How it occurs:
A migraine may be triggered by a number of factors, including stress, food additives (such as the artificial sweetener aspartame), loud noises and flashing lights, chocolate, red wine, pickled food, cheese, the birth control pill and even sudden changes in temperature or the weather.
The frequency and length of an attack can differ greatly from one sufferer to the next, lasting anywhere between a few hours, days and, in severe cases, even weeks. Contrary to popular belief a blinding headache is only one symptom of a migraine attack, as it can also cause nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, limb numbness and speech impairment.
Worse still, not only are sufferers forced to cope with debilitating symptoms like these but they are also placed at higher risk of a migrainous stroke, which as the name suggests is a stroke that follows a severe migraine attack. Migrainous strokes account for almost one in three cases of stroke in people under the age of 45, and 25 per cent of all strokes are in fact linked to migraines.
Migraines differ from ordinary headaches - usually caused by muscle tension at the back of your head and neck - because they result from changes in the blood vessels supplying your brain instead. Whilst the exact cause of migraines remains unclear, most researchers believe that an attack involves the constriction of the arteries in your brain followed by their over-dilation (widening). This may be the result of inflammation of blood vessels in the tissues that surround your brain.
This inflammation in the brain triggers nerve endings to release a flurry of neurotransmitters, sending chemical messages of pain throughout your body. One well-known neurotransmitter involved in migraines is serotonin, an overproduction of which can which cause the blood vessels in the brain to widen which, in turn, stimulates pain receptors in the brain.
Conventional treatments :
Doctors generally recommend one of two treatment approaches for migraines. The first involves the use of painkillers, such as paracetamol, codeine, aspirin, ibuprofen and diclofenac. The problem with these drugs is that they are unable to treat the underlying problem or prevent the incidence of migraine attacks. All they are able to do is temporarily alleviate symptoms, although they are not always strong enough to reduce migraine pain effectively. Even if they do succeed in relieving pain for a while, some patients become immune to their actions following long-term use.
Another drawback to painkillers is that they can cause side effects, such as nausea (which can make migraine-related nausea worse), drowsiness, indigestion and constipation.
The second treatment approach involves medication that is taken at the onset of an attack, which helps bring it to an end by regulating the widening of the arteries and the activity of serotonin in the brain. Examples of these types of drugs include Sumatriptan (Imigran) and Zolmitriptan (Zomig). However, they are not recommended for long-term use and can cause unpleasant side effects, including drowsiness, slow heartbeat and dry mouth.
many foods are strongly implicated in precipitating an attack. For this reason you may find it beneficial to consult a nutritionist to help identify and correct any food sensitivities that could be triggering your attacks. In addition, the following natural measures can help prevent as well as reduce the severity of migraines:
1. A low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. Many migraine sufferers report experiencing an attack shortly after eating too much sugary food (Headache Quart. In addition to sweets and sugar, refined carbohydrates also cause your blood sugar levels to quickly rise. This interferes with the normal actions of various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which are implicated in causing migraines and can prolong the length of an attack.
The good news is that by consuming more 'healthy' fats in your diet - such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, and oily fish like mackerel, sardines and halibut - your levels of omega 3 fatty acids that are present in these foods are given a much-needed boost. Omega 3s possess excellent anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing the inflammation of the nerves and arteries in the brain, thereby greatly lessening the severity of a migraine attack (American Druggist.
2. Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is an extremely popular herbal remedy in Germany, where it is widely used as a preventative for migraines. Fortunately the rest of Europe now finally seems to be catching on to its remarkable range of actions in this area - research has shown that it not only helps prevent attacks but can also ease migraine pain.
It works by inhibiting toxic chemicals called leukotrienes, which are released during the inflammatory process. It has also been found to help regulate the degree of widening that takes place in the arteries of the brain (Forsch Kompl Klass 2003, 10(1):41-44). The recommended dosage is one 50mg standardised butterbur extract capsule taken twice a day with meals.
3. B Vitamins are also beneficial for warding off migraines. In particular, vitamins B2, B3 and B6 help prevent vasoconstriction (narrowing of the arteries) and also inhibit blood platelet clumping which can occur during an attack (Cephalalgia 1994,14(5):328-329). To benefit take a vitamin B complex supplement once a day.
4. Magnesium. Migraines have been linked to a deficiency in this mineral. Magnesium is important because it takes part in the transmission of chemical messages from the brain to the arteries and helps control the degree of arterial dilatation (widening). Several hospitals in Canada and Germany now use magnesium supplements as a standard treatment for migraines, although it is also effective as a preventative. The dose is 200mg of magnesium citrate capsules taken twice a day.
5. Feverfew (Tanacetym parthenium). Researchers working at the Department of Neurology, University of Essen, in Germany, studied the effects of feverfew on a group of 147 migraine sufferers. At the end of the four-week study, the researchers found that the patients taking feverfew experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of their migraines compared to those in the placebo group. Not only that but pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light were also significantly reduced following treatment with feverfew .
Another study found that feverfew can reduce migraine frequency in up to two thirds of cases . The recommended dosage is one 125mg feverfew capsule taken once a day.