Managing migraines: natural remedies

Severe and painful (in fact the official migraine diagnostic criteria requires that they be severe) migraine-sufferers spend nearly $2500 out of pocket (after any insurance reimbursements) to manage migraine pain.

Those of us diagnosed with migraines never forget the first time we have one:

A bizarre “aura” phase is usually the first clue. Visual disturbances like double vision and other changes in perception, language changes in some people, hearing problems, reduced consciousness… for up to an hour.

And then the vice grip on the head tightens, the debilitating, crippling headache starts, ouch… and more ouch.

“The headaches I used to have are a thing of the past, giving me the opportunity to work and improve my health in other areas.” —BM

How do migraines start?

Research now knows that before the “aura”, there is an environmental trigger that causes your nerve cells to release chemicals causing inflammation and swelling in the blood vessels in the neck and brain. Twelve or even 24 hours before the pain, an environmental cue overstimulates nerve cells in the brain. This inflammatory response comes with mood changes, fatigue, yawning and more subtle symptoms that some migraine-sufferers have learned to recognize.

Some of us are more predisposed to migraines than others; they can be triggered daily or once in a lifetime.

Whatever the scene, these throbbing and often one-sided headaches with their nausea, sensitivity to light, sound, and even any head movement can last—waaaay too long (a minute is probably too long) 24 hours too long.


Can I Prevent Migraines?


The problem is, these mysterious but severe headaches don’t have any abnormal brain or nerve pathology. There really is no way of knowing who will get one, until you do.

But migraines always start with a nervous system and immune response to an environmental trigger.

And that is most likely why two-thirds of migraine sufferers say migraine medications don’t even work. Aside from drug side effects that range from nausea and stomach ulcers, to liver stress, to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, drugs are foreign to the body and can contribute to overall inflammation.

Researchers know little about why migraines strike… but we do know exactly what happens when they do.


Pay attention to these migraine triggers

Learn to manage stress

Key triggers include all forms of stress—which involves, among other things, a massive surge in adrenaline that helped us in times of mortal danger. But if we allow ourselves to excessively worry, that form of stress causes us harm in many ways including the inflammatory response and hormone imbalances. One of the ways it causes harm is to increase our chances of triggering a migraine.

Tools for managing stress

o    With Heartmath exercises taught in our office, learn to control and minimize harmful, stress-provoking thoughts;

o    getting enough sleep can help the body fully heal and repair at night; this way it is not starting each new day already under a bit of stress.

Long-term: Make sure your diet is anti-migraine by keeping it anti-inflammatory

Emphasize foods high in magnesium and Omega-3 fatty acids while reducing Omega-6 fatty acids

That inflammatory stress response can be encouraged by too many seed oils and grains. Why? because oils from seeds like canola, corn oil, soy oil, peanut oil, safflower oil sends huge amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids into the body. With so much omega-6, the body will not even use supplements of omega-3 fats.

Omega-6 fats are converted into painful and inflammatory hormones like prostaglandins and eicosenoids—big chemical terms; just think pain messengers; not what you want.

Your body should have a balance of these fats; about a 1:1 ratio. Sadly, the Standard American Diet (SAD) has about a 40:1 ration of omega-6:omega-3 fats. No wonder we are in pain!

Restoring balance helps: Omega-3 fatty acids protect brain cells and reduce inflammation, which may help to reduce the pain associated with migraines. In addition, omega-3s appear to be beneficial in reducing the frequency and duration of migraine headaches.

Best food sources: Wild Alaskan salmon, tuna, herring (not pickled herring), mackerel, rainbow trout, halibut, Pacific oysters, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Omega-3 fats are somewhat fragile and are easily damaged by exposure to heat, light, and oxygen, so store foods properly and avoid overheating (especially frying) when cooking.

Skip the sweet tooth: sugars used for energy create inflammatory free radicals

While chocolate is on the list of high magnesium foods, how much you are actually absorbing is not very high if you sweeten chocolate with sugar. Why? Because the probiotics in your digestive tract shift to families that eat (and love) sugars and you starve the families that help pull fats, minerals, and proteins from your food so that you can absorb them. Include plenty of the fourth food group: dark leafy greens, beans, avocados any vegetable and those omega-3 rich cold water fishes—also high in magnesium.

Chocolate is especially a problem migraine trigger

Tannins—the tannins in chocolate, red wine, raspberries, black walnuts, tea… and most herbal products including many sold to aid headaches, moods and pain trigger migraines in the vast majority of migraine sufferers.

