For many people, migraine headaches are painful, debilitating, and interfere with quality of life. Jill, my 28-year-old patient from Mililani, came to see me because she was experiencing migraines when she ovulated (at mid-cycle) and at the time of her period. She also had less severe headaches throughout the month. She was missing work frequently and had to schedule her life in anticipation of her insufferable headaches. Jill had tried Imitrex, a well-known prescription medication, but found that the drug didn’t help. She needed relief and was ready to make dietary and lifestyle changes, if necessary, to prevent her migraines.
Migraine headaches affect six percent of men, eighteen percent of women, and two to four percent of children. More than fifty percent of patients with migraines have a family member who has also experienced these debilitating headaches. Migraines know no boundaries; sufferers are found in all races, cultures and geographical locations.
Migraines can come on with or without warning. Warning comes in the form of an aura which can last a few minutes and includes symptoms of blurring or bright spots in the visual field. Nausea, vomiting, throbbing head pain, anxiety, fatigue, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body usually accompany a migraine headache.
Research has suggested that hormonal changes (especially the changes associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle), platelet aggregation (platelets are small blood cells involved in the formation of blood clots), serotonin deficiency, and various stressors may be responsible for causing migraine headaches. Constriction of blood vessels followed by excessive dilation of blood vessels in the head causes migraine headache pain.
What can you do to prevent migraine attacks?
Avoid triggers. In 1997, the Mayo Clinic Health Letter published an article estimating that twenty percent of migraines are caused by food sensitivities. The most common culprits are dietary amines (foods containing high levels of the amino acids tyramine and phenylalanine) such as chocolate, cheese, beer, red wine, pickled herring, yogurt, and raspberries. Dietary amines also contain increased amounts of histamine that can trigger migraines by causing blood vessels to expand in sensitive individuals. Food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (found in Nutrisweet), and sodium nitrite (found in many processed meats) are also migraine triggers.
Several studies also support the idea that migraines can be triggered by food allergies. Common culprits are dairy foods, wheat, eggs, and oranges.
Consider nutritional therapy. A study published in the journal Neurology in 1998 states that riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, taken at a dose of 400mg per day decreased the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches in fifty-nine percent of the participants. Another study using the same dosage of riboflavin stated that the participants had a sixty-eight percent improvement in migraine symptoms. (Remember: Always take a vitamin B-complex when using riboflavin as a treatment for migraines. And don’t be alarmed – riboflavin will make your urine very yellow.)
Consider herbal medicine. The herb feverfew has a long history of medicinal use for the prevention of migraines. Studies show the minimum recommended dosage is 125mg of dried feverfew leaf standardized to 0.2% parthenolide content. Feverfew should be used continuously for at least four to six weeks to determine effectiveness. (Warning: This herb is not recommended during pregnancy and lactation, or for children younger than two years of age.)
Consider acupuncture. The use of acupuncture in the treatment of migraine headaches has been studied worldwide. Acupuncture works to relieve pain and to prevent these intense headaches through normalizing serotonin levels.
Consider hormone therapy. Dr. Glenn Rothfeld, M.D. a professor at Tufts University and author of several books on natural medicine, believes that hormonal imbalances can cause migraines in women. He has found that it is usually progesterone deficient to estrogen that causes the imbalance. Other studies suggest that women experience migraines due to fluctuation in estrogen levels. Dr. Tori Hudson, N.D., author of Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, states that a low dose estrogen pill from mid-cycle until a woman’s menses starts can prevent hormonally driven migraines. (It is important to see your doctor and have your hormone levels checked before beginning any hormonal therapy.)
Jill feels like a new woman. She started taking feverfew and progesterone and did a series of acupuncture treatments and, after only two months, is headache free!
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.