nutrient deficiencies – certain nutrients are key to the health of your brain and your nervous system;
- Magnesium – nuts, seeds, dark green leafy veg, dark chocolate, avocado
- B vitamins – whole grains, meat, fish, dairy, eggs
- Omega 3 – oily fish
- Vitamin D - sunshine!
- B12 or folate (deficiency can cause peripheral nerve damage and/or elevated homocysteine)
- Vitamin E
- WATER! - dehydration is a major factor in headaches and migraines
Toxins – there are many environmental, food and household chemicals that we are exposed to that can cause inflammation, oxidative stress and ultimately trigger a migraine. These include MSG, food additives and preservatives, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, phthalates and plastics.
Genetics– common genetic variations can make you more susceptible to migraines
Natural approaches to migraines
- Keep a diary so you know what might trigger them
- Include anti-inflammatory foods – lots of antioxidants (fruit & veg), herbs, spices, healthy fats
- Avoid potentially inflammatory foods; sugar, refined carbs, bad fats (veg oils), processed foods, alcohol.
- Eliminate potential food sensitivities (eg gluten, dairy) for 4 weeks
- Include plenty of omega 3 fats from oily fish (or take a supplement)
- Keep blood sugar stable to balance insulin and cortisol
- If you’re oestrogen dominant, support your liver with cruciferous veg and a liver supplement formula (including milk thistle)
- If you’re low in oestrogen, try including phytoestrogens in your diet like organic soy, flaxseeds, chick peas and lentils – these help to balance your oestrogen levels
- Support your gut - eat lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods
- Keep hydrated, avoid caffeine if it's a trigger
- Manage stress
- Support good sleep habits
- Get yourself tested to see if you have any hormone imbalances, gut issues or nutrient deficiencies (talk to us if you want more info)
- A good multivitamin, including B6 which helps produce serotonin
- Omega 3 – with good levels of EPA/DHA
- Vitamin D3 and K2
- Vitamin C
- Magnesium – citrate or glycinate is best absorbed
Check out my supplement recommendations over at Approved Vitamins.
Do check with your Doctor before taking any new supplements if you're on medication or have a health condition.
Managing migraines can be a full time task, but I hope you’ve got some things here you can try. And if you get to the root cause, you’ll have a better chance of getting rid of them once and for all.
If you'd like to talk to us about your migraines, or any other health issue, do get in touch.