It’s national migraine awareness this week. If you suffer from migraines, you won’t need reminding about them! Migraines are defined as recurrent headaches that cause disabling pain on one side of the head and can be associated with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sound and light. In some people, they are preceded by a visual, sensory or auditory disturbance such as pins and needles, numbness or seeing lights, which is known as an aura.
Who gets them?
They can affect anyone, but are more common in women and in those with a family history of migraine.
What causes them?
The exact cause of migraines is unknown. Research has demonstrated that during migraine attacks there are changes in the blood vessels in the head, changes in nerve cell activity, increased neuropeptide pain signalling molecules, and changes in serotonin levels. It has also been suggested that increased sympathetic nervous system activity due to stress (the fight or flight response) may be implicated.
Certain food or situations have been found to trigger migraines in susceptible people, and these include.
Tyramine or caffeine-containing food (e.g. chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, coffee, tea, yeast extracts, liver, sausages, broad beans, soy sauce).
Alcohol (especially red wine)
Aspartame and food additives such as tartrazine, benzoate and monosodium glutamate
Too much or too little sleep
Changes in hormone levels in women, due to periods, the pill, menopause and HRT
Weather and pressure changes
Keeping a diary of your migraines can help you to identify what triggers your migraines, so that you can avoid those situations if possible. Often one trigger alone won’t be a problem, but two or three happening together will cause a migraine to happen.
Many people who suffer from migraines would identify themselves as perfectionists and often work too hard without giving themselves a break. This means that their body isn’t given a chance to rest and recuperate. If you suffer from migraines, it is important to be aware that if you drive yourself too hard, you may trigger a migraine.
Generally herbal treatments focus on supporting the body as a whole and limiting the effects of stress to prevent the likelihood of an attack. Talking through when and where your migraines happen with a herbalist can help you to identify manageable ways you can limit the likelihood of attacks occurring.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a herb traditionally used for prevention of migraine. This was traditionally taken as one leaf a day in a sandwich, however, herbalists can prescribe it in a more convenient tincture form. In studies, feverfew has been found to inhibit formation of the inflammatory pain mediator prostaglandin.
White willow bark (Salix alba) is a traditional pain-relieving herb and is a natural source of salicylic acid (which inspired the production of aspirin). Trials have shown benefits in the treatment of migraine from a combination of white willow and feverfew.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is another herb traditionally used for preventing migraines and its benefits have been demonstrated in clinical trials.
If you would like further advice or information about migraines and how you can help prevent them with diet, supplements and herbal remedies, then visit us at Brighton Apothecary.