By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Migraine headaches are a condition that can be very difficult to treat, and especially difficult to live with. I would like to provide some insight into their treatment because in many cases they are very treatable once we determine the underlying cause. Conventionally, migraines are treated with powerful medications and this is definitely a condition where the symptoms and not the cause are treated. Not to mention the fact that migraine medications notoriously have terrible side-effects.
Migraine headaches can have many different causes, here are some of the more common ones:
1. Hormone imbalance:
When migraines come with menstruation, ovulation, puberty or near menopause a hormone imbalance is suspected. There may also be signs of PMS (fluid retention, cravings, irritability,…). Hormonal migraines can be treated by restoring balance to either estrogen or progesterone depending on the symptoms and presentation. A sudden swing of either hormone can be a trigger. Hormonal migraines can also be caused by oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.
2. Iron Deficiency:
If your migraines come after menstruation, it is likely that they are caused by an iron deficiency rather than hormone imbalance. A simple test for iron stores (ferritin), can confirm.
3. Food intolerance:
When migraine is caused by food intolerances or gastrointestinal imbalance, there may also be digestive upset, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, brain fog, sinus congestion, acne, eczema, among other symptoms. Food intolerances can easily be tested with a blood test for IgG or delayed hypersensitivity reactions. In some cases, an additional test for celiac disease (gluten intolerance) may be needed. These foods cause inflammation, which leads to the expression of pain.
4. Chemical triggers:
Many migraine sufferers have triggers to their headaches such as MSG, aspartame, nitrites (in deli meat), sulfites (in wine, dried fruit and salad bars), and tyramine in chocolate and cheese. Testing out a whole food diet, free of additives for one month will usually determine if this is the cause.
5. Blood sugar instability:
Low blood sugar can trigger migraines in some people and may also be accompanied by irregular energy patterns through the day, dizziness, irritability, extreme hunger and anxiety. Treatment is to stabilize blood sugar levels by eating small, regular meals through the day and eliminating sugars.
5. Magnesium deficiency:
When headaches are found in combination with heart palpitations, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps and menstrual cramps a magnesium deficiency may be the cause. These symptoms are compounded by a poor diet, too much sugar, caffeine or alcohol and high stress. Treatment is to improve nutrition and use appropriate magnesium supplements to correct the deficiency.
6. Structural problems:
Tension in the jaw, shoulders and neck can cause migraines too, especially when triggered by stress. In fact, many people with migraines have chronic neck tension and misalignment. Work with a good osteopath, chiropractor, acupuncturist or massage therapist can get to the root of these headaches.
These are just a few of the more commonly seen causes of migraine headaches. The key is to get to the root of the problem and treat them by correcting the underlying imbalance. If you suffer from migraines, there is hope! With some careful investigation, we can be well on our way to reducing your suffering.
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