More than 300 million people worldwide — about 6 to 7 percent of men and 15 to 18 percent of women — suffer from migraine headaches, which can last anywhere from a few hours to three days. An estimated 20 million migraine attacks occur every single day.
Despite that, it’s still one of the least understood and poorly treated medical disorders, as they are likely due to a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors that vary from person to person.
Adding to the complexity is that the experiences of those suffering from migraines also vary greatly. Aside from throbbing, searing pain, which may or may not be one-sided, some experience “auras” prior to onset, while others do not. Other symptoms that may or may not be present include nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, sweating, and/or sensitivity to light, sound, and smells.
What Causes Migraines?
There are a number of different theories about the cause of migraines, but no one hypothesis can explain the occurrence of migraines in all sufferers. These (sometimes conflicting) theories include:
Changes in your brain chemical serotonin. When levels drop, blood vessels including those in your brain become swollen and inflamed, which can lead to migraine pain.
Vascular constriction in your brain; from initial blood vessel constriction and a drop in blood flow, followed by dilation and stretching of blood vessels, which activates pain-signaling neurons.
Excessive increase of blood flow in your brain. In direct contrast to the preceding theory, other research has found that migraines are not preceded by constriction and decrease in blood flow, but rather by an increase of nearly 300 percent. However, circulation then appears normal, or even slightly reduced, once the attack is in full swing.
A neurological disorder related to nerve cell activity that sweeps across your brain, causing pain. In this case, it is thought that a wave release of neurotransmitters across your cortex can directly stimulate your trigeminal nerves, setting off the chain reaction that ends in the transmitting of pain signals.
A nervous system disorder originating in your brain stem. Your brain stem is your control center for alertness, perception of light, noise and smell, cerebral blood flow, cardiovascular function and pain sensitivity — many, if not most, of which are part of the symptoms of a migraine attack. Research has revealed that three clusters of cells in your brain stem are active during and after migraine. According to this hypothesis, abnormal activity in those cells could induce the sensation of pain, even when there are no pain signals being received from your brain membrane or blood vessels.
A disruption of the subtle energies circulating throughout your body, along with unresolved emotional issues that manifest in your body as headaches.
Mutation or dysfunction of certain genes.
Are Your Migraines Due to a Vitamin Deficiency?
In this latest study, vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid supplements were found to produce a two-fold reduction in migraines over a six-month period. Previous studies, such as a 2004 study in the European Journal of Neurology, have also reported that high doses of B2 (riboflavin) can help prevent migraine attacks.
Certain gene mutations and dysfunctions can lead to higher levels of homocysteine production, which can make you more susceptible to migraine attacks. Here they found that vitamins B6 and B12 work by reducing your homocysteine levels. They also discovered that depending on your genotype, you may need a higher or lower dose in order for it to work. Said Professor Lyn Griffiths:
“… if all patients received the same vitamin dosage for the same period of time it would be expected that those with TT genotypes, having a reduced enzymatic rate, would metabolise less homocysteine over the treatment period compared to C allele carriers, thus resulting in a smaller reduction in homocysteine and consequent migraine symptoms.
Indeed, it may be that TT genotypes although having a higher risk of disease actually require a larger dosage of vitamins to exhibit the same effect as C alleles. Further clinical trials of much larger patient cohorts are required to test this hypothesis.”
According to Professor Griffiths, their aim is to determine the optimal dosage of B vitamins based on your genetic profile.
“The success of our trial has shown that safe, inexpensive vitamin supplements can treat migraine patients,” she said.
However, there may be yet another, even more widespread, vitamin deficiency underlying your migraine symptoms.
Just last year, researchers presented results of an observational study at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Headache Society, showing that nearly 42 percent of patients with chronic migraine were deficient in vitamin D. The study also showed that the longer you suffered from chronic migraines, the more likely you are to be vitamin D deficient.
This is yet another brand new discovery that can be tacked on to the literally hundreds of health ramifications of being vitamin D deficient.
