Women suffer from headaches more commonly than men. This trend increases from the onset of menstruation, peaks in mid 40's and then appears to decline following menopause. Migraines are a frustrating chronic illness that is widespread in our population. They range in intensity from an occasional annoyance to a life-threatening daily experience. Headaches are the number one pain problem and are one of the most common reasons why patients visit doctors.
Typically, migraine sufferers are offered drugs such as acetaminophen, codeine, barbiturates, and ergotamine in an attempt to control their pain. However, this band-aid approach does not remove the cause of the migraine, but may in fact cause headaches to recur on a rebound basis as these drugs leave the nervous system. This is a similar effect to that of “curing” a coffee drinker's headache by giving him or her coffee to stop a headache caused by caffeine withdrawal.
Migraines are not caused by dilation and constriction of blood vessels; this is a secondary response due to an underlying cause. In fact, the majority of migraine sufferers eventually get a stroke since the cause of the problem has not been addressed over a prolonged period of time. Symptoms persist in calling for attention, but often are only palliated with painkillers. Many factors may trigger or aggravate a migraine attack. Quite frequently it may be due to physical activity, or menstruation, alcohol consumption (red wine in particular), too little or too much sleep, a missed meal, a change in weather, or certain foods. Migraine headaches are a chronic, complex, and multi-factorial condition that involves social, genetic, physiological and psychological components. Although simply stated - typically, they result from retained toxins in the body or tissue irritants within the central nervous system that may express along different or even a combination of anatomical systems that would include the following:
Endocrine System - the hormonal imbalance leading to estrogen dominance, hypothyroidism, hyper-insulinemia and possibly other expressions that are affected by hormones. Estrogen levels are a key factor in the increased prevalence of migraine in women. Estrogen dominance or progesterone deficiency prior to menstruation is a common migraine trigger; estrogen administration in oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can trigger migraines; migraines typically decrease during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy when estriol (good estrogen) levels are high; migraines are common immediately post-partum with the precipitous drop in estriol levels; and migraines generally improve with physiologic menopause.
Psychological influences - People often think thoughts that are negative, frightening, angry, or even self demeaning. When normal/healthy people think these thoughts, nothing much happens. Individuals suffering from migraines have over-reactive hormone systems, while adrenalin and other hormones are released along with thought provoking cascade of negative emotions. A migraine sufferer may not feel anxious at all, they may claim to be relaxed but at the same time may be showing the physical symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms may be partly resulting from various chemical processes such as the foods this person ate. However, they are also the result of thoughts. Psychological modulation of immune function is now a well-established phenomenon. The scientific evidence and the body of research are indisputable, explaining how the brain and body communicate with each other in a multidirectional flow of information that consists of hormones, neurotransmitters / neuropeptides, and cytokines. Emotions are intricately involved in this communication process.
Gastrointestinal System – there is no other activity that is more frequent in our daily life than eating, and nothing else affects our health more than what we eat. Simply stated, the gut influences all other systems of the body – it is all interconnected. Headaches may be caused by food allergies. There's a group of substances called amines, common in many foods, which are the main food trigger of migraines. There are different amines in different foods. The amine in chocolate is the worst, while cheese is the next biggest offender. Apparently, migraine sufferers have less monoamine oxidase (MAO), the enzyme in platelets that breaks down amines. This reaction is not an allergy but may cause certain hormones to be released in the body. Different amines can cause migraines in different people. Nitrites and Aspartame can also cause migraines. High protein diets from animal sources is one of the most common reasons people suffer from chronic migraines given the current high protein diet fad. Protein breakdown and digestion causes the production of multiple toxins, especially nitrogenous wastes. Animal protein and fat also comes with a myriad of detrimental hormones and antibiotics that are systemically injected into livestock. We frequently suffer unknowingly from our dietary practices because our bodies are not adapted to handle the types of foods we eat.
