If you suffer from migraines, I don’t need to tell you how these intense headaches can leave you essentially incapacitated. In addition to miserable pain and sensitivity to light and sound, migraines can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, facial pallor, and cold hands and feet.
I wish I could tell you that there’s an ultimate cure. Unfortunately, these headaches can result from numerous causes, and so there will likely never be a single solution.
It’s generally accepted that migraines are a result of changes in blood flow to the brain. The difficulty in eliminating migraine headaches stems from the fact that there are dozens of different triggers that can cause these blood flow alterations. These can include stress, skipping meals, lack of sleep, hormone imbalance, temperature or barometric pressure changes, bright lights, loud noise, strong odors, exertion, and mineral and/or vitamin deficiencies.
Obviously, if you know your triggers and they’re easily avoidable or controllable, then you can probably make good progress in the way of prevention.
For example, if you know you develop a migraine when you skip a meal, always be sure to have snacks on hand or eat in a timely manner. In the same vain, avoid bright lights, loud noises, strong odors, and overexertion if you know these trigger migraines for you. And whether you’re a migraine sufferer or not, it’s always a good idea to get plenty of restful, rejuvenating sleep every night and to reduce and control stress as best as possible.
However, there are some triggers and causes that are less obvious and may require some detective work on your part.
Magnesium and Migraines
Magnesium deficiency is far more common than most people realize, and it is actually one of the most commonly overlooked migraine triggers. Magnesium deficiencies allow serotonin levels to flow unchecked. A serotonin increase causes vascular spasms, which then reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It also brings about the release of other pain-producing chemicals.
Studies show that up to 50 percent of migraine patients have low levels of magnesium during an attack, and an infusion of the mineral can provide rapid relief in treating migraines naturally. Additionally, routine oral use of magnesium can reduce both the frequency and severity of migraines.
Many factors contribute to magnesium depletion. Caffeine, diuretics, phosphates found in soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, nicotine, and medications such as steroids and antibiotics all either remove magnesium from your system or prevent its absorption.
Since healthy kidneys tend to flush out any excess, taking magnesium supplements orally is safe as long as your kidneys are functioning properly. (If you have a kidney problem, consult with your doctor before supplementing magnesium.)
Additionally, the blood vessels in the intestines help control the amount of magnesium that gets absorbed. Symptoms of too much magnesium often include diarrhea or loose stools. Monitoring your stools is actually one of the easiest ways to help regulate your dosage.
The best indicator that you’re getting enough oral magnesium to restore body levels and help get rid of migraines naturally is the presence of soft, semi-formed bowel movements. If you’re having diarrhea, you need to reduce your daily dose of magnesium by 10 to 20 percent. If you’re constipated, then you are most likely deficient in magnesium and will need to gradually increase your dosage 10 to 20 percent daily until the stool becomes soft and semi-formed. You can also expect to have two to three bowel movements a day, which is perfectly normal.
B Vitamins and Migraines
Recent research links low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) to an increase in severity of migraine headaches.
Thiamine deficiencies are rare in our society, but migraines can be avoided or minimized by increasing thiamine levels, so it stands to reason our levels are somehow being depleted. What could be the cause of this?
Well, one of the easiest ways to create a thiamine deficiency is to increase your consumption of sugar, and we know sugar consumption has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Thiamine is necessary for the brain and nervous system to function properly, and for breaking down carbohydrates and sugar. The body doesn't make thiamine, nor does it store it very well. We have to continuously get it from food intake, which can be depleted rather easily.
(It should be noted that no-calorie sweeteners can be just as bad when it comes to migraine headaches. One study found that aspartame was three times more likely to trigger a migraine than a typical headache. Other non-nutritive sweeteners, including saccharin, sucralose, neotame, and acesulfame-K, are also often reported as triggers for migraine attacks.)
Soft drinks, coffee, and tea can also deplete thiamine levels. Studies show 66 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have coffee every day.
