A guide to migraines with preventive measures

If you have ever experienced a migraine you don’t need me to tell you what it is. However, I will briefly explain, migraines are more than just headaches, the pain is severe and throbbing in nature and can last several days. Sometimes people have visual disturbance known as an aura, which can include dizziness and they may also be accompanied by nausea or even vomiting. A migraine attack usually means lying very still until it passes and this can be up to 72 hours. They can be a very dilapidating condition. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between a headache and a migraine so keeping a diary of symptoms may be useful.

Causes:

  • Blood vessel instability – where blood vessels dilate and contact excessively.
  • Nerve disorder – some research suggests in migraine sufferers the nerve mitochondria (the working factory inside our cells that makes energy) do not produce much energy. Poor function leads to an over reaction to the environment, such as dehydration, sunlight and over-stimulation.
  • Serotonin deficiency syndrome – low serotonin levels may lead to increase sensitivity to pain in people with chronic headaches.
  • Inflammation – migraine sufferers tend to release substance P (P stands for pain). The release of this substance is associated with pain, dilation of blood vessels and release of histamine and other allergic substances.
  • Chronic stress may also be indicated.

 Preventative measures:

  • Identify triggers– keep a food/life diary for a month.
  • Foods to consider as triggers: chocolate, cheese, beer, wine, cured meats and soy sauce.  These are rich in in histamine that can cause blood vessels to expand. Tyramine rich foods may also cause migraines: avocados, bananas, cabbage, canned fish, potatoes, raspberries, red plums, tomatoes, wine and yeast.
  • Other triggers may be: food intolerances – wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and nuts are key foods to watch out for, allergies, constipation, little sleep, emotional changes, hormonal changes, sun glare, flashing lights and weather.
  • Low blood sugar may also be a trigger. Support blood sugar by eating protein at each meal, avoid refined white foods i.e. sugar, white bread, rice and pasta, cakes, breakfast cereals, replace with wholegrain complex carbohydrates and finally eat a good breakfast and do not skip meals.
  • Increase magnesium rich foods. Research has suggested migraine sufferers can show a deficiency in magnesium. Stressors, excessive alcohol, hormonal imbalances and certain drugs may deplete magnesium levels. Foods that contain magnesium are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, beans, nuts and seeds. A supplement with higher levels of magnesium may be useful but check with a health professional for any drug nutrient interactions.
  • Increase anti-inflammatory and foods with lots of colour – olive oil, salmon, mackerel, herring, flaxseeds, walnuts, berries, carrots, peppers, apples, sweet potato, green leafy vegetables garlic and onions.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods – excessive amount of foods that contain omega 6 and arachidonic acid, both may lead to inflammation if eaten in excess – baked foods, vegetables oils, fried foods, high intake of grain-fed meat and dairy. Grass fed meat and dairy contains more anti-inflammatory omega 3 fat, so if eating meat and dairy opt for grass fed. Ask your butcher and supermarket if you are unsure.
  • Eat foods that contain vitamin B2, B2 is needed for making energy in our cells, if there is a deficiency our cells will not work as well and a link has been made between poor cell function and migraines. Include almonds, asparagus, avocado, eggs and broccoli in your diet. Check that some of these foods however don’t aggravate.
  • Include all foods with all B vitamins in your diet, studies have found a link between B supplements and migraine improvement and one recent study in Australia found a link between folate, B6 and B12 reduced migraine attacks by half in volunteers as well as a reduction in pain. Eat more wholegrains, beans, pulses, vegetables, chicken, red meat (grass fed) and eggs. (If tolerated.)
  • Try to find ways to relax – 10 minute meditations daily; learning breathing techniques to calm the body and baths with epsom salts may be useful. Epsom salts contains magnesium and may be absorbed through the skin.

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