Sandra Justice, P.D., FACA
Migraine headaches are an increasingly common health problem characterized by attacks of debilitating pain associated with other symptoms such as photophobia, nausea, and vomiting. The pain typically affects only one side of the head with sudden onset of severe pain. Visual, auditory, neurological, or gastrointestinal symptoms may appear 10 to 30 minutes before head pain or may accompany the headache. Duration may be from a few hours to several days. True migraine headaches affect approximately 11% of the population and are more common in females than males. True migraines are consistently present with aura, which provides warning of the upcoming attack. Migraines may begin at any age, but are most common between 10 and 30 and may vanish after age 50 or, in women, after menopause.
Migraine headaches can be caused by a wide range of potential factors. Stress, food allergies, hormonal imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies all may contribute to migraine attacks. Many nutritional and botanical therapies aim to reduce migraine incidence by decreasing platelet aggregation, preventing the release of vasoactive neurotransmitters, and avoiding triggering foods. In this article we will focus on treatment and prevention using nutritional, botanical, and dietary approaches.
What causes migraines?
No one knows for certain what causes migraines. They can run in families. Researchers do know that something triggers blood vessels in the head to tighten and then expand, a process that irritates the nerves surrounding those blood vessels. Things that can trigger migraine include the following:
- Abnormal low blood levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin
- Medicines for high blood pressure, angina, and arthritis
- Certain foods and alcohol; missing meals; too much sun; sleeping too little or too much
- Hormones and menstruation
- Certain odors, such as perfume or cigarette smoke
Conventional treatments include the symptomatic use of NSAIDs, beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, ergotamine derivatives, selective-serotonin receptor agonists, aspirin, lidocaine nasal spray, avoiding triggers, ice pack, and regular aerobic exercise.
Specific Nutrient Therapy
- Magnesium (500mg per day) increases muscle relaxation and counteracts vasospasm. Adverse reactions may include diarrhea and GI upset.
- Injection of one gram of magnesium by a physician has been shown to terminate an acute migraine headache within minutes.
- Omega- 3 oils (EPA and DHA, average dose 5gm three times daily) greatly reduce intensity and frequency of migraines. Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fish oils, flaxseed oil, and some other vegetable and nut oils.
- Injection of folic acid (15mg) has been shown to achieve total relief of acute headache within one hour.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) (400mg/day for three months) has been shown to significantly reduce migraine frequency.
- Vitamin C (2,000 mg per day), vitamin E (400 to 600 IU per day), vitamin B6 (100 mg per day), choline (100 to 300 mg per day) and mixed bioflavanoids (1,000 mg per day).
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) (600-1500 mg per day in divided doses) for migraine prevention enhanced by taking with 25mg of Vitamin B6. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and is available by prescription from compounding pharmacies.
Feverfew has a long history of medicinal use for the treatment of fever, arthritis, and migraines. Parthenolide was found to be the main constituent
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As with any therapy, it is important to ascertain a diagnosis before pursuing treatment.