A migraine is a vascular-type headache characterized by a sharp pounding pain located within one side of the head. The pain of a migraine is characterized as a throbbing or pounding sharp pain. It is typically noticed on just one side of the head. Although some migraines come on without warning, many migraine sufferers have warning symptoms (“auras”) before the onset of pain. Typical auras last a few minutes and include: blurring or bright spots in the vision, anxiety, fatigue, disturbed thinking, and numbness or tingling on one side of the body.
What causes Migraine Headache?
Considerable evidence supports an association between migraine headache and instability of blood vessels. The mechanism of migraine can be described as a three-stage process: initiation, prodrome (time between initiation and appearance of headache), and headache. Although a particular stressor may be associated with the onset of a specific attack, it appears that initiation is dependent on the accumulation of several stressors over time. These stressors ultimately affect serotonin metabolism. Once a critical point of susceptibility (or threshold) is reached, a “cascade event” is initiated that sets in process a domino-like effect that ultimately produces a headache. Food allergies, histamine-releasing foods, alcohol (especially red wine), stress, hormonal changes (e.g., menstruation, ovulation, birth-control pills) and weather changes especially barometric pressure changes are examples of some common triggers of migraines.
What dietary factors are important in Migraine Headache?
Food allergy or sensitivity plays a primary role in many cases of tension and migraine headaches. Many double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated that the detection and removal of allergenic foods will eliminate or greatly reduce headache symptoms in the majority of patients. Food allergy/intolerance induces a migraine attack largely as a result of platelets releasing serotonin and histamine. In addition, foods such as aged cheeses, beer, canned figs, chicken liver, chocolate, food additives, pickled fish, the pods of broad beans, wine, and Brewer’s yeast contain histamine, tyramine and/or other compounds that can trigger migraines in sensitive individuals by causing blood vessels to expand. Red wine is much more likely than white wine to cause a headache because it contains higher levels of phenols and 20-to-200 times as much histamine.
To deal with food allergies, utilize RevitalX – a high potency multinutrient powdered drink mix from Natural Factors. This product was developed by Michael Lyon, M.D., and was specifically engineered to be an excellent source of important nutrients to support the gastrointestinal lining and aid detoxification. It is an excellent source of hypoallergenic vegetarian protein that we have termed GoldPeptides along with specific nutritional, probiotic, and herbal support to deal with food allergies. When used as the key component of an elimination diet, RevitalX is taken twice per day as the primary source of sustenance. RevitalX is made up with water or juice (fresh vegetable juice is preferred), or it can be made up as a fruit smoothie. Fresh or steamed vegetables and small amounts of fruit can be eaten when hungry and one simple meal is prepared in the evening with steamed vegetables, lean chicken breast and brown rice (cooked beans, split peas or lentils along with brown rice can be used as a vegetarian alternative). A lightly sautéed stir fry can also be prepared for this meal.
Eating to prevent hypoglycemia also stabilizes blood vessels, preventing migraine attacks. Be sure to eat regularly with small snacks between meals. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates, instead focusing on whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
What nutritional supplements should I take for Migraine Headache?
Foundation Supplements. There are three products from Natural Factors that I think are critical in supporting good health:
- MultiStart (age and gender specific multiple vitamin and mineral formulas). Follow label instructions.
- Enriching Greens – a great tasting “greens drink” containing highly concentrated “greens” like chlorella, spirulina, wheat grass juice, barley grass juice, etc., and herbal extracts. Take one serving (one tablespoon) in 8 ounces of water daily.
- RxOmega-3 Factors – A true pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement. Take two capsules daily.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has been shown to be as effective as drug therapy, but may be safer. 5-HTP is the direct building block for serotonin. Because migraine sufferers have low levels of serotonin in their tissues, this led researchers to refer to migraine as a “low-serotonin syndrome.” Low serotonin levels are thought to lead to a decrease in the pain threshold in patients with chronic headaches. This contention is strongly supported by over thirty-five years of research, including positive clinical results in double-blind studies with the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). The recommended dosage is 50 to 100 mg daily in adults and 5 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight in children.
Riboflavin supplementation has shown impressive results in preventing migraine headaches. One of the theories used to explain what causes a migraine headache is that they are caused by a reduction of energy production within the energy producing units of cells (the mitochondria) of blood vessels in the head. Therefore, because vitamin B2 (riboflavin) has the potential of increasing cellular energy production it was thought that it might have preventive effects against migraine. In a double-blind study with riboflavin (400 mg daily), the proportion of patients who improved by at least 50% was 15% for placebo and 59% for riboflavin. There were no side effects attributed to the riboflavin therapy.
Magnesium insufficiency may also play a significant role in many cases of headaches, as several researchers have demonstrated substantial links between low magnesium levels and both migraine and tension headaches. A magnesium deficiency is known to set the stage for the events that can cause a migraine attack or a tension headache. Low brain and tissue magnesium concentrations have been found in patients with migraines, indicating a need for supplementation since one of magnesium’s key functions is to maintain the tone of the blood vessels and prevent over excitability of nerve cells. Magnesium supplementation can be quite effective in preventing migraine headaches. The recommended dosage is 150 to 250 mg three times daily. Magnesium bound to citrate, malate, or aspartate is better absorbed and better tolerated than inorganic forms such as magnesium sulfate, hydroxide, or oxide, which tend to produce a laxative effect.
Petadolex®, a standardized extract from the butterbur plant (Petasites hybridus) has been shown in several double-blind studies. In one study, 60 patients suffering from headaches with and without aura randomly received either 50 mg of Petadolex twice daily for 12 weeks. Compared to baseline, Petadolex reduced the frequency of attacks by 46% after 4 weeks, 60% after 8 weeks and 50% after 12 weeks of treatment (placebo group: 24%, 17% and 10%, respectively).
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) has been reported to be effective in preventing migraine headaches. There remain many questions concerning the best form of ginger and the proper dosage. Fresh ginger (dosage approximately 10 g per day [1/4-inch slice]) and ginger extracts standardized to contain 20% of gingerol and shogaol (dosage 100-200 mg three times per day) may be the most effective as the most active anti-inflammatory components of ginger are found in these preparations.
The first step in treating migraine headache is identifying the precipitating factor. Although food intolerance/allergy is the most important, many other factors must be considered as either primary causes or contributors to the migraine process. In particular, it is important to assess the role that headache medications may be playing, especially in chronic headaches. Several clinical studies have estimated that approximately seventy percent of patients with chronic daily headaches suffer from drug-induced headaches. Withdrawal of medication in these cases results in prompt clinical improvement within two weeks in most cases.
In addition to the dietary and supplement strategies, biofeedback and relaxation training can also be helpful. The effectiveness of biofeedback and relaxation training in reducing the frequency and severity of recurrent migraine headaches has been the subject of over thirty-five clinical studies. When the results from these studies were compared with those of studies using drug therapy, it was apparent that the non-drug approach was as effective as the drug approach but was without side effects. Ask your doctor about these therapies.
How do I know if the recommendations are working?
The program is a success if the migraine headaches because less frequent or less intense.