Common Migraine Triggers to Avoid
However, it is important for everyone to fully appreciate that treating migraines by using a simple remedy is rarely effective. So while using supplements like these B vitamins might be useful, this is still an allopathic approach that is very similar to using medications.
It is my belief that pain can be one of your strongest allies if you use it to help you to find what is truly contributing to the cause of the problem.
Just as there are numerous theories on the actual mechanics of migraine pain, there are a wide number of potential triggers — and what triggers a migraine for you might not trigger it in someone else. So rather than just popping some B vitamins you will want to consider a more comprehensive strategy.
However, here are several of the most commonly reported triggers:
Food and Drink: Many people experience migraines when they eat certain foods, especially wheat, dairy (especially pasteurized), sugar, artificial preservatives or chemical additives. Cured or processed meats, alcohol, aspartame, caffeine, and MSG are common culprits.
Allergies: Including food allergies and food sensitivities, and chemical sensitivities.
Dehydration and/or Hunger
Changes in sleeping cycle: Both missing sleep and oversleeping can trigger a migraine.
Stress: Any kind of emotional trauma can trigger a migraine, even after the stress has passed.
Physical exertion: Extremely intense exercise or even s*x has been known to bring on migraines.
Hormones: Some women experience migraines before, or during their periods, during pregnancy, or during menopause. Others may get migraines from hormonal medications like birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy.
External stimuli: Bright lights, fluorescent lights, loud noises and strong smells (even pleasant ones) can trigger a migraine.
Weather changes, seasonal changes, and changes in altitude
How to Relieve Migraine Pain Without Dangerous Drugs
Migraine pain can be seriously debilitating and may be one instance where you could justify popping a pill for instant relief. Unfortunately, migraine medications tend to only work in 50 percent of people, half the time…
They also have intense side effects such as “medication overuse headache,” which often occurs when people take too much of a headache drug. Worse than that, if you take tryptamine-based drugs, which bind to serotonin receptors to constrict your cranial blood vessels, but your pain is not due to engorged blood vessels, then constricting them can potentially do a lot of harm. And, lo and behold, serious cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke, are in fact side effects of these types of drugs.
Fortunately, there are better ways to treat migraines than pharmaceutical drugs.
First, you’ll want to make sure you avoid the triggers.
Most often this means eating healthy whole foods and avoiding processed ones. Avoiding wheat, grains, sugar and all fluids but water also seem to be particularly effective. In fact, following my eating plan typically reduces migraines by about 80 percent, as it virtually eliminates all common food-related causes of headaches.
Regular exercise will also help to keep migraines away by improving your response to stress, along with the underlying inflammatory conditions that can trigger migraines.
Those are the lifestyle choices that you’ll need to focus on long-term, if you want to reduce your migraines. But if a migraine does strike and you need immediate relief, here are a several safe, healthy alternatives that you can try:
1. Use Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Newcomers who use this simple process by themselves achieve relief 50 percent to 80 percent of the time and, in many cases, the relief is complete and permanent. More sophisticated uses by an EFT expert may be required for some migraine sufferers.
2. Stimulate your body’s natural painkilling ability. By putting pressure on a nerve just under your eyebrow, you can cause your pituitary gland to release painkilling endorphins immediately.
3. Take 10 teaspoons of cayenne pepper in a glass of water. Endorphins are released by your brain when the cayenne hits your stomach lining.
4. Sniff green apple scent. One study found that the scent significantly relieved migraine pain. This may also work with other scents that you enjoy so consulting with an aromatherapist may be beneficial. Other aromas that stand out of the crowd include peppermint, sandalwood oil, lavender, and eucalyptus.
5. Hot and cold packs. For some people, heat will do the trick, while others get more relief from cold. Experiment to see which one works for you, but avoid extreme temperatures. You can also try placing your hands in hot (but not scalding) water, which seems to pull pressure from your head.
I recommend trying all of them, and in various combinations, to find the one that works best for you.