Suffering from migraines can take a toll on anyone’s daily life. The pain experienced can be severe and much more intense than a general headache, as well as they tend to last longer. Many sufferers report experiencing this severe pain for anytime between 6 and 48 hours. Migraines also differ from general headaches in that they often come with other debilitating symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and a sensitivity to light that results in dizziness and blurring of vision. The causes are not explicitly defined, but doctors and scientists alike are inclined towards the view that they are caused by abnormal brain activity. In clear terms, something triggers an attack which causes nerve pathways and chemicals in the brain to change. The blood flow in the brain is then affected by this change resulting in a migraine.
Typically, people tend to suffer from this affliction between the ages of 10 – 45, and there is also an abundance of research that suggests it involves a hereditary component, leading Doctors to use family history as a diagnostic criterion. They will also conduct a full physical exam including looking for indications of muscle tension and sinus problems.
Although there aren’t any clear causes, over the years, doctors have identified many things that are likely to trigger a migraine.
• Caffeine withdrawal
• Hormonal changes (Due to menstrual cycle or the use of contraceptives)
• Drinking alcohol (regular alcohol consumption can have a detrimental effect on important chemicals and minerals in the body)
• Physical stress
• Bright lights and loud noises
• Specific foods: dairy, baked food, meats containing nitrates, food containing MSG, and food containing tyramine.
As expected, the main symptom is intense pain in the head, but sufferers can also experience eye pain, blurred vision, tunnel vision or even blind spots. People will often find that they have difficulty concentrating and may experience disturbances in speech patterns. As well as increased sweating, fatigue and a loss of appetite.
Treating a Migraine
Much like the causes, there is no clear indication of what to take for migraines. The goal is to deal with the symptoms as quickly as possible when they arise, and to try and prevent these symptoms by identifying personal triggers. Doctors may prescribe medication to sufferers such as anti-depressants, blood pressure medication or even seizure medication if the attacks are particularly severe, however, these medications can have undesirable side effects themselves and an over use can result in a rebound effect, meaning the medication themselves can cause migraines. The side effects of medication may deter sufferers from seeking help for their pain, but there are alternative ways of preventing and dealing with migraines.
1. Low Fat Diet – Eating a low fat diet is not only good for your figure and your overall health, research has indicated that eating a diet that contains less than 15% fat daily can help reduce the regularity of migraines by up to 40% and reduce the pain level by 66%.
2. Vitamin B2 – Vitamins are good for our bodies, they energise and invigorate us, and now research has indicated that taking 400mg of vitamin B2 every day can reduce migraines by 50%. Also known as ‘Riboflavin’, vitamin B2 can be found in a variety of healthy foods such as soybeans, mushrooms, spinach and turkey. So not only can you reduce the amount of migraines you have by half, but you can eat a rich healthy diet as well. Kill two birds with one stone and become a healthy ball of energy.
3. Melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone found in many species throughout the animal kingdom, humans included. It helps our bodies to adjust to changes in light and temperature and is essential in the forming and maintaining of circadian rhythms. Having a decreased amount of melatonin can leave your body vulnerable to these environmental changes, making you extremely sensitive to light and heat. Taking a regular dose of melatonin every day can help to reduce the number of migraines sufferers experience by up to 50%.
4. OTC pain relievers – Not everyone who experiences migraines experiences them on a regular basis. When an attack is rare, people may turn to pain medication such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen, however, OTC pain relievers contain a blend of pain relieving substances including acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. This blend has been shown to relieve pain up to 20 minutes faster that other products. So when taken sparingly, OTC pain relievers can be a lifesaver for migraine sufferers.
5. Exercise – Researchers at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden put all their efforts into finding out how to help migraines. They discovered that exercise was as effective at beating the pain as medication prescribed by doctors. Their suggestion to sufferers is to take part in regular gentle exercise. This will help to reduce stress and muscle tension, as well as releasing endorphins which are a natural mild sedative.
6. Magnesium – Our bodies are incapable of producing magnesium, so we have to get it from external sources. Research has indicated that some people are not getting enough and this may be a cause for their migraines. Magnesium benefits us by relaxing nerves and muscles. It’s easy to get hold of and is a common ingredient in many foods such as, spinach, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, soybeans and black beans. However, getting enough magnesium is not as simple as eating the right things, it also involves not eating the wrong things. For example, fizzy drinks contain phosphates, and these substances bind with magnesium in the digestive tract and make it unavailable to the body. Eating refined sugar such as pastries, cakes and other sweet foods can also be detrimental to your magnesium level as the sugar in these foods prompts our bodies to release magnesium through the kidneys, leaving your body state of decreased magnesium.
7. Omega 3 fatty acids – Omega 3 fatty acids help to protect brain cells and reduce inflammation in the brain. This is not a preventative but the protective qualities of the acid can help to reduce the pain experienced with a migraine attack. The best sources of it come from fish such as, salmon, tuna, mackerel, rainbow trout and herring. However, if there are fish haters out there, it can also be found in some nuts and seeds such as, walnuts and chia seeds.
8. Relaxation – It may sound simple but relaxing is important and many people in this busy day and age have forgotten how to relax. Participating in yoga or meditation can give huge benefits, as well as there is a new technique called ‘Biofeedback’ which uses a computerized system to train people in relaxation. It works by connecting patients to sensors that measure bodily functions such as heart rate. The information is then sent back to the patient via the computer, allowing them to make subtle changes in their breathing or thought processes until they achieve a calm and relaxed state. This technique is becoming very readily available and has been shown to work well for many patients.
9. Sleep – Sleep is the one thing nobody gets enough of, and even if you do, it’s not necessarily good quality. In order to help prevent the onset of migraines, it is imperative to stick to a regular sleeping pattern even at weekends. The environment you are sleeping in needs to be calm and relaxing, no more watching TV in bed or scrolling down your twitter feed one last time. The electronic devices we are all so fond of provide excess stimulation to our brains that prevent us from getting into the deep invigorating sleep we need.
10. Avoid caffeine – Admittedly, out of all of the migraine remedies, this may be the most difficult. Caffeine is a necessity for most people, but it can actually do more harm than good when it comes to migraines. Sufferers are rarely able to identify caffeine as a trigger because most of the time it makes them feel better. This is true, it does make them feel better, but the reason it does is because prior to them getting their next hit of caffeine, they will likely be suffering with caffeine withdrawal which is a recognised culprit of migraines.
Dealing with migraines can be a stressful experience which in itself is a problem, but a key trick that is a common theme within all these tips is to know your body, listen to it and find out what it needs. Identifying your own personal triggers is a first step to beating migraines. Keeping a headache diary has been an extremely beneficial tool to many sufferers, allowing them to keep track of when and where an attack has taken place and what may have taken place that day that could have potentially brought it on. The human brain is a powerful tool that needs a wide variety of ingredients to make it work to its optimum potential. Looking after your body and brain is the first step in conquering the plaguing nature of migraine pain.