Migraine headache prevention is something that most practitioners never discuss with their patients, even though these debilitating headaches are a common health concern affecting 39 million men, women, and children in the United States. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, every 10 seconds, someone in the United States goes to the emergency room with a headache or migraine. The following symptoms prompt these emergency room visits: severe pain or the fear of unremitting pain, drug reactions or side effects from headache medications, severe nausea or vomiting, dehydration, and/or stroke-like neurological symptoms that might accompany the headache.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation:
Migraine is considered an extraordinarily prevalent neurological disease. Everyone either knows someone who suffers from migraines or struggles with migraines themselves.
- Migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world.
- Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households includes someone with migraines.
- Amazingly, 12% of the population – including children – suffers from migraines.
- 18% of American women, 6% of men, and 10% of children experience migraines.
- Migraine is most common between the ages of 18 and 44.
- Migraine tends to run in families. About 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines.
It’s a bit sobering to know that migraine headaches make the top 20 list of the world’s most disabling health concerns. In fact, close to 1 in 4 households in the United States include someone that experiences frequent migraine headaches.
Migraine Headaches in Women and Men
Research shows that boys suffer from migraines before puberty more often than girls; however, as adolescence begins, migraine attacks increase more rapidly in girls than in boys.
Compared to 18% of women, migraine headaches affect only 6% of men. This may happen because more severe and more frequent attacks often result from fluctuations in estrogen levels.
Men’s symptoms are no different from women’s symptoms, although men are not affected by hormonal fluctuations like women are. The difference is that men are less likely to seek medical care for a migraine—and when they do, they are less likely to receive a migraine diagnosis. This is unfortunate since middle-aged men who suffer from migraine headaches are 42% more likely to have a heart attack when compared with non-sufferers, according to a new analysis of the 20,084 men participating in the Physicians’ Health Study.
In the United States, approximately 27 million females frequently suffer from migraine headaches, and three times as many women than men suffer from migraines. About half of women with migraines have more than one attack each month, and a quarter of women experience four or more severe attacks per month. Certainly, this is a health concern that needs attention.
What Are Some Migraine Headache Triggers?
Common migraine triggers include:
- Chocolate (R)(R)
- Milk (Dairy) (R)(R)
- Sugar (R)
- MSG (R)
- Wheat (R)
- Alcohol (R)(R)
- Caffeine (R)
- Lack of sleep
- Artificial sugar (R)(R)
- Food additives (R)
- Processed carbohydrates
- Oral contraceptives (R)
- GI issues (R)(R)(R)
- Low magnesium (R)(R)
- Basically, anything that upsets hormonal balance (R)
Conclusion of Research: “When an average of ten common food triggers was avoided, there was a dramatic fall in the number of headaches per month, 85% of patients becoming headache-free.”
Natural Migraine Headache Prevention and Solutions
While many migraine sufferers find prescription drugs somewhat effective, many find that migraine medications can also induce dizziness, fatigue, and other bothersome side effects. The following preventative holistic tips for migraine headaches can help to prevent and relieve the pain of migraine headaches.
Cleaning up one’s diet is always foundational in preventing any health concern. Consuming foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids (cold water fish) and B vitamins may help prevent migraine attacks. Frequently cooking with spices like garlic and chili peppers, onion, basil, rosemary, cinnamon, black pepper, mustard seed, cumin, curry, or cilantro can help in preventing migraines. Pre-packaged foods, fast foods, and foods that contain the chemicals tyramine or phenylalanine, including chocolate, aged cheese, fermented sausage, red wine, sour cream, and pickled herring, can be migraine triggers. It is also interesting to note that many people report that eliminating gluten from their diet has alleviated their migraines.
Anti-seizure medications, intended for those with epilepsy, are frequently prescribed to migraine sufferers. These medications normally block glutamate (a neurotransmitter). High concentrations of glutamate are usually found in those with both migraines and epilepsy. Since ketones block high concentrations of glutamate, a ketogenic diet can positively affect migraine sufferers. It is believed that the ketogenic diet can also benefit those with other brain and neurological disorders, which include cancer and Alzheimer’s, as well as diabetes, epilepsy, and migraine.
