What Is A Migraine?
Migraines are a spasmodic disorder, which is characterized by recurrent episodes of headaches. These headaches may occur with or without associated visual and gastrointestinal disturbances, and are often related to a disorder of the circulation through the head. Usually, migraines start to occur between the ages of 10 and 30, and have been linked to low levels of seratonin (the happy, feel good chemical in your brain). Approximately half of people who experience migraines have a family member who also gets them. Migraine headaches can last from hours to days, and some people can have more than one per day. They are often preceded by an 'aura', during which a person may see flashing lights. Stress, tight neck and shoulder muscles, misalignments in the spine and TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Syndrome may all contribute to this condition.
Symptoms of migraines may include:
What Are My Treatment Options?
- Pounding, throbbing pain
- Localized or diffuse pain
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Sensitivity to odours
- Visual disturbances
Conventional / Allopathic Medicine
Medical doctors may use a number of different drugs, depending on the frequency and severity of the migraines. Pain relief medications can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ASA), beta-adrenergic and calcium channel blocking medicines (also used as heart medication), barbiturates and ergot alkaloids. Drugs that affect seratonin levels may also be used.
- Nutrition: There are a number of dietary factors that are known to contribute to this condition. Tyramine and sulfites are two compounds that have been highly associated with migraines. These can be found in foods such as alcohol (specifically red wine), cheese, chocolate and coffee. Sulfites are used as a food preservative and may be found on dried fruit and at restaurant salad bars. Avoiding foods you are intolerant to is also important as these foods can cause histamines to be released, which can exacerbate migraines. These foods may include wheat, dairy, citrus, shellfish and tomatoes. Peanuts and red meat should also be avoided as they promote inflammation in the body. Some foods which are helpful to add are cold water fish, beets, carrots, artichokes and those with high fiber content (such as apples, oats and psyllium)
- Nutritional Supplements: Often it is too difficult to eat enough of the right foods, or the amount of food necessary to get all the nutrients in the amounts we need. Fish oil capsules are available to help us get enough of the essential fats we need to help decrease inflammation. Magnesium which helps relax the blood vessels, is also available in a tablet and liquid form. Vitamin C and quercitin are particularly helpful when the migraines are associated with allergic situations, low immunity and stress. Seratonin levels can also be affected using supplements containing 5- hydroxy tryptophan ( a building block of seratonin).
- Botanical Medicine: There are many herbs that can help prevent as well as treat migraines including:
- Feverfew - this herb is particularly helpful in preventing migraines from occurring
- Lavender - is a very relaxing and soothing herb which is helpful when migraines are associated with depression or anxiety
- Valerian - acts as a sedative and decreases spasms, therefore is helpful with throbbing headaches
- Cayenne - helps prevent migraines and improve blood flow
- Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture: According to traditional Chinese medical theory, the liver and kidneys are the main organs associated with migraines. Therapies are geared towards strengthening these organs and supporting healthy flow of blood and qi (energy). There are many herbal formulas (called patents), which can be used during acute episodes and as prevention. The patent used depends on the system being strengthened. Acupuncture needles can be used in conjunction with herbs to further strengthen and support the organs. The emotions anger and fear may weaken the liver and kidneys, and therefore should be addressed as well.
- Homeopathy: There are many remedies which can help prevent and treat migraines including;
- Belladonna - is useful during acute episodes where there is a throbbing pain on the right side of the head, which comes on suddenly. The eyes are unevenly dilated, glossy and unfocussed. The migraine is worse when stopping and between 3 and 4 p.m.
- Gelsemium - is useful when the person feels dizzy, dull and toxic. There is nausea, the eyes feel heavy and they feel sleepy. This headache is made worse from drinking alcohol.
- Pulsatilla - this remedy is used to help with migraines in children experiencing puberty. They feel as if their head will burst and cry easily. The children usually feel better outside and feel worse in the evening, after eating fatty foods and during their menstrual period.
- Tuberculinum - is useful when the headaches are associated with allergies and the pain feels like a band around the head.
- Hydrotherapy: Applications of cold water to the back of the neck and head, or alternating hot and cold water can be very useful in reducing the pain of migraines. Hot foot baths may help as well.
- Spinal and Joint Manipulation: Often migraines are associated with misalignment in the spine. Adjustment of the cervical spine can help re-align the vertebral column and improve blood flow.
- Lifestyle: Stress and muscle tension can contribute to migraines as they have a negative impact on blood flow. Relaxation techniques, deep breathing and exercise can all help relieve stress. Having a massage helps relax muscles and relieve stress. It also feels great!! Proper expression of the emotions of anger and fear are also essential in migraine treatment and prevention (see Traditional Chinese Medicine section).
The above treatment considerations are intended for informative purposes only and Millennium Health Centre does not propose that they will ensure cure. While some have used the basic information mentioned above to successfully treat themselves, such self-diagnosis and treatment is greatly cautioned. These therapies need to be considered in the greater context of an individual's overall health status, other medical conditions and the use of pharmaceutical medications. Indeed, these treatments must always be considered as to their potential to interact with other botanical and pharmaceutical medications. As such, consultation with a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine is strongly advised. Please see our 'Links' page for the O.A.N.D.'s website to locate an N.D. in your area, or call Millennium Health Centre to arrange an appointment.