Migraines are a Real Pain!

This blog is not just a random journalism project. That is because I got into the nutrition field because I had suffered with them. I remember the pain and terrible general discomfort of those migraines even more clearly than I remember giving birth naturally to a 9 lb. 7 oz. boy (who apparently had such a big brain that it came packaged in an extra-large head). For any reader who has not experienced a migraine, let me say, the gal in the photo does not look miserable enough. A migraine is not even in the zip code of your garden variety stress headache. If you ever had a hangover, that is a better starting place to empathize…the migraine head pain is much worse, but shares the nausea and sensitivity to sounds, smells and light that might accompany a crushing hangover. I had a hangover and didn’t like it a bit. (After that, I no longer allowed anyone to keep refilling my glass like Ft. Worth’s Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant did with pitchers of margaritas at a party. I also make at least every second drink water.)

My migraine headaches started about the time I entered Ohio State. I never went to a neurologist, but on any visit to a doctor, I asked about the problem. The only advice I got was to try the latest pain reliever which did not help and made me nauseous. Once I asked a kindly physician if we could figure out what was causing them. At first, he looked at me like I was speaking Klingon but did try to help. He asked if my “eyes had been checked” (“yes”) and was I “under stress” (“yes” –all the time but the headaches were only every few weeks). Many years later, I was still having the migraines but finally got help. It all started in a health food store and below I’ll tell you what happened.

Medical treatments. Surely, by now, the migraine drugs have gotten better and some even claim to help prevent the episodes—e.g. Aimovig, Ajovy and Emgality. Sometimes, docs prescribe blood pressure medicines or antidepressants. One option that I find particularly scary is to inject migraine sufferers multiple times with Botox (botulism toxin which is produced by the microbe that causes botulism—a potentially fatal type of food poisoning). Besides the cost, the procedure is not without side effects. Certainly that should be a heroic tried only if the natural approach fails.

Natural Remedies. I will discuss nutritional factors below under “Causes”. Herbs that seem to help are Butterburr and Feverfew. Massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy may help. If it is available to you and you are not opposed to it, medical cannabis has been shown to help. Before I figured out how to prevent the headaches, I got temporary symptomatic relief by lying down in the dark with a microwaveable heating pad on the back of my neck and an ice pack of some kind on my forehead.

Causes. The optimum natural way is to find the root cause of a problem and fix that. My first clue came from a health magazine that listed “headache” on the cover. The article talked about migraine “trigger” foods such as chocolate, MSG, cured meats, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and aged cheeses. It never occurred to me before that something I was eating might be part of the problem. Avoiding those helped a bit, but “triggers” just flip the switch on a preexisting imbalance. I did not find out what my imbalances were until I discovered a nutrition savvy doctor (the late Don Mannerberg, MD, bless his soul). He taught me that I needed magnesium, B vitamins (especially vitamin B2), and discovered that I had food sensitivities. The food sensitivities in turn were caused by an unhealthy gut (yeast overgrowth). It really did not take long to get rid of most episodes of migraine, but for a while, I still had one monthly. We assumed that must have been due to hormones and indeed, progesterone fixed that one. Thankfully, I have not had a migraine in decades now.

If you suffer, your causes might be different from mine, but I encourage you to start the search.


2 Responses

  1. Patti B says:

    Excellent article. Your migraine journey and my own are very similar. I also had tremendous success with magnesium methyl-B12+folate, good probiotics and improving my gut health. In addition to this a neurologist did prescribe an old beta-blocker that helped control my migraines.

    I suffered terribly for most of my life with severe chronic migraines — now I have a migraine only rarely and it is easily managed with migraine relief medication.

    I am very thankful for my holistic MD for getting me on the right amounts of the right supplements.

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