Natural Migraine Treatments That Work
Migraines are devastating headaches, and those who suffer with them have an amazing tolerance for pain. Fortunately for many migraineurs, there are some pharmaceutical medications that are actually very good at alleviating a these headache such as the triptan class of medications (which are vasoconstrictors). But for all the migraineurs whose pain is alleviated by medication, there are just as many who can’t find relief with pharmaceuticals.
Migraineurs, myself included, will try just about anything once if there is a chance it will alleviate the pain. However, most of us forget to go back to basics and take a look at our nutrition which could be the cause of the headaches in the first place. This can also be the reason pharmaceuticals don’t work on everyone with migraines.
Migraineurs have extremely sensitive brains. They are extremely sensitive to excitotoxins which are essentially chemical poisons that overstimulate brain cells. They cause cells in the brain to fire rapidly and repeatedly until they become exhausted and die. Interestingly, those with epilepsy also have extremely sensitive brain cells.
There are a number of different excitotoxins, and many of them are used as additives in foods. Some of the most common excitotoxins include:
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
The antidote (for lack of a better term) to excitotoxins is actually antioxidants which block the toxic effects of these chemical poisons, albeit indirectly. Excess excitotoxins such as glutamate allow free radicals to accumulate which can cause damage to nerve cells. Free radicals are essentially cellular trash and antioxidants prevent this accumulation by removing this cellular debris.
How does this prevent migraines? By not allowing free radicals to build up, damage to nerve cells is prevented as is inflammation which is the primary culprit of migraines. Avoiding these toxins is the best treatment, but sometimes they are in our foods and we don’t even know it despite how well we read the labels. Taking antioxidant supplements such as vitamin C and vitamin E can help prevent damage from those toxins that manage to slip by unnoticed.
Diagnosing a migraine headache isn’t easy. There are a number of different types of headaches:
- Cluster Headaches
- Tension Headaches
- Medication Overuse Headaches
- Chronic Daily Headache
- Familial Hemiplegic Migraine
- Basilar Migraine
- Abdominal Migraine
Many of these headaches have similar symptoms and distinguishing them can be very difficult. Unfortunately, the diagnosis can make all the difference in the treatment.
Usually mild constant pressure, like a band around the head
Excruciating pain of short duration, usually located around one red eye, nasal discharge
Medication Over use Headache
Daily headache, often tension-type, occuring in the mornings; caused by frequent use of painkillers
Chronic Daily Headache
Daily, often tension-type headache, similar to medication overuse headache
Intense, throbiing one-sided headache; nausea and vomiting; photophobia, increased sensitivity to sound, smell or movement; can last from four hours to several days
Clasical Migraine with Aura
Warning signs (aura) occur before a migraine attack starts, such as visual disturbances, stiffness or tingling, poor balance
Familial Hemiplegic Migraine
Form of migraine with stroke-like symptoms; linked to genetics and runs in families
A rare, dangerous form of migraine caused by brain stem dysfunction, with similar symptoms to hemiplegic migraine
Migraine in the gut, with vomiting, cramps, and nausea; occurs in children and less commonly in adults
The most difficult part of diagnosing migraines (or any headache) is the symptoms. Because they vary widely among individuals, symptoms can be the definitive factor in making the diagnosis.
This is when a headache journal comes in very handy. Writing down when you get a headache and everything associated with it can go a long way to helping your doctor diagnose and treat you.
There are plenty of programs available for the PC, iPad, iPhone, tablets and Androids that can help you keep track of your headaches as well as all the symptoms associated with it (like they say, there’s an app for that!). When you go to your doctor’s appointment, take your headache journal with you. Your doctor may find a pattern that you hadn’t noticed.
Dangerous Headache Symptoms
Headache that is similar to many previous attacks
Worst headache ever
Severe pain in one without a history of cluster headaches
A headache that initially occurs later in life (over the age of 40 or so) with no previous headache history
Blurred vision, red eye, seeing rainbows around bright lights
Tingling or numbness in an arm or leg, especially one-sided
Migraine with increased temperature or rash
Moderate to severe headache in a child
Change in unusual migraine symptoms, such as tender scalp, or red, watery eye
Natural Migraine Prevention
The best way to treat a migraine is to prevent it in the first place. Surprisingly, this is much more difficult than aborting a migraine attack in progress. This is because most prophylactics take time to work.
Feverfew is the perfect example. It can take up to four months for feverfew to take effect. It’s difficult to continue taking a prophylactic when you have no idea if it’s working or not, which is why most prophylactics fail. This is the case with both natural and pharmaceutical prophylactic methods.
Please check with your physician if you are currently on any medications for possible drug interactions, if you have preexisting health conditions that need to be addressed, or are pregnant or nursing before trying a new product or supplement.
That said, there are quite a few natural treatments for migraines including:
- Coenzyme Q10
- Fish Oil
Some of the above can also be used to abort an attack, however. While feverfew alone won’t abort an attack, when coupled with ginger, it can be very effective in stopping a migraine in its tracks.
Magnesium is another surprising migraine attack treatment. Migraines are sometimes the result of magnesium deficiency and taking magnesium supplements can help prevent attacks caused by such a deficiency. However, there is evidence to suggest that an infusion of 1,000mg of magnesium sulfate by direct injection will abort a migraine even in patients without a magnesium deficiency.
Finding this type of treatment can prove to be impossible, however. Most doctors won’t provide the treatment because of the lack of scientific evidence supporting it despite the fact that there have been several small studies done on treatment with magnesium.
People who have a zinc deficiency will benefit from taking a zinc supplement daily. A supplement of 15 to 25mg is sufficient. Unfortunately, zinc isn’t as effective as magnesium in aborting a migraine.
Fish oil and Boswellia are beneficial because of their effects on inflammation. Curcumin, a derivative of turmeric also has very powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Prevention with Nutrition
Our body chemistry is the result of a symphony of enzymatic reactions. Why the medical community attempts to treat various illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, migraines and other conditions with a single medication is beyond me. Not one cell in the body is made up of a drug. However, there are about 24 different nutrients that can be found in our cells. So it makes sense that nutrition would be able to prevent (and sometimes abort) a migraine attack.
One such nutritional method is the Gerson Diet. Dr. Max Gerson suffered from migraines, and after researching diet and nutrition, he became headache free by avoiding various foods and incorporating nutrient rich foods into his diet. The Gerson Diet involves raw, vegan foods, fresh organic juices and absolutely NO processed foods, or animal products.
The Gerson Diet was so effective in treating various illnesses that it has become a well-known treatment for cancer that is actually illegal in the United States (it is illegal to treat cancer with anything other than chemotherapy or radiation here in the United States).
Just about any vitamin deficiency can cause headaches of some kind, including migraines. Some vitamin deficiencies are more common than others including:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
The B vitamins, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin and B12, are involved in the production of cellular energy and the synthesis of neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin. Low serotonin levels are thought to be a major cause of migraines because of the vasodilation low levels can cause. Vitamin C, E and D are all powerful antioxidants which can help prevent inflammation and the buildup of free radicals.
Minimizing processed foods in the diet, especially those with MSG and aspartame, can go a long way to preventing migraines. Adding in a diet rich in nutrients and vitamins such as the Gerson Diet can help alleviate migraines completely. Exercise is a very important part of this equation as well, however. The endorphins released are the body’s natural painkillers and help to maintain the health of the cardiovascular system. Since migraines are vascular events, this too can help prevent them.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Melissa Flagg OSC