Andrea Lemieux, RNCP
Migraines are a class of headaches that usually confine themselves to one side of the hea.
Migraines are a class of headaches that usually confine themselves to one side of the head. They are classified as "vascular" headaches because they result from blood vessel spasms: that throbbing pain occurs because the vessels in the lining of the brain dilate and go into spasm on the rebound.
Conventional medicine often provides no relief. "Painkillers" such as analgesics and ergotamine (they constrict the blood vessels) drugs can actually increase their frequency (known as "rebound" headaches). Although the spasms are due to a complex interplay of factors, for most people, they can be relatively easy to prevent using a natural, drug-free approach. More women than men experience migraines (they're often related to the menstrual cycle).
If you're taking birth control pills--stop. Menstrual migraines are associated with low progesterone levels and the birth control pill causes your body to decrease the hormone's production. Some herbs that help balance hormone activity are chaste berry (Vitex agnus castus), dong quai (Angelica sinensis) and wild yam (Dioscorea). They are available singly or in combination, in tinctures or in capsules and should be taken in the dosage recommended on the product label.
Feverfew is another well-known herbal migraine relief. It's an anti-inflammatory and vasodilator. It controls the expansion and contraction of blood vessels in the head. Its effects are cumulative and it has to be taken regularly for three or four months before it works. Look for a high quality product to ensure its potency and consult a qualified health care practitioner before experimenting with this remedy.
Herbal teas, taken by the cup as needed, can offer relief. Ginger tea, made with grated fresh ginger root simmered in hot water, can help with a migraine headache located at the front of the head. Skullcap is a sweet-tasting, nerve-soothing herb, camomile has a mildly sedative effect and peppermint can help people whose migraines are accompanied by nausea. A teaspoon of raw honey added to these herbal teas, or simply to warm water, can also give effective relief of nausea.
Homeopathic remedies, when prescribed by an experienced homeopathic practitioner, provide very effective treatment for migraines. There are more than three dozen possible remedies for migraines. The remedy is selected according to the precise anatomical location of the headache, symptoms, external triggers and emotional reactions.
The Diet and Nutrition Connection
If you suffer from migraines, you're probably aware that there are triggers. Food allergies are usually involved, especially an allergy to gluten. Other common triggers include aged cheese; cured, smoked or pickled meat and fish; chicken liver; yeast; red wine; beer and chocolate. These foods all contain tyramine which causes constriction and swelling of the blood vessels. The caffeine in coffee, black tea and soft drinks, as well as sugar, dairy products, soy, uncooked tomatoes, peanuts, eggs, citrus fruit, overripe fruit and insufficiently soaked legumes and nuts, also act as triggers.
Oxidized fats (those damaged by heat) also play a major role because they cause inflammation. To protect against a variety of inflammatory conditions, avoid all refined and processed vegetable oils and deep-fried foods. Flax seeds contain essential fatty acids that counteract inflammation. One tablespoon of flax seed oil or raw, freshly ground flax seeds used right away can help prevent migraines.
Vitamin C is important for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; it helps keep your blood vessels strong and supports adrenal glands which become weakened by excess stress. A dose of 500 milligrams three times daily can be helpful.
Quercetin is a powerful bioflavonoid that helps maintain blood vessel tone and counteracts the effects of food allergies. The recommended dose is 500 milligrams daily. Vitamin E, 400 IU of mixed tocopherols daily, keeps the linings of blood vessels healthy.
Magnesium is important for migraine sufferers and is effective in calming any type of spasm. It's found in almonds, other nuts and seeds, apples, brown rice, green, leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables and fruit. A supplement of 100 milligrams of magnesium citrate can be taken three times daily with meals.
Through careful observation, you will begin to see a pattern emerge pointing to the particular factors that trigger your headaches. Avoid them as much as possible and change to a healthier diet and lifestyle. With the careful use of natural remedies, you stand the best chance of reducing the blinding pain of migraine headaches to no more than a distant memory.