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 – low serotonin levels can leave you more susceptible to pain (serotonin helps with pain regulation). Low serotonin can be caused by;
- 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 – eg gluten, dairy, additives – these can cause inflammation
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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 – try avoiding gluten and dairy for 4 weeks, eat lots of probiotic foods
- Keep hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine if you’re sensitive
- Manage stress
- Keep a journal to track potential patterns or triggers
- 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
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.