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A Holistic and Nutritional Approach to Managing Migraines

Have you ever had a migraine so bad that simply opening your mouth to eat or speak caused a severe throbbing or pulsing pain in your head? The pain can be so bad that you have to lie in bed for hours, days even, not able to do much of anything. It can be debilitating, to say the least.

The exact cause of migraines isn't fully understood.  Experts think that migraine episodes may stem from changes in the brain that affect the way nerves communicate, the balance of chemicals, and the blood vessels. Genetics and environmental factors also appear to play a role.

Most cases run in the family, with a 50% chance of the children getting migraines if one of the parents suffers from them. Women are also more likely to have migraines than men. 

Some symptoms may not be easy to identify as migraines. For example, nausea, visual changes, sensitivity to sound and light, and even tingling or numbness in the extremities, can all be signs of a migraine.

Kids can have them too. Sadly, most cases go undiagnosed.

There's no cure for migraines yet.  Medication can provide some relief or help keep your symptoms from getting worse but often has unwanted side effects.

So, what can you do to prevent or lessen migraines?

There is no one thing that can effectively eliminate migraines, no magic pill or herb that can make them go away. Taking a holistic and nutritional approach can be a very effective way to help combat migraines.

Certain vitamins and nutrients may reduce the frequency or severity of migraines. Here are 5 nutrients that may help manage migraines that are backed by scientific evidence.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) A research review published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research concluded that riboflavin (vitamin B2) can help reduce the frequency and duration of migraine attacks, with no serious side effects. Researchers don't yet understand how vitamin B2 helps prevent migraines, but it is believed to affect the way cells metabolize energy. Best food sources of vitamin B2 include beef, tofu, low-fat salmon, mushrooms, spinach, almonds, avocados, and eggs. If you choose supplementation, some experts recommend taking up to 400 mg daily. The B vitamins are a family of nutrients that work best when taken in a complex, balanced formulation that includes other B vitamins, too.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) According to both the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society, CoQ10 may be effective in preventing migraines, although the research to support this is still limited. CoQ10 is a naturally occurring antioxidant in the body that keeps the mitochondria in the cells healthy. As we age, CoQ10 levels in our bodies also decrease. Certain meats and grain proteins contain COoQ10, but the quantity present in these foods is too small to significantly increase CoQ10 levels in the body. CoQ10 supplements are available as capsules or tablets. The typical dosage of CoQ10 is up to 100 mg taken three times per day, while the observed safe level is 1,200 mg per day.

Calcium and Magnesium One of our expert consultants, nutritional scientist Dr. Stephen Chaney, recently reviewed a study of calcium and magnesium and their relationship to the frequency of migraines. This study used data from 10,798 NHANES participants between 1999 and 2004 who completed a questionnaire asking if they suffered from severe headaches or migraines. Women with the highest intake of calcium were 28% less likely to suffer from migraines than those with the lowest intake. On the other hand, women with the highest magnesium intake were 38% less likely to suffer from migraines than those with the lowest intake. As for the men, results were close with calcium and a little lower at just 20% less likely with magnesium. Dietary sources of calcium include milk, cheese, and other dairy foods, yogurt, and dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips, and collard greens. If you'll supplement with calcium, take no more than 500 mg at a time. Higher amounts may be absorbed less efficiently. Magnesium deficiency has been strongly associated with migraine attacks. Low levels of magnesium in the blood can affect neurotransmitters and restrict blood vessel constriction, which are factors linked to migraines. A research review published in the Pain Physician Journal in 2016 found that giving magnesium intravenously can help reduce acute migraine attacks and that oral magnesium can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. Still, more research suggests that taking 600 mg of magnesium citrate appears to be a safe and effective prevention strategy. Many foods contain high levels of magnesium, including nuts and seeds, dark green vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fortified cereals, and other foods. The American Migraine Foundation however reports that people usually take 400–500 mg of magnesium supplement per day for migraine prevention.

Vitamin D Studies have found that a high percentage of people suffering from migraines have a vitamin D deficiency. Though there is not enough evidence to recommend vitamin D supplementation to all migraine patients, recent studies suggest that it may help reduce the frequency of headaches, especially in those with vitamin D deficiency. In a 2019 study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion, 48 participants with migraines were randomly assigned to receive either a daily vitamin D3 supplement or a placebo pill over the 24-week study period. Researchers found that the participants taking the vitamin D3 supplement had a significant decrease in their migraine frequency compared to the placebo group. They also had a significant increase in blood vitamin D levels over the first 12 weeks of treatment. Vitamin D is easy to find in a variety of foods, too. Cheese, egg yolks, tuna, salmon, and beef liver are foods rich in vitamin D. It is, of course, obtainable through exposure to sunshine, however, it is difficult to measure intake that way without a lab test. Various factors will reduce the body's ability to get vitamin D from the sun. Use of sunblock, living in a far northern latitude (or southern in the southern hemisphere), even having darker skin pigment, can all contribute to gaining fewer vitamin D benefits directly from the sun's rays.

For these reasons, it is good to supplement. It's even possible at times to find calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium together in one product.

No one vitamin or combination of vitamins and supplements has been proven to help relieve or prevent migraines in everyone. Each person has his own unique triggers and symptoms so what works for one may not work for another.

Identifying and avoiding triggers can often help reduce the frequency or severity of episodes, though it is not always possible to prevent them.

It can be helpful to track your migraine symptoms in a diary and look for patterns. (There are even apps made specifically for the purpose.) Note what you were doing before and when your headache came on. What were you eating? Did you get enough sleep the night before?

Triggers vary from person to person, but these are the most common ones:

• Emotional stress, anxiety • Hormonal changes in women • Caffeine in excess or withdrawal • Skipping meals or fasting • Dehydration • Lack of sleep • Extreme fatigue • Shoulder and neck tension • Low blood sugar • Certain foods and drinks • Changes in the weather • Bright, flickering lights • Certain smells (smoke, perfumes)

Lifestyle changes like eating healthy, easing stress, and developing good sleep habits can help, too.

Migraine triggers almost always include some form of stress - be it emotional, physical, or environmental. Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, and mindful breathing can help. Physical treatments like chiropractic, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, and craniosacral therapy might ease headache symptoms.

It's important to get enough sleep. A 2010 study found that sleep-deprived individuals experienced changes in key migraine-related proteins. Play it safe by being consistent about when you go to bed and get up.

Remember to eat regularly and avoid skipping meals. Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods to avoid deficiencies that can lead to migraines. Skip high-sugar and processed foods. Some evidence suggests that a plant-based diet may reduce migraines, but only if it includes adequate amounts of the nutrients listed above.

Get regular moderate exercise. If you need to shed a few pounds, that can help, since obesity has also been linked to migraines.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.

Avoid common "trigger foods" including alcohol especially red wine, caffeine, chocolate, processed foods, processed meats containing nitrates, and foods that have the additives tyramine and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Migraines can be agonizing, and they can affect anyone, including children. The result is often a significant impact on daily life, making it difficult to go to work or school or do everyday activities. Medications can help ease symptoms such as headaches and nausea, but, as mentioned above, they often have unwanted side effects. Taking a holistic and nutritional approach can be a very effective way to manage migraines.

Thanks for reading!

Renee VanHeel

Call or text: 858-472-7295 Book a 15-minute free consultation with me

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