If you have met someone who suffers from migraines, then you know these people would do anything just to get rid of them. In this article, I speak a little about migraines and how you can help yourself.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a recurring headache (typically affecting just a specific area of your head). The pain may intensify, starting from mild up to very intensive, in the case of which the person may be sensitive to light and sound or they may be sick and vomit. The pain of migraine can also shift from one side of the head to the other, and the neck area. This pain lasts 4-72 hours!
Migraines are more common in women than men, in the case of whom they repeat at least once a week and almost a half of them is treated effectively1. The affected persons are usually sent to undergo an MRI which reveals no structural issues as it usually concerns a function problem.
People suffering from migraines say that a few hours before the very migraine starts they feel a change in mood, taste, and smell. They are thirstier, they lose vision (namely, they suffer from blurred vision or see various patterns) and generally they feel “strange”.
Do we know what triggers a migraine?
- Hormonal changes such as ovulation, menstrual periods, hormonal contraception, hormonal substitution therapy
- Traumatic brain injury
- Lack of exercise
- Food additives such as aspartame or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Some foods such as blue cheeses, chocolate or red wine
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Changes in pressure
What is a migraine from the point of view of pathophysiology?
A migraine represents neurovascular changes characterised by increased excitability of a specific area of the brain that activates the trigeminal nerve system (neurons in the trigeminal nerve, which is the fifth cranial nerve). This system further activates thalamus and leads to the stimulation and high excitability. If this happens to people genetically prone to migraines, a migraine makes itself felt.
What causes this increased neuron excitability?
It is the toxic substances in foods, lack of sleep, consumption of foods with a high glycaemic index, inflammatory processes in the body, autoimmune diseases and increased vascular permeability in the brain (the so-called leaky brain blood barrier).
How you can help yourself?
- What plays an important role is epigenetics. Some genes are ‘switched onʼ and some are ‘switched offʼ and if they are active or not is what we can change. It is easy to blame the genes for your problems. It is highly probable that you have adopted the lifestyle of your parents (inability to cope with stress, insufficient sleep, unhealthy eating habits etc.). What should you concentrate on then?
– Overall lifestyle – quality food, exercise, stress and weight reduction if needed, quality sleep and rest
– Potential natural food supplements, see below
– Reduction of inflammatory processes in your body.
- Environmental factors also play an important role in the management of migraines – the environment and toxic air and water pollutants must be taken into consideration.
- What you eat can have an influence on the pathophysiology of migraines2. A study published in the Journal of Pain Research3 looked into two groups of people suffering from migraines. Group A was administered vitamin B12 and naproxen sodium, while Group B, apart from taking vitamin B12 and naproxen sodium, eliminated the following foods from their diet:
Coffee (apart from a cup of coffee a day) Sourdough bread Coca-cola Doughnuts Tea (apart from two cups of tea a day) Canned soups Chocolate drinks Broth concentrates containing MSG Alcohol, especially red wine Papayas, plums, pineapples, kiwis Milk Citrus fruits, bananas Cream Chocolate Butter Crisps Processed or blue cheese Nuts Processed meat Seeds Beans Artificial sweeteners Peas Artificial seasoning and spices Sauerkraut, pickles, olives MSG
In comparison with Group A, Group B experienced 50% migraine reduction a month.
This, however does not mean people with migraines need to eliminate all the above-mentioned foods. Some will do nicely with a few of them in order to notice a change. Get yourself tested for potential food intolerance and allergies and remove the foods that come out positive from your diet.
- Reduce stress. Stress is one of most common causes of migraines4. Moreover, if children are subject to stress at early age, they are at a higher risk of migraines5. How to reduce stress? Find anything that can help you such as meditation, exercise, jogging, listening to music or cognitive therapy. Simply anything that can help. There is not a single recipe for stress management that would suit everyone.
- Food supplements. Before I get to food supplements, I would like to say that increasing your bodyʼs oxygen intake is a very effective migraine treatment.
Other effective solutions include increasing the intake of riboflavin (vitamin B2), magnesium, coenzyme Q10, Omega-3 fatty acids, the butterbur (if you use the plant extract, then it must be free of pyrrolizidine alkaloid, which is toxic for liver!), the feverfew and the so-called phytolens.
I looked for a suitable product that would contain as many of the mentioned vitamins, minerals and herbs as possible and I have found MygranX (which is not natural, though!).
The recommended adult dose is one capsule twice daily, one in the morning and one in the evening. Yet, it contains no Omega-3 and no magnesium. There are also contraindications, of course, so consult your GP or an experienced nutritionist before using this product.
1. N Engl J Med 2002, 346:257-270
2. Pediatr Neurol. 2003;23(1):9-15.
3. Journal of Pain research 2010:3 125-130.
4. Cephalalgia 2007, 27:394-402
5. BMC Medicine 2013 11:26