What Is Migraine And How Common Is It?
In England it is estimated that 190,000 migraine attacks are experienced every day and around 6 million people suffer from migraine in the UK. It affects around 5–25% in women and 2–10% in men .
According to National Institute for Clinical Excellence migraine is defined as:
“primarily a headache disorder manifesting as recurring attacks usually lasting for 4–72 hours involving throbbing head pain of moderate to severe intensity. It is often accompanied by nausea, sometimes vomiting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, and/or other sensory stimuli. Some people can have warning symptoms called an aura, before the start of a headache. Factors that can trigger attacks in people susceptible to migraines include stress, change in sleep pattern, overtiredness, consumption of caffeine or alcohol, climatic conditions and use of visual display units” .
According to the migraine trust:
“Many of the therapies prescribed for chronic migraine are the same as those prescribed for episodic migraine. These include both prescription and over the counter painkillers and as well as migraine specific drugs such as triptans. These are known as abortive or acute medications.
A combination of lifestyle changes and understanding the migraine triggers is important. There are also preventive treatments available for chronic migraine, but these are often associated with side effects, and many people cannot tolerate them for long periods of time”.
Medication overuse is common and can result in further complications and medication related headaches .
What Causes Migraine?
According to the NHS the cause of migraines is not known, but they're thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.
It's not clear what causes this change in brain activity, but it's almost certain that genetics are involved alongside environmental factors.
What Can Trigger Migraine?
Many possible migraine triggers have been suggested, including hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary, environmental and medicinal factors .
Emotional triggers e.g. depression, stress anxiety.
Physical triggers e.g. lack of sleep, fatigue, hormonal changes.
Environmental triggers e.g. smoking, bright lights, strong smells, loud noises.
Medicinal triggers e.g. alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, cheese, citrus fruit, irregular meals.
The Ethical Nutrition Perspective On Migraine
We’ll always look at the latest health research and report on what we think are the true underlying factors. Not everyone will have all underlying factors because each person will have developed migraine differently. Our hope is that if you can identify just one factor and make a small change as a result, it might help you on your path to improving your health. Here are some of the underlying factors related to migraine:
Gut-Brain Connection. Problems in the gut can cause problems in the brain. Studies have demonstrated significant associations between migraine and gut conditions like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and IBS. It is possible that inflammation and leaky gut could be connected to migraine .
Gut Bacteria Imbalance. If your gut bacteria is out of balance it can lead to wider spread issues in the body and has been associated with migraine . An imbalance of gut bacteria could be the cause of gut inflammation and permeability, which can subsequently lead to food sensitivities.
Neurotransmitter Imbalance. An imbalance of chemicals in the brain is associated with migraine. The most well-known neurotransmitter associated with migraine is serotonin, a chemical also associated with mood. Low levels of serotonin have been implicated in migraine, fibromyalgia and IBS . Perhaps this is why these conditions are connected. Patients with migraine have also been shown to have higher levels of GABA, a chemical which is important for reducing excitability throughout the nervous system.
Hormonal Imbalance. Hormones like oestrogen are important in controlling the production of serotonin, as mentioned above. An imbalance in hormones like oestrogen could cause an imbalance in brain chemicals like serotonin and lead to conditions like migraine .
Vitamin D Deficiency. Given that vitamin D has such widespread actions in the body and that so many people don’t get enough, it’s not surprising that people with migraine have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin D. Migraine patients also display lower levels of antioxidants and higher levels of inflammation .
Magnesium Deficiency. Deficits in magnesium play a significant role in the development of migraine due to its importance in nervous system function.
Food Sensitivities. Some evidence suggests that food-sensitivities could have a role to play in migraine. Our view is that multiple IGG food intolerances are likely to be indicative of more widespread gut dysfunction in the form of leaky gut.
Blood sugar imbalance. Recent studies show that impaired blood sugar control could play a direct role in the development of migraine .
Poor liver function. Sub-optimal liver function could theoretically lead to increased susceptibility to migraine triggers. In particular the triggers which need to be detoxified. There’s also some evidence that heavy metals could play a role in migraine .
Cardiovascular function. The physiology of migraine inherently involves dysfunction of blood vessels in the brain so it’s no surprise that migraine is associated with cardiovascular dysfunction .
So What Does This Mean For Your Migraine?
