By Suzie Sawyer, Clinical Nutritionist | UPDATED: 08:28, 29 May 2020
For many, migraine is totally debilitating and every sufferer experiences different attacks from a severe, throbbing headache, often just affecting one side of the head to pain that can drain down the face or side to side and is frequently joined by nausea, vomiting and visual disturbances such as flashing lights.
While the causes of migraine are still largely unknown, this complex condition is certainly not just a vascular headache but more a disorder of the nervous system function which causes inflammatory changes in pain-sensitive parts of the brain.
This does make treatment options very challenging. And while there is currently no cure for migraine, a better understanding of the condition and its physiology are helping bring much-needed relief for sufferers.
Here in this latest e-news, I take a look at some of the migraine triggers, which some sufferers may be experiencing more of thanks to the stress and anxiety of COVID-19 living and practical helpers borne out of nature and nutrition.
#1 – BUSTING STRESS: Research shows that stress for many migraine sufferers is a trigger and an identifiable ‘tipping point’. It’s no secret that the whole world has been coping with extreme stress over the last few months.
While we can’t influence lots of what’s going on in the outside world, and indeed within our own lives, there are certainly some really effective herbal helpers to support the body during stressful times and a potential helper for migraine sufferers where stress is the core trigger.
The herb Rhodiola Rosea, has long been used in traditional herbal remedies. Known as an adaptogen (just like ginseng), Rhodiola has a balancing effect on the body, plus helps overcome feelings of anxiety and fatigue, and could prove useful in the battle against migraine.
Vitano Rhodiola tablets a natural herbal supplement which can help with the temporary relief of symptoms associated with stress such as fatigue, exhaustion www.vitano.co.uk
#2 – KNOW YOUR FOODS
What we eat has a massive effect on overall health, but certain foods or additives used in food processing are known to be problematic to migraine sufferers.
For example, aged cheeses contain the amino acid, tyramine. Other foods and drinks with amines are red wine, beer, fermented meats, sauerkraut, mushrooms, chocolate, miso, and soy sauce. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), generally an ingredient in soy sauce is another known trigger, therefore Chinese foods are a big ‘no-no’.
Also watch out for caffeine (fizzy drinks often contain caffeine), citrus fruits, cultured dairy products such as kefir and yoghurt, shellfish, and wheat-based foods (wheat is a known allergen).
Unfortunately, foods containing wheat such as bread, pasta, cereals, cakes and biscuits should be avoided for this reason, when trying to identify triggers. And if that sounds like lots of foods off the list, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of delicious, healthy foods to be enjoyed.
Great protein foods to include are chicken, turkey, eggs, all fish (not tinned), quinoa, beans, almonds and cashews, plus lots of colourful fruits and veggies such as broccoli, kale, carrots, apples, beetroot, sweet potatoes, pineapple, watermelon and blueberries.
Why not try this amazing, migraine-busting superfood Quinoa Salad with Mint and Mango recipe? It can be served with grilled chicken or fish of your choice: https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/quinoasaladwithavoca_84148
#3 – CREATING HORMONE BALANCE
One of the most common migraine triggers, particularly for women are hormonal fluctuations that naturally occur around puberty, period-time, pregnancy, and menopause. Thankfully though, many women do find things improve after the menopause and hormones settle, although that may still be a long time to wait.
It’s important to recognise that nothing works in isolation within the body and one body system is closely related to another. None more so when discussing hormones are those involved with blood sugar balance. These relate very closely to sex hormones, sleep, appetite, mood, stress, inflammation and so much more.
It’s especially important when managing migraine to keep blood sugar levels in good balance. This means eating protein at every meal, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol and reducing the intake of highly refined sugary foods. These often contain sweeteners, another known migraine aggravator.
Taking a high-quality daily supplement specially formulated for women is worth considering, such as an Alive! multi-vitamin, available in tablet and gummy formats, which contain specific nutrients for hormonal balance www.feelaliveuk.com
Specifically, for men of all ages, Alive! Ultra Men’s Energy Wholefood Plus contains high levels of stress-busting B-vitamins as well as calming magnesium www.feelaliveuk.com
#4 – ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS AND SNOOZE TIME
Certain environmental factors such as sunlight, bright lights and ones that flicker and flash can bring on a migraine attack. Intense penetrating smells of smoke-filled rooms are other triggers. Strangely, changes in barometric pressure or lots of noise can often affect sufferers.
Clearly, there is little that can be influenced by these factors, other than avoiding certain situations as much as possible. If you’re struggling to find the causes (and remembering it may well be multi-factorial) then keep a daily diary noting your routine, weather patterns, food and of co
urse any symptoms. And for most women, tracking their menstrual cycle and hormone challenges is just a normal part of daily life!
We all know the importance of getting plenty of restorative sleep with too many late nights taking their toll on energy levels, mood, eating patterns and how we look and feel generally.
Clearly, long-haul travel has been severely curtailed over recent months which further disrupts sleep patterns, but events of this year have had a worsening effect on sleep and emotional wellbeing generally. For migraine sufferers, this will have only exacerbated the condition.
Sleep needs to be prioritised with electronic devices turned off at least two hours before bedtime, and a strong bedtime routine put in place. It works for babies! Herbal remedies combining Valerian and Passionflower, such as Bonuit Sleep Aid tablets will help you to get to sleep more quickly and also sustain sleep www.bonuit.co.uk
Lack of exercise is a known trigger for migraine attacks but also delivers a wealth of physical and emotional benefits. It’s amazing just how refreshing a brisk walk can feel, and it’s a great stressbuster too.
Walking encourages good blood flow around the body and brain. Plus, it provides a great opportunity to put on your headphones and listen to a podcast or some of your favourite sounds; all very positive for migraine sufferers.
Try to get outside for at least an hour, or more, every day. There’s no shortage of exercise options with a myriad of classes and programmes being run virtually as well as loads available outdoors.
#6 – EMBRACE THE POWER OF NATURE
Nature has provided us with another wonderful herbal helper which might not cure migraine but can certainly lessen its severity and frequency of attacks.
Whilst Rhodiola Rosea helps manage the body’s response to stress, the herb Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) contains a wealth of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and other properties, including the ability to reduce the production of histamine.
Research suggests that the parthenolide compounds may also help reduce blood vessel constriction as well as acting on the brain’s serotonin system in a similar way to medications used to treat migraine. By inhibiting the production of inflammatory prostaglandins severity of attacks are reduced.
MigraHerb® Feverfew Migraine Relief capsules is a traditional herbal medicine used for the prevention of migraine headaches www.migraherb.co.uk.