Migraines are debilitating. The pain stops life: no engaging with family or friends, no work and no simple pleasures in life. The only refuge once a migraine attacks is a dark quiet room. Hopefully, sleep brings relief. There has been a 50% increase in the occurrence of migraines in the last 20 years. This is both alarming and hopeful. Why hopeful? Because if the increase in people suffering with migraines has increased recently, this means with proper care, the number can decrease.
Migraines, like any chronic illness, have a number of triggers. To find relieve from migraine headaches, it is essential understand the patterns that trigger a the headaches. Once the pattern is understood and the triggers discovered, herbs, dietary and lifestyle changes can be used to reduce the number and the severity of the migraines, quite possibly eliminate them all together.
To begin to understand the patterns of the migraine headache ask the following questions: Are the headaches associated with certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, florescent lights, alcohol or premenstrual hormonal flux?
Do migraines run in the family?
Are they associated with weather changes?
What is the mood of the person experiencing the headaches?
What is their personality?
What events lead up to the headache?
How is the pain eased?
Try to keep a record of the events surrounding each headache to help you reveal the headaches’ pattern and possible causes.
Frequently dietary changes are necessary to relieve from migraines. The primary food culprits of migraines are chocolate, aged cheese and red wine, processed meats containing nitrates and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG). Many find white sugar will bring on a migraine, even a day or two after it has been consumed. One person I know wakes with a migraine if she eats a banana before bed. Other foods associated with migraines are avocadoes, tomatoes, dairy products and canned fish.
Stress, or pushing yourself to accomplish too many things, for a prolonged time (or during a difficult period in your life) contributes to the frequency of migraine headaches.
Often it requires two or more triggers to come together to ignite migraine’s pain. For example: you have been pushing yourself all day to meet a deadline and at the evening you drink some red wine to ease your tension. The two triggers combine produces the migraine.
Here are a few choices you can you make to avoid migraines.
Regular exercise can reduce the numbers and severity of migraines. Current research suggests fluctuating serotonin levels are a contributing factor to migraine pain. Exercise increases and helps the body maintain serotonin levels. Exercise, that is non-competitive and focuses on releasing tension are the most effective, for example gentle yoga or Tai chi.
If choosing herbs to relieve migraines it is important to keep in mind that there is not specific herb or group of herbs that will always bring relief. If using herbs holistically, it is important to support the person in achieving balance of body/mind and not just use symptom relief for the migraines. (However, symptom relief is an essential part of a health plan until the body/mind has shifted and balance restored.)
There are however, a few general guidelines in using herbal medicine to reduce or overcome altogether migraine headaches.
The first step in limiting the number and severity of migraines is gentle cleansing. Herbs like dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinalis) remove toxins from the body via the liver without the headache, nausea and fatigue associated with aggressive cleanses. Dandelion will cool down the heat many experience with migraine heads and ease any nausea or stomach upset.
If the migraine is associated excess tension the herbal apothecary has much to offer. Sculcap (Scutellaria laterfolia) quietens an overactive mind. Lobelia (Lobelia inflate) relaxes muscular tension and deepens breathing. Oats (Avena sativa) soothes frayed nerves. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) settles an anxious heart while cooling down an overheated liver. A combination of these herbs brings on the relaxation necessary to ward off a migraine. Peppermint (Menthe piperita) eases a sensitive stomach, often associated with migraines.
If the migraines are premenstrual, herbs that help balance the sex hormones are essential. The queen of these herbs is vitex (Vitex angus-castus). Vitex, formerly known as chaste berry, was used to depress the libido of monks in the middle ages. Now it is the most commonly used herb to relieve menstrual irregularities, including PMS with migraines. Adding vitex to the above formula along with dietary changes and regular exercise can decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.
The final key to relieving migraines is an attitude change. The serenity prayer, is a powerful medicine for those who suffer with migraines. It goes like this:
Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.