Migraine headache prevention is something that most practitioners never discuss with their patients even though these debilitating headaches are a common health concern affecting 36 million men, women and children in the United States. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, every 10 seconds, someone in the United States goes to the emergency room with a headache or migraine. These emergency room visits are prompted by the following symptoms: severe pain or the fear of unremitting pain, drug reactions or side effects from headache medications, severe nausea or vomiting, dehydration, and/or stroke-like neurological symptoms that might accompany the headache.
It’s a bit sobering to know that migraine headache makes the top 20 list of the world’s most disabling health concern. In fact, close to 1 in 4 households in the United States includes someone that experiences frequent migraine headaches.
Migraines in Women and Men
Research shows that before puberty boys suffer from migraines more often than girls; however, as adolescence begins, migraine attacks increase more rapidly in girls than in boys.
Compared to 18% of women, migraine headaches affect only 6% of men. This may happen because more severe and more frequent attacks often result from fluctuations in estrogen levels.
Men’s symptoms are no different from women’s symptoms, although men are not affected by hormonal fluctuations like women are. The difference is that men are less likely to seek medical care for a migraine—and when they do, they are less likely to receive a migraine diagnosis. This is unfortunate, since middle-aged men who suffer from migraine headaches are 42% more likely to have a heart attack when compared with non-sufferers, according to a new analysis of the 20,084 men participating in the Physicians’ Health Study.
In the United States, approximately 27 million females frequently suffer from migraine headaches and three times as many women than men suffer from migraines. About half of women with migraines have more than one attack each month, and a quarter experience four or more severe attacks per month. Certainly this is a health concern that needs attention.
Known Migraine Headache Triggers
Common migraine triggers include:
- Chocolate (6)(7)
- Milk (Dairy) (8)(9)
- Sugar (10)
- MSG (11)
- Wheat (12)
- Alcohol (13)(14)
- Caffeine (15)
- Lack of sleep
- Artificial sugar (16)(17)
- Food additives (18)
- Processed carbohydrates
- Oral contraceptives (19)
- GI issues (20)(21)(22)
- Low magnesium (23)(24)
- Basically anything that upsets hormonal balance (25)
Conclusion of Research: “When an average of ten common food triggers were avoided, there was a dramatic fall in the number of headaches per month, 85% of patients becoming headache-free.”
Natural Migraine Headache Prevention
While many migraine sufferers find prescription drugs somewhat effective, many find that migraine medications can also induce dizziness and fatigue as well as other bothersome side effects. The following preventative holistic tips for migraine headaches can help to prevent and relieve the pain of migraine headaches.
Healthy Diet. Cleaning up one’s diet is always foundational in preventing any health concern. Consuming foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids (cold water fish) and B vitamins may help prevent migraine attacks. Frequently cooking with spices like garlic and chili peppers, onion, basil, rosemary, cinnamon, black pepper, mustard seed, cumin, curry, or cilantro can help in preventing migraines. Pre-packaged foods, fast foods and foods that contain the chemicals tyramine or phenylalanine including chocolate, aged cheese, fermented sausage, red wine, sour cream, and pickled herring can be migraine triggers. It is also interesting to note that many people report that eliminating gluten from their diet has alleviated their migraines.
Food Allergies. If you experience frequent migraines, you may want to try an allergy avoidance diet to pinpoint possible triggers, such as caffeine, chocolate, dairy, gluten, aspartame, alcohol, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). One study showed that close to 90% of children with migraine headaches completely eliminated migraines when they went on an allergy avoidance diet. You may also want to try an allergy elimination technique known as NAET. NAET is an innovative and completely natural method for regaining better health and effectively relieving allergies and the diseases arising from those allergens. See www.naet.com for more information about allergy elimination.
Magnesium. The human adult body contains about 24 grams of magnesium. Magnesium plays a vital role in multiple physiologic processes and is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, with more absorbed when the internal content is lower. Magnesium modulates many important neural and vascular processes involved in the development of a typical migraine attack. Those that suffer with migraines commonly exhibit low magnesium levels (in the serum, tissue, and lymphocytes), especially during an attack (Qujeq 2012; Talebi 2011; Sun-Edelstein 2009b). 600 mg of magnesium daily has been shown to be effective for the prevention of migraine attacks (Koseoglu 2008). In combination with CoQ10 (ubiquinol), vitamin B2, and ginkgo, magnesium has been shown to significantly decrease the amount of migraine headaches (Esposito 2011).
