I couldn't help noticing that it's Migraine Awareness Week this week. 1 in 7 of us suffer with them, that's one heck of a lot of people!! Here's my take on ways you can fight migraines, naturally ...
- As someone who suffered from migraines since my teens (and I watched my mum going through the same for decades), this is a topic close to my heart. How I wish I had known then what I knew now.
Migraines aren't just a ‘bad headache': they are debilitating, apart from the pounding pain, symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, high sound and light sensitivity, blurred vision, loss of concentration and inability to hold a conversation … and they can last for days.
The root cause is often down to systemic inflammation in your body, serotonin levels, hormone imbalance, stress, brain dysfunction, genetics susceptibility, lack of sleep or reactions to prescription medication. Somethings you can't fight (genetics) but the rest you can.
As with all things when I was growing up, if I was ill I went to the doctor, they prescribed me pills and each time I got a migraine the pills would ease the symptoms (if I was lucky). They got worse in my thirties (this is often when they peak) and once I had my kids running around, I realised I needed to do something about addressing the root cause of them, rather than just applying a pill ‘band-aid' every time I got one.
I got lucky, I saw a Chinese doctor and acupuncture was the answer (this was my experience, everyone's path to finding a solution is different). Backed up now by a much better diet, I haven't had one since. Not one. I thought I'd jot down some ideas for you to try if you're struggling with migraines too.
It won't come as a massive surprise to hear that following a predominantly Paleo lifestyle will massively help. Eat the right foods to nourish your body and your body might just like you a little more.
I mention managing stress and anxiety below – in an ideal world we'd all reduce it, I would *love* to but it's a constant battle, we all lead incredibly busy lives and I think we all end up paying for it one way or another, it just manifests in our bodies in different way depending on our personal circumstances.
Anyway, enough waffling from me, let's crack on with natural ways you can look at to reduce the likelihood of migraines (and note that if you suffer from tension headaches, the same suggestions are valid):
1. Alternative therapies:
Yes I know I bang on about alternative therapies but if you want to find out the possible underlying cause of your migraines, this can be a really good place to start. I'll highlight three:
From personal experience, the first needle going in my head (doesn't hurt or sound anywhere need as bad as it sounds!), I felt like someone had turn the pressure tap off in my head, it's the only way I can describe it. After a few sessions, I didn't get any more migraines. If I ever felt the coming back, I'd be straight back for more acupuncture, it was that effective.
As I've said before, this was just my personal experience, yours would be different. I know of many people who have received acupuncture for migraine treatment and all of them have either reduced the frequency/severity of the migraines or they've stopped all together. Pretty neat eh. For those with the most severe migraines, you may need additional treatments or lifestyle changes to reap the benefits.
Acupuncture can help by:
- - Reducing inflammation (a key root cause of migraines)
- - Providing pain relief
- - Improving cranial blood flow
- - Affecting serotonin levels (serotonin is linked to the initiation of migraines)
A recent Cochrane study
shows that the frequency of migraines was halved in patients receiving acupuncture as opposed to just traditional drug-based treatment.
The question I'm asked most is, does it hurt? Trust me, I was scared witless the first time I went, I was about to let someone jab needles in me! Honestly, the vast majority of times, there is no pain (for me anyway), you just feel the needle going in (which is actually pleasant once you're used to it). Occasionally you feel something, I think the term is it feels ‘keen'(!). Yes it's uncomfortable but it's tolerable and in the grand scheme of things, well worth it for less or no migraines!
Had I known my kyniesiologist
back when I had migraines, I don't doubt for a second that she would have got to the root cause. She would have recommended changes to my diet to reduce inflammation, suggested additional supplements to help sort out any deficiencies or hormone imbalances and corrected any imbalances in my body. She's treated friends of mine exactly that way, with great results.
It's based on Chinese medicine principles and energy flows, it's just muscle testing so it's pain free and non-invasive and gives you a completely different view on your body and how it's working (or not!).
One of those ‘don't knock it until you've tried it' options. I was always a bit wary but after trialling an oil diffuser in the office and seeing the improved work productivity, I'm a believer! Peppermint, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus and frankinscence oils are all suggested as helpful for those with migraines.
2. Stress management:
Simple, reduce your stress (I know, I hear you going ‘hahahahahahahaha I wish I could!). Physical stress (from e.g. over working or over exercising), emotional stress and poor sleep will all contribute to the frequency and severity of your migraines. So what can you do? Meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing and yoga are just a few of the suggested things to try – time permitting.
I am a firm believer that if you really want to do something, you'll make the time (case in point: it's taken me months to get going with exercise with my third child, I just wasn't ready until recently but now I'm making the time).
3. Foods to include in your diet:
Oh yes, what you eat may well have a *massive* impact on the frequency and severity of your migraines. Certain foods help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the brain. Make sure you're getting lots of:
• Omega-3 rich foods – nuts, seeds and wild oily fish are your best friends here
• Magnesium-rich foods – spinach, full-fat yogurt, kefir, almonds, avocados, figs, dates, sweet potatoes and bananas
• Vitamin B2-rich foods – organ meat, meat, green leafy vegetables, nuts & seeds
• Good quality lean protein – grass fed meat, poultry and wild-caught fish
4. Foods to avoid:
Yes there's those pesky ‘trigger' foods that may set off a migraine (cheese, oranges and chocolate were mine!). As well as them, there are other foods which cumulatively are doing the same thing, increasing inflammation and affecting blood flow. They include:
• Refined sugar
• Pickled or cured fish
• Aged cheese
• Caffeine drinks
• Food additives, sweeteners and preservatives
• Salt (in excess)
• Processed meats (due to the nitrates in them)
• Beans and legu
Gee, if only there was a diet that enabled you to stay healthy and avoid most of the above list …. Oooooh hello Paleo
;-) I don't doubt that following a predominantly Paleo lifestyle has helped me keep the migraines (and tension headaches, even those are very rare these days) at bay, especially during periods of high stress and little sleep (baby anyone?!).
If you were to cut out the above list for 30 days, then slowly re-introduce one group at a time, you would find out where your body has the greatest weakness and adjust your diet accordingly. You might find that you feel SO much better that you don't want to reintroduce them! If you don't want to be so drastic, then feel free to download my FREE 10 week Paleo Transition Programme
, it will get you to the same place.
5. Supplements to consider:
I *strongly* advise you go and see a health professional before starting on any supplements, they may not react well with any medication you are taking and you may well not take the right ones for your body. Go see a kyniesiologist, trust me, it will save you money on wasted supplements.
Known supplements that can help support your body if you suffer from migraines include:
• Omega-3 fish oils
- Good ones. Really good ones. Most people struggle to get enough Omega-3 in their diet from foods such as oily fish, nuts & seeds. If you're going to spend money here, go high-grade. Read up on it as not all fish oils are made equal [Great article here from Chris Kresser
• Magnesium and Vitamin B2 (see above) – if you're not getting enough naturally, you need to invest here.
• Feverfew – a herb thought to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines and the side effects that come with them.
• 5-HTP – an amino acid that can help regulate serotonin and lower migraine pain.
I hope you've found this useful and it's given you some food for thought.
If you have any other tried and tested methods of reducing migraines, let me know in the comments!