It is wise to reevaluate your current diet and habits and make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of thiamine. The RDA is just 1.2 mg daily. Below are some foods that contain thiamine:
- Legumes (most beans, 1/3 cup dried, 1 cup cooked: 0.5 mg)
- Nutritional yeast (2 tablespoons: 9.6 mg)
- Seaweed (1 cup: 2.66 mg)
- Pork chop or trout (3 ounces: 0.4 mg)
- Nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, 1 ounce: 0.1 mg)
- Red meat (especially liver, 13 ounces cooked: 0.32 mg)
Plenty of foods are also fortified with thiamine, including breakfast cereals, bread, and pasta.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is another factor in migraines. In a study conducted by Dr. Jean Schoenen at the University of Liege in Belgium, mega-doses of riboflavin lessened the incidence of migraine headaches.
Dr. Schoenen’s team tested vitamin B2 on 55 mild-to-moderate migraine sufferers, ages 18 to 65. Before the study, these individuals had between two and eight attacks per month. Dr. Schoenen’s team found that patients given 400 mg of vitamin B2 per day experienced 37 percent fewer migraine attacks than individuals on a placebo, and the headaches they had were far less severe.
Dr. Schoenen’s study indicated that riboflavin therapy was as effective as migraine medications yet much less expensive and with considerably fewer side effects. It appears that you need to take it for at least three months to get the full benefits.
While I’m always in favor of getting your vitamins/minerals naturally from food sources whenever possible, I think taking a high-quality multivitamin/mineral complex is essential for B vitamins. A complex will will contain a proper ratio of all the B vitamins to provide good balance.
Other Natural Ways to Prevent & Get Rid of a Migraine
Along with addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, here are some other things that can be effective in treating migraines naturally.
Peppermint Oil + Ethanol
Researchers at the University of Kiel in Germany studied the use of peppermint oil and ethanol (alcohol) in the treatment of headaches. Thirty-two patients took part in the double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. Dabbing a mixture of peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and alcohol onto the participants’ foreheads and temples brought about mental and physical relaxation.
This mixture, however, wasn’t effective at reducing headache pain. But when only peppermint oil and alcohol were used, the participants noticed an almost immediate reduction in headache pain.
Before being applied topically, peppermint should be diluted with ethyl alcohol. Keep in mind, this is not common rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol). Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is grain alcohol, and the least expensive source is from the liquor store where it is sold as pure grain alcohol.
Dr. Philip Lamey, professor of oral medicine at the Royal Victoria Dental School in Belfast, and his colleagues compared peptide levels in saliva samples of migraine sufferers and non-migraine sufferers. He found that people who suffered from migraines had peptide levels between 50,000 and 60,000 units, while non-migraine sufferers had levels of only around 500 units.
To lower the peptide levels in migraine sufferers, Dr. Lamey had 19 migraine patients wear an oral appliance while they slept that completely kept the occlusal surfaces of the upper teeth from contacting the lower teeth. Apparently, teeth-clenching at night produces excess peptide. The results of this study were quite remarkable.
Saliva peptide levels dropped to around 500 units in migraine sufferers wearing the appliance (the same levels originally seen in non-migraine sufferers), and the number of migraine attacks dropped to an average of only 40 percent of what these patients had previously experienced. Dr. Lamey has found that the device only needs to be worn each night for about a year—for 70 percent of his patients using the device, after one year their migraine attacks ceased completely. This treatment doesn’t help every patient suffering from migraines. It works best in those who suffer from migraines frequently (at least two per week) and in those who experience migraines upon awakening in the morning.
If you suffer from migraines, especially ones that occur first thing in the morning, a trip to your local sporting goods store may solve your problem. When selecting a mouthpiece, choose one that covers the contact surfaces of all the top teeth, including any wisdom teeth and/or back molars.
Lastly, chiropractic adjustments can help a great deal, and getting your hormones tested and balanced can also prevent and treat migraines.