They can make your life a living hell. You often wonder when the next one will hit. Dirty little terrorists! You feel like you have no control over them. Medication helps some people, but does not get rid of migraines forever. You are convinced that all you can do is giving an offering to the gods and hope for mercy. Yes, they are migraines.
First things first. Not every strong headache is a migraine. Many people say they suffer from migraines, but they have never been diagnosed by a professional. Many might suffer from another kinds of headaches. On the other hand, some people suffer from silent migraines. Silent migraines are migraines with prodomes (symptoms before the headache) that are not accompanied by headaches. These people might not be aware they suffer from migraines. Also some serious conditions mimic migraines. Any time you experience a headache unlike any you have felt before it is time to see your doctor, especially if it is associated with trauma or constitutional symptoms.
Migraines are classified as common or classic. In general, migraines tend to be unilateral (one-sided) and pulsatile headaches. They do change sides from time to time; however, during one attack the pain tends to remain on one side. They last from a few hours to several days. They are severe and incapacitating. Women are 3 times more likely to get them. Over-the-counter pain medications do very little in alleviating the pain.
About 90% of migraine sufferers experience common migraines. These are migraines that start without any warning. The classic migraine starts with a prodrome that signals the start of the headache. The prodrome may include visual and speech disturbances, disorientation, numbness, nausea and vomiting.
Scientists have drafted several theories, but none has been found to explain all migraines. Since more research is needed, I will not go over the cause of migraines. I will focus on what to do to prevent and migraines.
HOW DO YOU PREVENT MIGRAINES FROM HAPPENING?
Any good headache specialist will ask you to do it: you need to keep a journal for several months to find out your triggers. Be as specific as possible. Anything you ingest: your meals, vitamins, supplements and medications, all drinks (alcohol, sodas, coffee, tea, water), your daily activities (you might get them when you relax after work or after you visit your in-laws). It helps if you track your moods since clinical depression is associated with migraines. I found out that I was extremely allergic to some solvents on cleaning detergents by keeping track of my daily activities in relation to the onset of migraines. You must also keep track of your sleep time and how you wake up in the morning (refreshed or still tired). A change in barometric pressure tends to affect some people. If you think something crazy caused a migraine, keep track of it. You might find out that certain smells, keeping your head in a specific position, watching movies at the movie theater and other variables we do not associate with migraines might actually cause them.
When you analyze your journal, you may identify dietary patterns or foods that trigger migraines. You have to be open-minded here as some of those triggers might be your safety blankets or comfort foods. You will be surprised at how many people would rather have a migraine than cut some foods out of their diets.
Your best bet to identify food allergens and sensitivities is the elimination diet. The common allergens are alcohol (especially red wine), cheese, chocolate, citrus, cow’s milk,wheat eggs, coffee, tea, beef, pork, corn, soy, tomato, rye, yeast and shellfish. You might be sensitive to other food items (food stabilizers, preservatives, taste enhancers etc.), check your journal. The elimination diet requires will power and motivation (as if avoiding migraines are not motivation enough). You will be surprised at how many people would rather have a migraine than cut their favorite food out of their diets.
A milder solution is rotation diet in which you try not to eat common allergens more than twice a week.
Avoid dietary amines such as chocolate, cheese, citrus and alcohol. They tend to cause vasoconstriction directly or indirectly. Vasoconstriction is one of the mechanisms that can trigger a migraine.
Avoid caffeine because of its vasoactive effects. Although it might help some people with the pain; it also can trigger them. I quit caffeine over 20 years ago. As soon as I did my migraine frequency decreased tenfold.
Increase fiber and complex carbohydrates since they tend to speed the transit of food through your intestines.
Feverfew (50 – 80 mg/day) helps prevent and treat migraines. It can cut the frequency between 25% to 70% in some studies. Feverfew may suppress the release of inflammatory hormone-like substances called prostaglandins and histamines. Do not supplement with feverfew if you are taking anticoagulants.
5HTP (hydroxytryptophan, 400 – 600) enhanced with vitamin B6 work well to prevent, and reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. This amino acid is made by the body from tryptophan and converted into serotonin, an important brain chemical. Researchers think abnormal serotonin function in blood vessels is related to migraines, and some of the drugs used to treat migraines work by affecting serotonin. 5HTP tends to boost levels of serotonin in your body. Deficiency of serotonin has been linked to digestive disorders, migraines and depression. If you take antidepressant, St. John’s Wort or SAMe do NOT take this supplement.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids (1,500 mg/day) seem to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. Omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Remember to get a formulation with 500 mg of EPA and DHA each.
B2 (Riboflavin, 400mg/day) may decrease the frequency of the attacks by 50%.
Magnesium (200 – 600 mg/day) levels have been found to be low in many migraine patients. It is especially helpful before menses may prevent some women’s menstrual migraines. Magnesium increases muscle relaxation. Try to eat magnesium rich foods like green vegetables, beans, nuts and unprocessed flours. If you supplement with magnesium make sure you are also taking calcium along with it.
CoQ10 (100mg/3x a day) is a potent antioxidant. It may help prevent migraines
Melatonin (5 mgs/day just before bedtime). It will help you sleep, but it might balance your brain chemistry. In a Brazilian study 2/3 of participants reported 50% reduction in frequency and intensity by taking melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime.
The link below will take you to the University of Maryland Medical Center. They have an excellent website that shows open-mindedness towards alternative and complimentary medicine.