The symptoms of migraine are often an output of your body trying to maintain balance in a challenging internal environment. The key is to figures out what those challenges are, remove as many of them as possible and allow your body to adapt to a less stressful internal environment.
The diagram below highlights how triggers aren’t necessarily the underlying factors.
Top 11 Health and Nutrition Tips for Migraine
As a general recommendation we think most people could benefit from eating less sugar, less refined carbohydrate and less meat. Eat more fruit and vegetables, better quality fats, better quality protein and more omega 3. We recommend that most people supplement vitamin D, at least in the winter months and vitamin B12 if eating a vegan diet.
Just identifying one or two things that are related to your migraine can relieve enough stress on your whole system to have a benefit. Here’s what you can do to help:
1. Keep A Diary Of Migraine Triggers.
Keep a dairy and identify the things that seem to set off the migraine attack. This can help you to figure out what’s happening. The goal isn’t to just cut out the trigger, it’s to find out why the body is reacting to that particular trigger. For example, if alcohol and strong smells are triggers liver dysfunction could be an issue.
2. Take Magnesium.
There’s good research that magnesium can help with migraines. Supplement around 300-400mg per day and look out for ‘organic’ forms like magnesium citrate . A good multivitamin can provide some extra magnesium but you’ll need a separate product to achieve levels of 300mg.
3. Eat More Fibre.
A simple but effective tip. In particular make sure you’re getting prebiotics from foods like onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke and bananas (not overripe). Prebiotics and dietary fibre have multiple health benefits but could help to re-balance any potential bacterial imbalances associated with migraine and get the gut clearing out toxins more effectively.
4. Avoid Toxins.
As mentioned earlier, we think there’s a liver link in the migraine puzzle and would recommend reducing any toxic burden by reducing exposure to smoking, excessive alcohol intake, junk food and pollution.
5. Eat Anti-inflammatory Foods.
This means without fail eating your 5-a-day fruit and vegetables but aim for 10-a-day. Foods like berries, green vegetables, turmeric, linseed & peppers have high levels of antioxidants. Avoid inflammatory and highly processed junk foods and sugars.
6. Mild Exercise.
Brisk walks, light swimming and cycling are all good options. Always warm up slowly and practice deep breathing exercises. There is evidence that frequent aerobic exercise in patients with migraine can decrease the pain intensity, frequency and duration of migraine and increase quality of life .
7. Check Your Vitamin D Levels.
Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels. Deficiency is common in the UK and it’s linked to migraine. If you are deficient take 2000IU of vegan vitamin D3 per day for 12 weeks, it may protect against inflammation and improve headaches . Alongside this you can take a multivitamin containing 400IU vitamin D. You can continue to take a multivitamin after 12 weeks to keep your levels topped up.
8. Fix Your Folate Intake.
In the UK around half of adults between the age of 19-64 have insufficient folate levels . Research shows folate could help with migraine . Take a daily minimum of 400ug in the form of methylfolate.
Mindfulness has been shown to help migraine patients "mindfully" engage in valued life activities . There are plenty of free mindfulness apps available, give one a try!
10. Manual Therapy.
A good osteopath might be able to help. Craniosacral Therapy uses a form of touch to manipulate the joints in the cranium or skull, parts of the pelvis, and the spine. It may help to reduce pain and migraine .
11. Avoid caffeine.
In general, too much caffeine seems to increase the burden of migraine. But it can help some people as an acute treatment when migraine occurs. We would recommend that you speak to your doctor if thinking about using caffeine as a migraine treatment .
In terms of nutritional supplementation for migraine, prioritise magnesium alongside a good multivitamin and mineral. If you’re deficient in vitamin D then choose an additional standalone product.
If you're looking for a superior form of magnesium head over to our magnesium taurate product page.
There’s no right place to start with our migraine health tips because everyone is different, but even small changes can reduce the overall burden on your body. Hopefully these positive changes can allow your migraine to be a little less debilitating.
If any of these tips help please share in the comments below alongside any other information you have, it could really help someone else.
Thanks for reading our top health and nutrition tips for migraine!
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Disclaimer. This information is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Please consult with your doctor before making lifestyle and dietary changes. Due to the medicines act 1968 we are unable to give any advice on the following conditions: Cancer, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Glaucoma, H.I.V and A.I.D.S., Kidney Diseases, Locomotor Ataxia, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Tuberculosis.