If you experience frequent migraines, you may want to try an allergy avoidance diet to pinpoint possible triggers, such as caffeine, chocolate, dairy, gluten, aspartame, alcohol, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). One study showed that close to 90% of children with migraine headaches eliminated migraines when they went on an allergy avoidance diet. You may also want to try an allergy elimination technique known as NAET. NAET is an innovative and completely natural method for regaining better health and effectively relieving allergies and the diseases arising from those allergens. See www.naet.com for more information about allergy elimination.
The human adult body contains about 24 grams of magnesium. Magnesium plays a vital role in multiple physiologic processes and is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, with more absorbed when the internal content is lower. Magnesium modulates many important neural and vascular processes involved in the development of a typical migraine attack. Those that suffer from migraines commonly exhibit low magnesium levels (in the serum, tissue, and lymphocytes), especially during an attack (Qujeq 2012; Talebi 2011; Sun-Edelstein 2009b). 600 mg of magnesium daily is effective for the prevention of migraine attacks (Koseoglu 2008). In combination with CoQ10 (ubiquinol), vitamin B2, and ginkgo, magnesium has been shown to significantly decrease the number of migraine headaches (Esposito 2011).
Vitamin D has many functions in the body which include diminishing inflammation, influencing the immune systems, modulating cell growth, and controlling the neuromuscular system [R, R]. In addition, vitamin D deficiency is linked to many diseases and disorders, including infections, musculoskeletal disturbances, neuromuscular disorders, autoimmune diseases, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, lung and cardiovascular diseases, cognitive function and psychiatric disorders, and increased risk of some cancers [R, R, R]. Vitamin D deficiency is also connected with pain disorders, including fibromyalgia and headaches [R, R, R].
Current research indicates a vitamin D deficiency may contribute to migraine headaches. Research also indicates that about 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient. Some of the population presents with even higher levels of deficiency, including premenopausal women, those with poor nutrition habits, people over age 65, Caucasians who avoid even minimal sun exposure, and those who take prescription medication long term.
In a randomized, double-blind study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion, supplementation with vitamin D3 was associated with a significantly greater reduction in migraine days among patients who experience migraines.
While some studies indicate there is not enough evidence to recommend Vitamin D3 for migraines, I believe that it’s prudent to get your Vitamin D3 levels tested yearly. If testing indicates low levels, I highly recommend taking a vegan-friendly, lichen-derived, organic vitamin D3 supplement containing 5,000 IUs per serving. If you suffer from migraines, you may find that optimizing your Vitamin D3 levels helps to lessen migraine pain and frequency.
Bioidentical Hormone Balancing
Hormone balance, specifically the ratio between estrogen and progesterone (rather than the levels), is critical in eliminating migraines. Migraines disproportionately affect women, which suggests a potential hormonal link (Dhillon 2011). Prostaglandin E2 (PGE-2) is a well-defined mediator of fever and inflammation. PGE-2 increases vasodilatation and thereby induces pain. Estrogens increase the production of PGE-2. An excess of estrogens, a deficit of progesterone, or estrogen dominance can cause increased production of PGE-2, resulting in migraine headaches. Forward-thinking migraine researchers have stated – “clinical experience strongly supports the notion that migraine can be managed only when levels of all the basic hormones—pregnenolone, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone—are optimal with the physiological cycle” (Dzugan 2003). Before using any type of hormone therapy or herbal therapy, I recommend testing hormone levels using saliva testing to check levels and to create a baseline for future testing. Should lab work indicate unbalanced hormone levels, it’s time to talk to a knowledgeable practitioner about using bioidentical hormone (BHRT) therapy.
