Anyone who has ever endured the pain of a migraine headache would have no problems describing their symptoms. Often included in the list of adjectives are throbbing, one sided pain, and lasts for several days (often up to three).
There are at least three types of migraine headaches. The first two usually affect women in the 20-to-40 year age bracket. The ‘common’ or ‘sick’ headache is usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
The ‘classic’ migraine is preceded by an ‘aura’ or a period of milk confusion, light headedness, flashing lights, blind spots in the field of vision, sensitivity to sound, distorted speech, and sometimes partial paralysis.
‘Cluster’ headaches are a variation of the migraine headache. These usually occur in men ages 20 to 40 years. People who suffer from these awaken early in the morning with intense pain, usually around one eye.
This is accompanied by redness and watering of the eye and stuffiness of the nostril on the side of the pain. The pain may radiate over the face, jaw, and into the neck. This pattern continues for several days, and then disappears.
Many authors and researchers have proposed different theories as to what causes these debilitating headaches. Hereditary factors certainly seem to play an important role in this condition. Dr. Lendon Smith suggested that “Levels of circulating basophils and lymphocytes are reduced in migraine patients, suggesting a defect in cell-mediated immunity.” Another source suggests that hyperactivity of the brain, as determined by PET scans (positive emissions tomography x-rays) causes arteries to contract and then balloon.
Diet can play a part in migraines. Cheese (except cottage), chocolate, and alcoholic beverages (especially red wine), all contain tyramine, which can cause blood vessels to constrict by reducing levels of serotonin, a chemical that acts on blood vessels to help them behave normally. Other foods to avoid are champagne, chutneys, fatty foods, fried foots, fish (pickled or fried in batter), bay leaves, chili, cinnamon, citrus fruits, pineapple, bacon, ham, hot dogs, salami, lever pate, pickles, goose, duck, asparagus, eggplant, onions, coffee, and MSG (monosodium glutamate). This list obviously suggests limiting the amount of inorganic (non-vegetable) sodium. Inorganic sodium has also been implicated in migraines.
Yet another author has suggested that high concentrations of aluminum in the body can cause migraines. This mineral would probably come from using aluminum cookware over many years. The best way to combat the problem from this angle would be to switch to high quality stainless steel cookware, and use supplements such as bugleweed, montmorillonite, and hydrated bentonite to draw the toxic metals out of the body.
Medical doctors will usually recommend one of three drugs for migraine headaches.
The first is available over-the-counter. Ibuprofen reduces the concentration of prostaglandins in the body. The most common side effects of this drug are dizziness, nausea, pain, and headache. People should not use this drug without professional supervision if they are younger than 15 years old, have gastritis, peptic ulcers, enteritis, ileitis, ulcerative colitis, asthma, heart failure, high blood pressure, bleeding problems, are allergic to aspirin or any non-steroid anti-inflammatory. There are several more infrequent and rare side effects.
Ergotamine Tartrate (Cafergot) is one of two main prescription drugs recommended for migraine headaches. This drug blocks nerve impulses at the parasympathetic nerve endings and thereby prevents muscle contraction and glandular secretion of the organs involved, in this case blood vessel walls. Common side effects of this drug include fast heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, nervousness, and ‘hangover’ effect. There are, of course, other side effects that are listed as infrequent, rare, and life threatening.
The second common prescription drug is Midrin. This drug causes the blood vessels in the head to constrict. The most common side effect is dizziness.
There are many natural therapies available. This is reassuring since if one does not work for an individual, another probably will. It is also reassuring to remember that the natural alternatives will probably not cause life threatening side effects unless there was a previously undiagnosed allergy to the chosen method. This, however, could easily be true of orthodox remedies also.
The most obvious remedies include lying down, relaxing, and applying a cold pack to the head to constrict the blood vessels. Biofeedback training has also been known to help. Some migraine sufferers find that 50 mg. of niacin, followed by another 50 mg ten minutes later (if a niacin flush has not occurred) can relieve a headache. Chiropractic adjustments may also be beneficial. It may be worthwhile to keep a food diary to try to trace a relationship between possible food allergies and headaches.
Preventively, vitamin therapy, including B complex (10 mg taken three times each day), B5 (100 mg three times each day), and B6 (50 mg three times each day) may be helpful. If this regime helps prevent attacks, the dosage can be reduced gradually until the optimum maintenance dose has been found. (While it is true that these levels far exceed the RDA, it is also true that the RDA is to maintain life, not improve health. The RDA also does not account for individual differences and the fact that some individuals may need far more than the ‘national average’ just to maintain life.) Extra vitamin E, A, C, and D may also be helpful.
Some herbs have been found to be beneficial. Feverfew has come into the lime light. Taken daily as a preventative, it can usually be discontinued after several months. It seems to have somewhat of a cumulative effect in that most people find they have fewer and less severe migraines while taking it and this trend continues after the herb has been discontinued. A formula containing garlic, hawthorn, and capsicum (HS II) can also be helpful by working with the circulatory system. Some people have found fenugreek, valerian, and the pain formula APSII consisting of white willow bark, wild lettuce leaves, valerian root, and capsicum fruit to be helpful.
It is important to remember that lifestyle factors can help control migraines. The mild food diet (no sugar, animal products, or carbonated drinks), deep breathing, frequent relaxation periods, and reduced stress levels are all keys to being healthy.
I have yet to find a migraine that I could not relieve by relaxing the shoulders, neck and scalp with some simple massage therapy. People with migraines tend to be tensed up due to carrying too many burdens in their lives. Self massage of the neck and shoulders using capsicum extract, lobelia extract, and/or a blend of volatile oils every night before going to bed can do wonders for releasing this tension and keeping the headaches at bay.