Hormone Balancing. Hormone balance, specifically the ratio between estrogen and progesterone (rather than the levels), is critical in the elimination of migraines. Migraines disproportionately affect women which suggests a potential hormonal link (Dhillon 2011). Prostaglandin E2 (PGE-2) is a well-defined mediator of fever and inflammation. PGE-2 increases vasodilatation and thereby induces pain. Estrogens increase the production of PGE-2. An excess of estrogens, deficit of progesterone, or dominance of estrogens can cause increased production of PGE-2, resulting in migraine headaches. Forward thinking migraine researchers have stated – “clinical experience strongly supports the notion that migraine can be managed only when levels of all the basic hormones—pregnenolone, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone—are optimal with the physiological cycle” (Dzugan 2003). I recommend testing hormone levels before using any type of hormone therapy or herbal therapy using saliva testing in order to check levels and create a baseline. Should lab work indicate unbalanced hormone levels, use only bioidentical hormone (BHRT) therapy.
Organic Trace Minerals. Without organic trace minerals as a carrier, vitamins and other nutrients are not as effective. Cells cease to function properly, the immune system weakens, the nervous system deteriorates and the body begins to age more rapidly. It is said that 99% of Americans are deficient in organic minerals because inorganic toxic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides have destroyed nearly all the critical organic minerals, elements, and complexes in our soils. I personally use and recommend intraMIN.
Butterbur. Butterbur extracts possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and vasodilatatory properties, which may explain their efficacy for migraine prevention (Pothmann 2005; Oelkers-Ax 2008). Butterbur root extract (standardized to 15% petasins) has been shown to be safe and effective in the prevention of migraines (Diener 2004; Lipton 2004; Pothmann 2005). In one study, researchers split 245 patients into three groups to receive: 75 mg of butterbur extract twice a day, 50 mg of butterbur extract twice a day, or placebo. At the end of a four-month treatment period, those taking the 75 mg dosage experienced a whopping 48% reduction, on average, in the frequency of migraine attacks (Lipton 2004).
Turmeric. Inflammation in the brain is a known migraine trigger. Curcuminoids, the main compound in the spice turmeric, is lauded for its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in the brain is a known migraine trigger. Curcuminoids, the main compound in the spice turmeric, is lauded for its anti-inflammatory properties. Some research indicates that curcumin may increase serotonin (1, 2, 3). Low levels of serotonin are associated with migraines and drugs that increase serotonin successfully can also treat migraines. See 20 Health Benefits of Turmeric.
Feverfew. Due to the anti-inflammatory properties of feverfew, its use in the management of migraine attacks is worth noting (Goodyear-Smith 2010; Saranitzky 2009; Chen 2007). However, a review of randomized controlled trials revealed mixed results for the effectiveness of feverfew (Pittler 2004). A combination of ginger and feverfew has been shown to be effective for migraine prevention with minimal side effects (Cady 2011; Ernst 2000). A recommended dosage is 100-300 mg up to 4 times daily (Pareek 2011).
Vitamin B Complex. B vitamins function best in a synergistic manner by feeding the brain and nervous system. If you are supplementing with high amounts of one particular B vitamin, it is recommended to also supplement with a Vitamin B Complex. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) contributes to cell growth, enzyme function, and energy production (AMR 2008). Impressive data indicates that riboflavin is effective for the prevention of migraine among both children and adults (Condo 2009; Boehnke 2004), and may decrease the need for traditional rescue medications (Boehnke 2004). One study involving 23 participants showed that supplementation with 400 mg riboflavin daily reduced headache frequency by an impressive 50% at three months, with improvement persisting through six months (Boehnke 2004). Taking 400 mg of riboflavin (B2) twice a day and 100 to 400 mg a day of co-enzyme Q10 (ubiquinol) may be helpful.
Cayenne. It is believed that one reason migraines happen is because blood vessels in the brain erratically dilate and constrict. Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) can help regulate blood pressure and circulation throughout the entire body. Supplement with 450 mg cayenne with breakfast and dinner each day.