Organic Trace Minerals
Without organic trace minerals as a carrier, vitamins and other nutrients are not as effective. Cells cease to function properly, the immune system weakens, the nervous system deteriorates, and the body begins to age more rapidly. It is said that 99% of Americans are deficient in organic minerals because inorganic toxic chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides have destroyed nearly all the critical organic minerals, elements, and complexes in our soils. I personally use and recommend intraMIN.
Butterbur extracts possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and vasodilatory properties, which may explain their efficacy for migraine prevention (Pothmann 2005; Oelkers-Ax 2008). Butterbur root extract (standardized to 15% petasins) is safe and effective in preventing migraines (Diener 2004; Lipton 2004; Pothmann 2005). In one study, researchers split 245 patients into three groups to receive: 75 mg of butterbur extract twice a day, 50 mg of butterbur extract twice a day, or placebo. At the end of a four-month treatment period, those taking the 75 mg dosage experienced a whopping 48% reduction, on average, in the frequency of migraine attacks (Lipton 2004).
Inflammation in the brain is a known migraine trigger. Curcuminoids, the main compound in the spice turmeric, is lauded for their anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in the brain is a known migraine trigger. Curcuminoids, the main compound in the spice turmeric, is lauded for their anti-inflammatory properties. Some research indicates that curcumin may increase serotonin (R, R, R). Low levels of serotonin are associated with migraines and drugs that increase serotonin successfully can also treat migraines. See 20 Health Benefits of Turmeric.
In a study that included 100 migraine sufferers, both sumatriptan (50 mg), a drug used to stop the onset of migraines, and ginger powder (250 mg) equally lessened the severity of migraine attacks within 2 hours, with equal satisfaction with pain relief in both groups, but far more side-effects in those that took sumatriptan. Ginger is most often used to treat pain and inflammation. Up to 1 gm/day of ginger powder (capsules) is considered safe even for use during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, please consult with your obstetrician before using ginger.
Due to feverfew’s anti-inflammatory properties, its use in managing migraine attacks is worth noting (Goodyear-Smith 2010; Saranitzky 2009; Chen 2007). However, a review of randomized controlled trials revealed mixed results for the effectiveness of feverfew (Pittler 2004). A combination of ginger and feverfew is effective for migraine prevention with minimal side effects (Cady 2011; Ernst 2000). A recommended dosage is 100-300 mg up to 4 times daily (Pareek 2011).
Vitamin B Complex
B vitamins function best in a synergistic manner by feeding the brain and nervous system. If you supplement with high amounts of one particular B vitamin, it is recommended to supplement with a Vitamin B Complex. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) contributes to cell growth, enzyme function, and energy production (AMR 2008). Impressive data indicate that riboflavin is effective for preventing migraines among both children and adults (Condo 2009; Boehnke 2004) and may decrease the need for traditional rescue medications (Boehnke 2004). One study involving 23 participants showed that supplementation with 400 mg riboflavin daily reduced headache frequency by an impressive 50% at three months, with improvement persisting through six months (Boehnke 2004). Taking 400 mg of riboflavin (B2) twice a day and 100 to 400 mg a day of coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinol) may be helpful.
It is believed that one reason migraines occur is that blood vessels in the brain erratically dilate and constrict. Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) can help regulate blood pressure and circulation throughout the entire body. Supplement with 450 mg cayenne with breakfast and dinner each day.
AKBA is Boswellia’s main active ingredient. Joint pain can indicate that your body may be overproducing MMP3, an enzyme that breaks down collagen. Collagen is also found in your brain, where it holds blood vessels in place. If collagen degrades, blood vessels can lose tone, causing migraines — AKBA can help maintain collagen. Take 50–100 mg of Boswellia extract per day. (Look for supplements containing 20 percent AKBA).
Lavender Essential Oil
A 2012 study using forty-seven patients with a definite migraine headache diagnosis was divided into cases and controls. Patients inhaled lavender essential oil for 15 min, whereas the control group used liquid paraffin for the same time period. Patients were asked to record their headache severity and associated symptoms in 30-min intervals for a total of 2 hours. We matched the two groups for key confounding factors. From 129 headache attacks in cases, 92 responded entirely or partially to lavender. In the control group, 32 out of 68 recorded headache attacks responded to placebo. The percentage of responders was significantly higher in the lavender group than the placebo group (p = 0.001). This study suggests that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in the acute management of migraine headaches.
