A migraine is a throbbing, unilateral headache often associated with nausea, vomiting, photophobia, or a sensory, olfactory (smell) or audible aura prior to migraine. Eight percent of Canadians over 12 years of age have been diagnosed with migraines and women are 3 times more susceptible than men.
This article addresses the factors which trigger migraines and how to prevent or lessen the severity with nutritional or hormonal therapy.
Factors triggering migraines fall into several categories such as dietary, environmental, hormonal, lifestyle and medications.
Dietary: Reactive hypoglycemia appears to be a common cause of migraines. This is a term used in non-diabetics when 4 hours after a high-carbohydrate, low- protein meal is consumed; a higher amount of insulin is released to decrease the glucose load. Studies have shown improved or complete relief after consuming high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, restricting refined sugar and consuming 6 small meals a day.
A high salt load particularly on an empty stomach can cause migraines 6 to 12 hours later. Continuous aspartame ingestion and high caffeine consumption are also known triggers.
Food allergies appear to be common cause as well. These allergies are successfully unmasked by an elimination diet. Foods or additives that can trigger migraines are as follows: tyramine found in cured meats, aged cheeses and smoked fishes, monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in many processed foods, (Read The Labels!), nitrates are found in processed meats. Other foods most frequently causing migraines in descending order are wheat, oranges, eggs, tea and coffee, chocolate and milk, beef, corn, cane sugar, yeast, mushrooms and peas.
Environmental triggers such as bright or flickering lights, tobacco smoke, loud noises, strong perfume, weather changes or high altitude can cause migraines.
Hormonal triggers which usually occur before a woman’s cycle, pregnancy and menopause will cause migraines. Balancing out hormones with Bio-identical hormones and not synthetic hormones will help.
Medications such as birth control pills (synthetic hormones) are known culprits. There are many other drugs that can cause migraines (including cholesterol, high blood pressure medications). If you suspect your medication may be an issue, consult with your pharmacist.
One effective nutritional supplement used for prophylaxis is magnesium glycinate. It has been suggested that a magnesium deficiency is involved in the development of migraines. Other factors that decrease magnesium stores and therefor trigger migraines include stress, menstruation, alcohol ingestion and medications. If prone to migraines take magnesium glycinate 100mg – 300mg twice a day.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and Coenzyme Q10, both of which plays a role in cell energy production, appear to be impaired in migraine patients. Taking riboflavin (15mg to 400mg/day) and CoQ10 (60mg-300mg/day) can help.
Other vitamins and minerals studied with which provide positive results include niacin, folic acid, alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C, vitamin B12, L-tryptophan, omega 3 and 6, vitamin D, calcium and melatonin.
Nutritional supplements for “acute” treatment of migraines include intravenous magnesium and the Myers Cocktail which is a combination of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C. Contact your naturopath for this specific type of treatment and vitamin protocol.
Lifestyle changes including improving stress levels, dealing with inadequate or excessive sleep, fatigue, yo-yo dieting, fasting and strenuous exercise can all influence a migraine. Stick to a schedule of properly balanced meals and adequate amounts of sleep each night. Avoid as many triggers a possible and follow a comprehensive vitamin and mineral plan.
Maria Musitano, B.Sc Pharm., Compounding Pharmacist