Boswellia (AKBA). AKBA is boswellia’s main active ingredient. Joint pain can indicate that your body may be overproducing MMP3 which is an enzyme that breaks down collagen. Collagen is also found in your brain, where it holds blood vessels in place. If collagen degrades, blood vessels can lose tone, causing migraines — AKBA can help maintain collagen. Take 50–100 mg boswellia extract per day. (Look for supplements containing 20 percent AKBA).
Lavender Essential Oil. A 2012 study using forty-seven patients with definite diagnosis of migraine headache were divided into cases and controls. Patients inhaled lavender essential oil for 15 min, whereas the control group used liquid paraffin for the same time period. Patients were asked to record their headache severity and associated symptoms in 30-min intervals for a total of 2 hours. We matched the two groups for key confounding factors. From 129 headache attacks in cases, 92 responded entirely or partially to lavender. In the control group, 32 out of 68 recorded headache attacks responded to placebo. The percentage of responders was significantly higher in the lavender group than the placebo group (p = 0.001). This study suggests that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.
Liver Detoxification. If you have a sluggish liver or your liver is not working efficiently, the filtering of certain migraine triggers such as allergens and chemicals may play a significant role in triggering migraines. Did you know that more than 900 prescription drugs are known to cause injury to the liver thus causing liver dysfunction. Drinking lemon juice (1/2 organic lemon) in warm purified water every morning as well as squeezing fresh organic lemon juice over salads and vegetables can assist in moderate liver detoxification. There are also many foods and herbs that help to detox and support the liver. However, the most efficient way to cleanse and detox the liver is by doing an effective herbal liver flush, at least three times a year, that contains organic milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum). There are several reasons to use the milk thistle seed rather than silymarin extract. Using the whole herb is recommended as often it will have a more balanced and synergistic effect. The milk thistle extract silymarin, for instance, has proven useful in treating liver disease. However, the main drawback to using only silymarin is that, if a healthcare professional prescribes other drugs, such as steroids, silymarin can interfere with the liver’s ability to detoxify them. Milk thistle seed has the same healing effect on the liver without interfering with the organ’s ability to detoxify drugs or environmental chemicals. It also has an extra benefit of normalizing blood lipids and removing excess estrogen as the liver heals.
Hydration. Migraine sufferers may be more sensitive to the effects of dehydration. Dehydration causes blood volume to drop, researchers say, resulting in less blood and oxygen flow to the brain and dilated blood vessels. Some experts suspect that a loss of electrolytes causes nerves in the brain to produce pain signals. In one study, published in The Handbook of Clinical Neurology, scientists recruited migraine sufferers and divided them into two groups. Those in the first group were given a placebo medication to take regularly. The others were told to drink 1.5 liters of water, or about six cups, in addition to their usual daily water intake. At the end of two weeks, the researchers found that those in the water group had increased their fluid intake by just four cups a day. But on average they experienced 21 fewer hours of pain during the study period than those in the placebo group, and a decrease in the intensity of their headaches.
Stress Reduction. Chronic stress from grief, anger, job, or relationship concerns can trigger migraines.
RELATED: 50 Ways to Stress Less
Chiropractic. Chiropractic is more than cracking bones. According to research, some migraine sufferers may respond well with manual therapies, which includes CSMT (chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy). Migraine sufferers who have not tried chiropractic may find that it is very helpful in preventing and alleviating migraine pain.
Massage Therapy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2002, 19 million Americans have used massage therapy at least once. There is evidence of massage therapy being used in numerous ancient cultures, including those of Egypt, India, China, Japan and Arabic countries. Some evidence indicates that massage for migraine sufferers may help reduce the number of attacks. Even though there are very few studies for massage and migraine headaches, one small 2006 study of 47 migraine sufferers randomly assigned some participants to receive massage therapy. The migraine patients who participated in massage therapy had fewer migraines and slept better during the weeks they had massages.
Don’t Give Up on Natural Migraine Headache Prevention!
Preventing and reducing the pain and frequency of migraine headaches is definitely doable without the use of prescription meds. The information above includes some of the best evidence-based natural remedies for natural migraine prevention. If you suffer from migraine headaches, discuss this article with a trusted healthcare professional who knows your health background. Working together to find the root cause(s) can result in the relief of your migraine headaches.
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