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My daughter’s had migraine headaches for years. And she’s only 14. I have other relatives who’ve lived with them for years, with no relief except for from strong pharmaceuticals (read: side effects). My daughter overcame her migraines, for the most part, when we discovered that she was intolerant to dairy. With removing this food group, she rarely gets them anymore. But occasionally, with change in atmospheric pressure, or waking too quickly before the sun is up, she’ll get one. I finally buckled down to get at the heart of them- their most frequent causes and the best natural treatments that work. This post is a sort of round-up of the most effective natural treatments I’ve read about for migraines. I hope they’ll help you, if it’s something you struggle with, too.
What are migraines?
Migraines are thought to be caused by the dilation, or expansion, of cranial blood vessels.
What causes migraines? The word that’s used to describe their causal factor is trigger. Here are the most common migraine triggers: certain medications, tannins, caffeine, stress, hormone changes, food intolerances, waking up too quickly outside of one’s circadian rhythm (before the sun), too much light or sun, excessive exposure to TV or noise, changes in weather and atmospheric pressure, exercise and dehydration, allergies, lack of sleep, too much sleep, anxiety, a viral infection.
Triggers may take a full 24 hours to manifest themselves into a migraine headache, which makes their cause a bit harder to track. But being aware of new foods or changes that may have occurred in the last day help to isolate the cause.
What’s the cause of your migraines? Sometimes the best way to determine the cause is to try gentle treatments. Which treatment works may tell you what your body was lacking.
1. B-2 (Riboflavin)
400 mg. of Vitamin B-2 (considered a high dose) is now commonly being prescribed for migraine prevention, or for reducing the frequency with which a patient suffers migraines. Increasing riboflavin-rich foods within one’s diet is also a good strategy: dairy, eggs, poultry, seafood, meat and leafy greens.
Many patients testify complete relief from migraines with 400 mg. daily supplementation. This is one of the easier approaches to try.
2. Red Raspberry Leaf
To Make the Tea
It is beneficial to combine red raspberry leaf with other herbs that help it to assimilate. Peppermint leaf is great for flavor and for circulation. Alfalfa leaf compensates for malnutrition and facilitates the absorption of other herbs. Use raspberry leaf alone or combine the three. Make a big batch for the fridge so you can drink it throughout the day or brew it by the cup. One woman who found this method helpful drank 1 quart daily and found herself with zero migraines as a result. When she stopped consuming the tea daily, the migraines returned.
To Use the Tincture
This is what I’ve been doing lately (for general hormone balancing). It’s just easier during certain phases of life to use the tincture. Tea making/drinking is pretty simple, but the tincture is a great alternative when the tea doesn’t happen. I take one dropperful each morning for general hormone balancing and whenever I feel a headache beginning. This morning I felt a headache coming on, drank 6 ounces of water with one dropperful of red raspberry leaf and the headache was gone within minutes.
An estimated 50% of migraine sufferers have reduced levels of magnesium during an acute migraine attack. The concentration of magnesium in one’s body affects neurotransmitters and receptors, as well as the body’s ability to synthesize and release nitric oxide (which affects the dilation of cranial blood vessels). Low levels of magnesium also speak to a methylation deficiency.
400-600 mg. of magnesium daily, in divided doses, is recommended to abate headaches that are brought on due to magnesium deficiency. Topically applied magnesium is the most bio-available. This is my favorite spray. I put it on twice daily and it does not leave the sticky residue that some oils leave. Here’s more information on the dosage provided by magnesium oils and salts.
4. Low Tyramine, Histamine, Arginine Diet
Many who suffer from migraines will do well to temporarily eliminate the following amino acids. Patients are often sensitive to two of the following three.
A certain function in the liver and intestines may be compromised in those who have low tyramine-triggered migraines. Normally tyramines, amino-acid derivatives, are inactivated by an enzyme called MAO. When this does not occur tyramines can become excessive and trigger migraines. Eliminating foods (for 30-60 days) that contain tyramines is a good way to determine if this could be the cause of migraines in your body.
Tyramine foods are as follows: aged cheeses, smoked or preserved fish, cured meats, certain beers (especially those on tap), red wine, sauerkraut and other fermented foods, soy sauce, miso, broad beans, yeast extract, grapes, dried fruits with sulfur dioxide, and OTC cold and cough medicines.
Taking an encapsulated probiotic is a good idea if you eliminate all fermented foods for a trial period, so your body doesn’t go without probiotics.
Histamines occur in foods due to a natural microbial fermentation. Some high-histamine foods overlap with foods that contain tyramines. Again, patients with histamine intolerance have too little of certain enzymes that should break down histamine, allowing histamines to become excessive in the body. Some people supplement with DAO, one of the enzymes that may be missing that helps to metabolize histamines, in addition to reducing high-histamine foods in their diet.
The following high histamine foods can be avoided to determine if you have a histamine sensitivity: aged cheeses, alcohol, vinegar, mustard, ketchup, aged/smoked meats, shellfish, frozen fish, sauerkraut and other fermented foods, bone broth, leftovers, certain fruits (citrus, bananas, strawberries, red prunes, pears, kiwi, raspberries, papaya), avocados, tomatoes, spinach, certain nuts (peanuts, cashews, walnuts), cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, and several others. See a fuller list and gain more understanding of histamines here.
Arginines are amino acids found in peanuts, nuts and chocolate. They cause dilation of cranial blood vessels (by increasing the quantity of nitric oxide in the blood), the very cause of migraines. By eliminating or reducing one’s consumption of arginines, the blood vessels are able to normalize. Here’s a fuller list of high-arginine foods.
When reintroducing tyramines, histamines, and arginines, it is best to add back in only one or a few foods at a time. Variations within a category can occur. For instance, a patient may be able to add back in cloves and cinnamon, but not cocoa. Taking time with the reintroduction of foods will help clarify which foods are antagonistic.
Curcumin, the anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric, works to remedy migraine headaches by reducing inflammation in cranial blood vessels. Curcumin supplementation may not address the root cause of migraines, although it does provide relief for some patients.
One source suggests combining curcumin with additional herbs or supplements based on the location of the migraine:
Since most migraines affect the right or left side, some studies have been conducted on which nutritional supplements will benefit which type of migraine. For example, calcium, cat’s claw or iron may benefit those with left-side migraines and magnesium, turmeric or zinc may benefit those with right-side migraines.
500 mg. of curcumin taken three times daily is suggested as a starting place dosage. Please consult your doctor to find the dosage right for you.
Lesser solutions that may bring relief
In my usual manner, I like to share Honorable Mentions. These are treatments that work for some, that are worth mentioning:
- I have heard good things about the homeopathic Sanguinaria Canadensis 30c.
- Detox bath or detox foot bath- I’ve only had a few migraines in my life. But this method works for me when it happens. I add peppermint and lavender essential oils to the water, and partial (75%) relief is pretty quick.
- Drinking apple cider vinegar in water- This is what we used to do for my daughter when we didn’t know of other remedies. It helped- 1 tablespoon in 12 ounces of water. She also used to lie down in a dark room. Glad those days are over.
I’d love to hear your experiences! Share in the comments your thoughts and what works well for you.