What to Do and What Not to Do for Migraine Sufferers:
Any “quick fix” solution to migraines may cause more harm than good in the long term. Let's face it; if the solutions were quick and easy, millions of people would not be suffering from migraines. Since each individual case history is unique, each requires a different approach. One must first have the necessary diagnostic testing to rule out any obvious causes. Following this, one may wish to explore some of the following strategies, which have been found to be very effective in our clinic:
The Right Diet - To recover your health, you may require detoxification to cleanse the offensive substance(s) from your system. Start by switching to a low protein, plant based diet specifically designed to avoid your aggravating foods. Also eliminate all caffeine-containing products. Avoid certain foods until you are fully recovered, thereafter; you can re-introduce foods one by one, every three days to see whether or not they cause a problem. Many people have a hard time coming to terms with completely changing their diet and temporarily eliminating essentially all foods. However, after having suffered migraines for years, many patients find that after only a few months of following this strict diet regime, they can eliminate their migraines forever!
Lifestyle Advice - Start and maintain an exercise program that addresses the three key components of health: duration (aerobics), strength (weight resistance), and flexibility (stretching). A moderate daily exercise routine will promote weight loss and hormonal balance, stabilize your mood and give you an overall feeling of well-being. Choose an activity that you actually enjoy, and let it become part of you and your lifestyle. It may be yoga, tai chi, martial arts, swimming or tennis, it doesn't matter as long as you like it enough to stick to it. Use this time to help you unwind from daily pressures, to clear your mind and to re-connect to your physical body. You have to take care of your body so it can take care of you.
Hormonal Balancing – as stated earlier hormones in general have such an overriding influence on all bodily functions that it would be imprudent to ignore this area. I have come to realize that hormone balancing alone without the fundamental shift in dietary measures and physical activity levels will not produce long lasting results. At the onset of any therapy, proper assessment of a patient's hormonal levels - utilizing blood, saliva and urine testing should be done to establish a baseline and to clearly identify the hormonal imbalances that may inadvertently contribute to migraines. It is not surprising to see that most problems in this area are a result of estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency. The use of bio-identical progesterone in the second half of the female cycle to balance the hormones has been proven time and time again to be extremely effective therapy. (For more detailed information on hormones please go to www.drpettle.com ). Proper thyroid testing is also essential, since hypothyroid is very common in migraine sufferers.
Homeopathic Medications – are a safe and extremely effective way of balancing your problems naturally by allowing your system to correct itself with gentle stimulation of your own immune response. Unlike so many conventional medications, homeopathics are never addictive. Once symptoms are relieved and resolved, you can stop taking them. Taking care of patients with recurrent headaches or migraines is one of the most rewarding experiences for me, since homeopathic medications are incredibly attuned to affect the person on endocrine and neurotransmitter levels. Migraine sufferers respond extremely well to clinical homeopathy when two or more single remedies are used together. Homeopathic philosophy states that there are no specifics to this or any other condition, unlike allopathic models; everything in homeopathy is individualized based on the patient's individual symptom picture. By last count, headaches appear to have 584 remedies - each one with its own specific symptoms. In my practice, the most common remedies I use are: Ignatia, Sepia, Lachesis, Natrum Muriaticum, Colubrina (Nux-V), and Pulsatilla. They are extremely effective when used in high potencies addressing the patient symptoms on all levels such as: promoting detoxification, addressing the patient needs on a psychological level, hormonal balancing and endocrine function as well as supporting detoxification and lymphatic cleansing.
There are many vitamins and other essential nutrients that can have an effect on the complex hormonal processes that cause migraines. Supplementation of coenzyme Q10 , feverfew, and kudzu root have all been demonstrated to help with migraine headaches. Magnesium Citrate has helped many people to reduce the frequency of migraines; magnesium deficiency can also cause a craving for chocolate, which in turn can cause migraines. Vitamin C, Vitamin B3 – Niacin, Omega-3 essential fatty acids all proved beneficial in treating migraine headaches.
In conclusion , some headaches may result from head injuries, brain tumors, hypertension, chronic sinusitis and may be directly or indirectly related to conditions associated with teeth, ears, nose and eyes. Others may be caused by hormone imbalances, diet, or psychological reasons. Persistent severe headaches that do not respond to any of the above recommendations over a period of time should be properly evaluated by a competent health professional. Our bodies have an innate ability to self-correct and to heal given the chance.
When disease-causing stresses and hormonal imbalances are removed, the natural healing can begin to work unhindered. The self-repair mechanism inherent in all of us is the most complex and the most incredible part of the human organism. There are no magic bullets, the only true healing is self healing, lets face the facts – we are all responsible for our own health. Now, let the healing begin…