Detoxify Your Liver
If you have a sluggish liver or your liver is not working efficiently, the inefficient filtering of certain migraine triggers such as allergens and chemicals may play a significant role in triggering migraines. Did you know that more than 900 prescription drugs are known to cause injury to the liver, thus causing liver dysfunction? Drinking lemon juice (1/2 organic lemon) in warm purified water every morning as well as squeezing fresh organic lemon juice over salads and vegetables can assist in moderate liver detoxification. There are also many foods and herbs that help to detox and support the liver. The most efficient way to cleanse and detox the liver is by doing an effective herbal liver cleanse, at least three times a year, containing organic milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum). There are several reasons to use the milk thistle seed rather than silymarin extract. Using the whole herb is recommended as often it will have a more balanced and synergistic effect. The milk thistle extract silymarin, for instance, has proven useful in treating liver disease. However, the main drawback to using only silymarin is that if a healthcare professional prescribes other drugs, such as steroids, silymarin can interfere with the liver’s ability to detoxify them. Milk thistle seed has the same healing effect on the liver without interfering with the organ’s ability to detoxify drugs or environmental chemicals. It also has the extra benefit of normalizing blood lipids and removing excess estrogen as the liver heals.
Migraine sufferers may be more sensitive to the effects of dehydration. Dehydration causes blood volume to drop, researchers say, resulting in less blood and oxygen flow to the brain and dilated blood vessels. Some experts suspect that a loss of electrolytes causes nerves in the brain to produce pain signals. In one study, published in The Handbook of Clinical Neurology, scientists recruited migraine sufferers and divided them into two groups. Those in the first group were given a placebo medication to take regularly. The others were told to drink 1.5 liters of water, or about six cups, in addition to their usual daily water intake. At the end of two weeks, the researchers found that those in the water group had increased their fluid intake by just four cups a day. But on average, they experienced 21 fewer hours of pain during the study period than those in the placebo group and a decrease in the intensity of their headaches.
About 4 out of 5 people with migraines indicate stress as a trigger. Chronic stress from grief, anger, job issues, victim mentality, or relationship concerns can trigger migraines. Studies suggest stress could be the most common migraine trigger. In one migraine study, 1000 participants were asked to identify their migraine triggers. 80% indicated that stress was one of them. The American Headache Society reports that four out of five people who have migraines say their attacks can be triggered by stress. Even doctors believe that high-stress levels can make migraine sufferers more susceptible to other triggers such as hormonal changes and that experiencing migraine attacks may make people worse at handling stress over time.
RELATED: 50 Ways to Stress Less
Chiropractic is more than cracking bones. According to research, some migraine sufferers may respond well to manual therapies, including CSMT (chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy). Migraine sufferers who have not tried chiropractic often find that it is very helpful in preventing and alleviating migraine pain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2002, 19 million Americans have used massage therapy at least once. There is evidence of massage therapy being used in numerous ancient cultures, including Egypt, India, China, Japan, and Arabic countries. Some evidence indicates that massage for migraine sufferers may help reduce the number of attacks. Even though there are very few studies for massage and migraine headaches, one small 2006 study of 47 migraine sufferers randomly assigned some participants to receive massage therapy. The migraine patients who participated in massage therapy had fewer migraines and slept better during the weeks they had massages.
Don’t Give Up on Natural Migraine Headache Prevention
Preventing and reducing the pain and frequency of migraine headaches is definitely doable without the use of prescription meds. The information above includes some of the best evidence-based natural remedies for natural migraine prevention. If you suffer from migraine headaches, discuss this article with a trusted and knowledgeable healthcare professional who knows your health background. Working together to find the root cause(s) can result in the relief of your migraine headaches.
Resources and Research
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