Everything You Need to Know About Migraines - Common Triggers, Which Nutrients Help, & Prevention
Let's get into it.
What is a migraine headache?
A migraine is considered disabling pain that is on just one side of the head. Whereas, a headache is a pain that is usually on both sides of the head. Migraines usually result in additional symptoms. Migraine attacks can last between 4 hours and 30 hours and include debilitating symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to lights and sounds.
What theories are out there to explain why migraines occur?
There are currently three theories that seek to explain why migraines occur; they are the vascular theory, the neurovascular theory, and the musculoskeletal theory.
1. Vascular theory suggests that migraines occur due to blood vessels constricting in the brain
2. Neurovascular theory suggests that it is the neurovascular sensitization that causes migraines. Put simply, it is an abnormal neural response to certain stimuli that cause migraines.
3. Musculoskeletal theory suggests that migraines occur due to muscular tension in the cervical region (think, your neck) or perhaps due to dysfunction in the temperomandibular joint (TMJ).
What are the risk factors of migraine headaches?
Risk factors can be categorized as modifiable (those risk factors that can be changed) and non-modifiable (those factors that cannot be changed or are harder to change).
Modifiable risk factors:
>Snoring (as in sleep apnea)
>Sensitivity to certain medications
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors:
>Low socioeconomic status
What are your treatment options?
Treatment options can be broken into conventional treatment protocols and comprehensive treatment protocols. Conventional treatment* means Westernized treatment. Conventional treatment usually means that a healthcare provider will match your symptoms with a medication that is supposed to suppress those symptoms so, in turn, you feel better fast. However, this does not get to the root cause of WHY you are experiencing these symptoms in the first place. Enter Comprehensive treatment which means understanding the patient in full. Comprehensive treatment aims to uncover WHY you are experiencing these symptoms in the first place and then use a treatment protocol that includes nutrition and lifestyle modifications before considering medication to fully treat you and your symptoms.
Which treatment modality would you rather be cared for by?
*If your symptoms are bad enough and you need immediate relief and/or help, please call your doctor to get treated with medication. There is no need to suffer in silence. Once you are feeling better from the medication you can start implementing some of the following suggestions or work with a nutritionist to help care for and manage your condition.
Goals of a comprehensive treatment protocol:
1. Take a full health history and spend time with the client to understand and correctly establish what type of headache you are dealing with.
2. Check for which risk factors are causing problems.
3. Work to reduce pain.
4. Establish a healthy eating pattern, including proper hydration.
5. Check for food sensitivities.
6. Refer out to a chiropractor to check spinal alignment.
7. Refer out to a craniosacral specialist (e.g., massage therapist).
Are there certain foods that can trigger a migraine?
The most common foods that may trigger a migraine include gluten, sucralose, chocolate, cheese, caffeine, and citrus containing foods.
What would a comprehensive protocol look like to help treat a migraine headache?
Well, it would look different for each client because, as you know, each person is unique and each condition presents itself differently within each person.
However, you can expect a comprehensive assessment that takes into account your history and condition. The healthcare provider or nutritionist may work with you to start an elimination diet that works to remove triggers (for example, gluten, caffeine). Then, they will most likely suggest lifestyle modifications that may help to reduce migraine frequency and intensity (like exercise and reducing stress). Finally, another goal would be to reduce inflammation within the body.
Are there any specific nutrients found to be helpful in reducing migraine attacks?
According to research found on PubMed (think of it like Spotify for academic reading), the nutrients that seem to be of some added benefit (e.g., reduction in migraine frequency, reduction in migraine pain severity) include riboflavin, vitamin D, and magnesium.
Magnesium - Based on the literature magnesium's role in treating migraine symptoms is listed as "possibly effective". Magnesium is considered possibly effective at a dose of 600 mg/day for several weeks of magnesium citrate orally.
Source: von Luckner, A and Riederer, F. (2018). Magnesium in Migraine Prophylaxis-Is There an Evidence-Based Rationale? A Systematic Review. Headache. 58(2): 199-209. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29131326/
Riboflavin - Evidence is considered "fair". Doses of vitamin B2 (aka riboflavin) of 400 mg/daily for several months (i.e., 3 months) have had positive outcomes in relation to reducing migraine severity.
Source: Thompson, D.F. and Saluja, H.S. (2017). Prophylaxis of migraine headaches with riboflavin: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 42(4): 394-403. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28485121
Vitamin D - It is common for many, many people to be deficient in vitamin D, especially if you are like me and live in the northern United States! From a very recent (2019) meta-analysis, 1000 - 4000 IU/day of vitamin D supplementation was shown to reduce how often someone suffered from the complications of a migraine.
Source: Ghorbani, Z et al., (2019). Vitamin D in migraine headache: a comprehensive review on literature. Journal of the Neurological Society. 40(12): 2459-2477. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31377873
Conclusions and Final Thoughts:
Overall, migraines are difficult to treat and manage because there is still a great deal that the scientific community does not understand about this condition. From reading a few public access journal articles about this condition it seems as though nutrition and lifestyle modifications such as supplementing with magnesium, vitamin D, and riboflavin and establishing a daily exercise routine show some benefit to helping manage the complications of a migraine headache.
If your symptoms are debilitating to the point where your migraines are affecting your life, please consult a healthcare provider immediately. If you are currently taking medication to help control your symptoms but are looking for alternative ways to help manage your migraines, please reach out to a nutritionist so you can be thoroughly assessed and given a personalized nutrition care plan.
If you are interested in working with a nutritionist, please call or text Brianna at 715-496-3097 to get started.
Hope this helps,
Oh, hi! I'm still here. Exciting news! Check back for more information about migraine headaches from a friend and colleague, Josette. She has a ton of experience with migraine headaches from being a fellow sufferer. She will have great information for you and if you suffer from these debilitating headaches you won't want to miss this!