Put simply, migraine involves excess contraction or dilation of the blood vessels in the brain. There are at least three major theories regarding the physiological mechanisms involved and there are many different types of migraine (the major ones being: migraine with aura and migraine without aura) – and several sub-types within each classification.
To treat migraine, identify the trigger and eliminate it – which is often easier said than done. There is little doubt that food intolerance is a major cause of migraine and many studies have demonstrated that detecting and removing the offending food(s) can improve or even eliminate symptoms in the majority of sufferers. A study in the Lancet found that 93% of sufferers found an improvement on eliminating allergenic foods from their diet. Non-food triggers include lack of exercise, stress or strong emotions, constipation, excess or lack of sleep, liver malfunction, weather changes, caffeine withdrawal, certain drugs, dental problems, flashing or glaring lights, low blood sugar or exposure to cigarette smoke. Some migraines result from oestrogen fluctuations and usually decrease after the menopause. Foods containing phyto-oestrogens (citrus fruits, apples, cherries, plums, oats, rice, wheat, carrots, potatoes, parsley and fennel) can have a hormone-balancing effect. The Pill may cause B6 deficiency resulting in migraine.
Diet adjustments – To maintain a steady blood sugar level, eat regular, light meals which include protein but are low in simple carbohydrates (such as sugary and refined foods). Eat extra amounts of almonds, fennel, watercress, and fresh pineapple. Reduce salt intake and avoid acid forming foods (meat, dairy, cereals, grain and bread). Avoid fried and fatty foods.
There are tests which can help to identify problem foods, but the most reliable method is the challenge test. Choose (say) five of the danger foods below and eliminate them from your diet for 3 weeks. If you are symptom free during this period introduce each food one at a time, at least four days apart, eating the food several times a day, and record any reactions – which may take up to three days to appear. If there is no reaction you can assume the food is safe for you to eat. If you do have a reaction, eliminate the food from your diet for at least 6 months before trying to include it again. Common migraine triggers, which you may like to start with, are: alcohol, dairy produce, chocolate, wheat, citrus and shell-fish.
Other possible triggers: Cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, caffeine, red wine, dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, ice-cream, yoghurt), foods containing gluten (wheat, rye, oats, barley), ‘aged’ foods (e.g. cured, pickled, soured, fermented), monosodium glutamate, red grapes, soya products (including tofu), garlic, onions, shell-fish, salmon, kippers, haddock, mackerel, mussels and scallops. Foods which contain tyramine (e.g. avocados, processed meats, bananas, beer, cabbage, hard cheese, canned fish, potatoes, raspberries, plums, tomatoes, alcohol, yeast, chocolate and spicy foods). As a rule of thumb, often the food you crave most is a problem food for you. However, many of these foods (especially the fish, fruit and vegetables) are very beneficial IF they do not cause migraines. Once eliminated as an allergen, they are safe to eat.
Over-the-counter painkillers may increase headaches, especially those which contain caffeine. If any prescribed medications contain caffeine, discuss changing them with your GP. Do not stop or change any prescribed medicine without contacting your GP. Exercise and deep breathing will improve blood circulation which should help. Some migraines may result from toxic metals in the system – consider having a hair mineral analysis if your lifestyle could expose you to toxins. Research has shown that magnesium or vitamin B2 supplements can help. Analysis can determine which – if any – is appropriate for you and a suitable level and chemical form of supplementation. Physiotherapy may also be helpful.
Supplements which should help (always use hypo-allergenic supplements)
Calcium/Magnesium (chelate form) to regulate muscle tone and nerve transmissions. CoQ10 (or Ginkgo or B3) to improve blood circulation to the brain. Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10). A less well known nutrient has also been found effective in helping migraine sufferers. CoQ10 is a naturally occurring substance similar in structure to vitamin K. It is not a vitamin because, subject to the availability of all necessary nutrients, it can be made in the body; but as so often occurs, production declines with age! Its main functions in are in energy production and as an antioxidant.
Now research by Dr Rozen at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation published in the International Headache Society’s journal (March 2002) has found that after three months taking 150mg CoQ10, 61% of patients had a greater than 50% reduction in the number of days with migraine – a significant reduction. The fact that patients in the study had no problems using it, together with other beneficial effects of the nutrient, makes CoQ10 a very appealing agent for migraine prevention.
Natural sources of CoQ10 include beef, chicken, ham, pork, salmon, sardines, mackerel, egg, spinach, sesame seeds and walnuts but no food can provide anything close to the dose used in the trial so supplementation would be necessary. Consult a nutritionist for the dose and best presentation of CoQ10 as there are some specifics to watch out for. All supplements are NOT equal!
EPO – anti-inflammatory and keeps blood vessels from constricting
B5 for stress and B6 to reduce water-retention, along with a B-complex
Quercetin or bromelain help control food allergies
C (buffered form) enhances immune system and aids anti-stress hormone production
Try either of these:
Amino acid chelated magnesium
B2 at 400mg daily