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Living with migraine headaches

As a migraine suffer myself since puberty, at the age of 12, I understand how debilitating these can be.  I now know that hormonal fluctuations during puberty can influence brain structure and function especially when combined with genetic and epigenetic factors and lead to enhanced susceptibility of a migraine condition. No two people experience migraine the same way, and even in the individual every migraine manifests in slightly different ways and scientists are still unsure of the complete pathophysiology of a migraine.

A migraine often arrives at the most inopportune times in your life, I experienced one on the day of my brother’s wedding, and can effect you for days. I searched for years for ways to control and manage my migraines, the solutions offered were:

  • Pharmaceuticals, which more often than not just delayed the onset and the migraine returned with a vengeance
  • The oral contraceptive pill, however I never was comfortable taking the OCP, in my mind my migraines where not caused by a deficiency of the OPC. Research now shows that the OCP alters brain function and structure
  • Removal of culprit foods such as alcohol (which I did and which helped reduce frequency), coffee, chocolate, cheese etc. However I could never manage these consistency and seemed the only real trigger I could find out of these was coffee.
  • Magnesium, which helped but did make my bowels loose and B2 supplementation, which only resulted in a very yellow urine, I still got migraines
  • Feverfew herbal supplement, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and works if taken prophylactically but again I couldn’t imagine having to take this herb for the rest of my life

Understanding Migraine

Women are more affected than men by migraine, and though infants and children can experience migraine most sufferers experience their first migraine at puberty. Some or all of the factors below may be contributing to your migraines, treatment is usually complicated and very individual, and often menstruation magnifies a pre-existing migrainous problem.

  • Hormonal – Over 50 per cent of migraines experienced by women occur around menstruation and ovulation. During these times oestrogen levels drop leading to lower levels of serotonin, which is also why we see an increase in migraine during peri-menopause. Testosterone may also play a role in migraine for both men and women
  • Poor glucose tolerance – blood sugar fluctuations and hypoglycemia often indicated by food cravings
  • Structural -neck and back problems, muscle tension caused by stress or lack of exercise, structural issues, low magnesium can all contribute to migraine
  • Lack of sleep – lack of adequate sleep affects our hormonal system, oestrogens affect the sleep-wake cycle and insomnia is a common pattern for migraine patients
  • Dehydration – Dehydration is an often overlooked Migraine trigger
  • Allostatic load – a build-up of multiple stressors increases our predisposition to an attack which then just requires a trigger such as caffeine
  • Environmental – body temperature is affected by oestrogen and when low we less able to adequately control body temperature, such as on an extremely hot day you overheat (explanation for why migraines don’t usually occur in the evening), some smells can trigger migraine
  • Diet – Inflammation plays a big role in migraine, and eating an inflammatory diet can exacerbate the frequency and intensity of migraine.
  • Histamine – Some foods are high in histamine and for some people this can increase their susceptibility
  • Genetic – You have a genetic disposition
  • Psychological – “The need for control and perfectionism, ignoring your needs, putting others first, a strong need for love and approval”  is the profile of the migraine person according to Inna Segal. Changing our mindset and self care goes a long way to reducing migraine occurrence.

And then you may have all this covered and still get a migraine, which may be due to an environmental factor that you were not aware of like toxic mould, or exposure to toxic gas. For myself I have found that lack of sleep, ongoing stress and not looking after myself in terms of diet and lifestyle all contribute to making me more susceptible to migraine attacks.

“Allostasis is a normal physiological adaptation to a stressor. When stressors become pathological and lead to a feed-forward cascade, allostasis is no longer preserved (i.e. allostatic load). Migraine can therefore be considered a model disease of allostatic load and overload in women, in which vulnerability to hormonal cyclicity enhances the predisposition to migraine.” (Borsook et al., 2014).

The Naturopathic Approach to Migraine

Migraine is very individual, we identify what your specific triggers are and work to reduce the frequency and intensity

  1. Manage stress – however this works for you but consciously getting yourself into a parasympathetic state at least twice a day by deep breathing, meditation, nana naps, grounding etc
  2. Herbal Medicines – If you find that your migraine manifests predominantly around menses herbs such as Chaste tree, and Black cohosh help to modulate hormones, feverfew to reduce inflammation and Withania, Rhodiola and Rhemania to help cope with stressors  (please note this is  a very generalised list and there may be a better choice of herb for your specific needs)
  3. Nutrients – Fish oils, magnesium (especially during the luteal phase), turmeric and phytoestrogens such as flaxseed, sesame seeds, soy products (make sure it is organic), tempeh, oats, red clover and liquorice.
  4. Diet – This is again very individual but a diet filled with fresh vegetables, fruit and good sources of protein and fats with no processed foods is a good place to start, but for some there will be specific needs such as if you have a poor glucose tolerance we make sure that you have something to eat every few hours so that your blood sugar doesn’t fall too low. Everyone needs to support the liver, so lots of greens vegetables and fibre.

If you are interested in understanding your migraines better and learning how best to manage them please contact Denise

Your naturopath
Denise x

References

  1. Borsook, D., Erpelding, N., Lebel, A., Linnman, C., Veggeberg, R., Grant, P., … Burstein, R. (2014). Sex and the Migraine Brain. Neurobiology of Disease68, 200–214. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2014.03.008
  2. Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. Fairfield, VIC: Trickey Enterprises.