Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not tonight honey – I’ve got a head ache!

Your head is throbbing and the pain is almost unbearable. Light or sound only makes it worse. You may even be feeling nauseated. The slightest movement only intensifies the pain. Although you feel like it's the end of the world, and no one can understand what you are going through, a comforting thought is that you are not alone. You are having a migraine headache.

Although there is no cure for migraines, there is hope for effective relief and a significant reduction in the severity and number of migraine headaches you suffer.

Why do so many women suffer from migraine headaches?

There is significant evidence that there may be a connection between migraines and fluctuations in estrogen levels in women. The problem appears to be the response of the central nervous system to normal hormonal fluctuations.

Women often experience their first migraine headache during their teen years, most occurring with the onset of menstruation. Often the frequency and severity of premenstrual migraines can increase as a woman approaches menopause. Premenstrual migraines are often related to the rapid decline in estrogen just before menstruation in conjunction with other migraine triggers such as rapid fluctuations in the blood sugar levels, food sensitivities or structural problems of the neck and back. Any of these predisposing factors can trigger a vascular response, usually blood-vessel spasm which causes pain.

Will oral contraceptives (OCs) help women with migraines?

Most women who have had previous migraines will not see a significant change in their headache pattern after beginning oral contraceptives; however, they may see an increase in the severity of migraines during the pill-free week. Women who use oral contraceptives may be surprised to learn that OCs may actually be a trigger for migraine.

What causes migraine headaches?

The exact cause of migraine headaches is not known; however there are many theories. One theory which is accepted by many scientists is that migraines are caused by a vulnerability of the central nervous system to immediate changes to your body or environment.

Blood sugar irregularities such as ‘metabolic disorder’ can be a major contributing factor to migraines. Studies show that consumption of refined sugar causes blood sugar levels to fluctuate rapidly. When refined sugar is consumed the pancreas releases high amounts of insulin. For some reason, people who get migraines release more than the normal amount of insulin. Insulin stimulates the release of adrenalin. This starts a migrainous attack. Going without eating for 3 to 4 or more hours causes low blood sugar levels which can also trigger a migraine.

  • Avoid refined sugar.
  • Fruit should be fresh, not dried or cooked.
  • Eat a wholesome balanced diet of natural foods.
  • Eat every three hours.
  • Have six small meals a day instead of three.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.

Physical triggers of a migraine include

  • metabolic disorder (weight gain)
  • menstruation
  • ovulation
  • ovarian cycle disorders such as Polycystic Ovarian Disorder, Fibroids,
  • Endometriosis or Menopause
  • Pregnancy (some women with migraine find their attacks disappear completely, occur less often or are milder during pregnancy).

Pharmacologic triggers include

  • oral contraceptives

Dietary triggers include

  • alcohol
  • tyramine (aged cheeses and fermented foods)
  • aspartame (artificial sweetener)
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • phenylethylamine (present in some OTC drugs and chocolate)
  • nitrates (preservatives used in sausage, bacon, and lunch meats)
  • citrus foods and products

Behavioral Triggers

  • missing meals
  • changing your sleep routine
  • stress

Natural Remedies for Migraine

The most appropriate treatment is balancing the hormones, while focusing on identification & rectification of the underlying triggers. Treatments can therefore be complex and in addition to hormone modulation might involve appropriate dietary changes, joint manipulation (such as osteopathy) and the introduction of stress management techniques.

Establish the cause of them. Keeping a “migraine diary” is most the most beneficial tool to achieve this. Diarize your food & beverage intake, your menstrual cycle & stress levels.

The treatment protocol for migraines can be quite complex. Herbalists often prescribe Vitex agnus-castus in conjunction with the herb Cimcifuga racemosa throughout the cycle to regulate the oestrogen levels, with Lavandula angustifolia as a relaxing nervine and Corydalis ambigua for its pain reducing effects. A tailored herbal mix can be effective in the treatment of migraines.

Women who have migraines also frequently have lower levels of the anti-inflammatory protacyclin PGI 2. Fish oils may improve the ratio of this protective prostaglandin and help to reduce the incidence of migraine. They are also beneficial in balancing hormones.

Other helpful nutrients are:

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains and in nutritional supplements.Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, immune function, blood pressure, and for bone health.Several studies have evaluated the effectiveness of magnesium for migraine and have had promising results.

Chromium Chromium is helpful as many migraine suffers have been found to be deficient in this mineral. Eating refined sugars leads to chromium deficiency.

So you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are treatment strategies available that have proven over time to be effective in both working on the underlying causes of your migraine.

Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is a practicing Naturopath specializing in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalance, such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & Thyroid imbalance. Uniquely for patient convenience her programs are also offered via the Internet. She is both an accomplished writer and recent recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006. Narelle can be contacted at narelle@massattack.com.au