Chemicals naturally found in plants, tannins react with proteins preventing the body from absorbing those proteins. Tannins also have a bitter taste, a taste that is common in many teas and wines and beers among other things and that we try to sweeten with inflammatory sugars and diary—a real recipe for migraine disaster.

Tanins in scented ousehold products, both synthetic and natural essential oils

Chemically, tanins are called “phenolics” a family of aromatic chemicals used to scent household cleaners, help paints dry faster, dye food and clothing, scent most household products including perfumes.

Even many therapeutic essential oils are high in tannins and can trigger headaches and migraines in some people. Tannins come from the tree bark, fruits, and sap of pine family plants, birch, eucalyptus and many others.

And naturally-scented products are known triggers of many unwanted responses—including migraines. We are all different.

That said, may aromatic oils have extremely therapeutic value—many of our clients benefit from appropriate use. Please ask before guessing.

Exercise can prevent migraines

Long recommended to migraine sufferers, there’s new evidence to support the theory that physical activity appears to help prevent migraines. In a 2011 randomized, controlled study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, researchers found that aerobic exercise on a stationary bike three times per week for 40 minutes was as effective at preventing migraines as the popular drug Topamax.

Neither worked for everyone in the study—but the medication group experienced unwanted side effects, while the exercisers became fitter even if their migraines continued.

Most likely, regular, gentle exercise helps to reduce tension and ward off stress, both key migraine triggers. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, which act as a mild sedative and pain reliever.

Combine Craniosacral therapies and other Osteopathic Manual Therapies and for a one-two anti-headache solution.

Connective tissue restrictions and mal-aligned bones—especially below the base of the skull, but also elsewhere—are a common cause of stubborn and strange aches and pains. But very few professionals outside of the hands-on healing arts can detect and diagnose these unusual tension patterns.

The muscles in your jaw push and pull against the muscles beneath the back of your skull and that hold your bowling-ball weight head in place—technically called the suboccipitals. They function together and dysfunction together. Both of these muscle groups routinely harbour trigger points that cause headaches (among other things). Muscle pain in these groups are often triggers for migraines and cluster headaches.

Adding to the problem is poor posture, repetitive mechanical stress, mechanical imbalance (e.g. leg length inequality), joint disorders, non-restorative sleep (less than 7.5 hours) and vitamin deficiencies. In other words, assume you have structural restrictions and mal-alignments and assume they play a role in any headaches.

Using hands to gently free up restrictions and restore proper movement to cranial bones and associated soft tissues, these techniques also stimulate the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, which bathes all the surfaces of the brain and the spinal cord.

 “I never had much relief from my consistent leg pain and never had much energy. Now the pain has significantly lowered and I have lots of energy.” —CK

That migraine happens but you can’t call us and get right in? Take an Epsom salt bath or foot soak

Get plenty of biologically-available magnesium in salts from the town of Epsom. Plus, the penetrating heat of that long hot soak is a sure stress reducer and pain-reducing endorphin booster.

Just a cup of plain, unscented, Epsom salts in the hottest water you can stand; soak for at least 20 minutes to elevate your core temperature. The health benefits are amazing whether or not you are predisposed to migraines.

The bottom line for migraine management:

  1. Pay attention—can you spot your triggers?
  2. Can you spot the early signs of a migraine before the pain fase?
  3. Call us

A carefully designed treatment plan using a combination of proven techniques can minimize the inflammatory response quickly.

And you can leave feeling much better.

Call us today. We can help.

Dr. Ed Childers

About Dr. Ed Childers

A 1973 Graduate of the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr Childers has 40 years of experience practicing Family Osteopathic Medicine; restoring health and well being to families in Albuquerque since 1976. Dr. Childers embraces the philosophy of Osteopathy which was established in the late 19th century by Dr Andrew Taylor Still and best summarized by this quote: "We look at the body in health as meaning perfection and harmony, not in one part, but in the whole." —AT Still, Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy. Treatment of the 'whole person,' the basic philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine, means understanding all body parts and all bodily function as one holistic, integrated unit. When one body part becomes restricted by stress or injury, other systems also become injured leading to illness. Health is the result of the normal condition; the normal alignment; the perfect harmony of physiology. Dr Childers uses the tools of Osteopathic therapy and guided lifestyle changes to restore balance and bring about greater health and vitality. We at Hands On Health Care are committed to assisting as many people as possible find their body's unique perfect balance, gain maximum health and vitality, and enjoy their life and family to the fullest for the rest of their lives.