If you’ve ever had a migraine, you never forget it. More than 30 million people in the United States—three quarters of them women—know the knifelike, throbbing pain of a migraine. You may feel migraine pain in the forehead, temple, ear, or jaw, or around the eye, but it’s usually on one side at a time. You’ll probably have other symptoms, too, like being overly sensitive to light, sounds, and smells.
Certain foods are no-nos for migraine sufferers. Caffeine, chocolate, soy, red wine, aged cheeses, sourdough bread, onions, citrus fruits, guar gum, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) can all be triggers. So can fermented, smoked, and salted foods that contain tyramine, a compound produced from the natural breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine, because they cause blood vessels to dilate, which can cause migraines. Keeping track of what you eat and the reaction you have can help you avoid these foods in the future. You can also get a copy of a tyramine-free diet.
You can use food to help ease headaches, too. If you are prone to early-morning headaches, have a piece of fruit before you go to bed. The fructose will help stabilize blood sugar. You can also cut up fruit and eat it throughout the day.
The best supplement to start with is magnesium, because it relaxes the blood vessels in the brain. Sometimes it can help to stop a headache before it starts. Migraine remedies, such as Migralex, contain 500 mg of magnesium. If you have a migraine, you can take one to two pills three to four times a day as needed. For prevention, take one pill a day.
There are natural migraine relief pills on the market that are also beneficial:
Instead of a supplement pill, you may want to try each nutrient separately to see how they work for you. Just be sure to buy high-quality supplements, especially when it comes to nutrients like feverfew, to ensure botanical integrity.
When we want to be toned, we go to the gym. When we want our blood vessels to be toned, we take feverfew. Doing so can help treat and prevent migraines, because when blood vessels dilate, due to substances like serotonin and histamine, migraines can result. Many studies show that taking feverfew as a dried leaf capsule can be effective when it comes to migraine intervention. If you are pregnant, don’t use feverfew.
This is another supplement to put on your to-take list. When 55 participants in a study reported in the medical journal Neurology (1998) took 400 mg of B2 daily for three months, most of them cut their migraine attacks by half. You may see results in only two months, say researchers.
An oft-used herbal remedy for pain and fever, today butterbur is widely used to prevent migraines because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s important to choose a butterbur rhizome extract in which these have been removed correctly. One of the best brands, called Petadolex, is made by Weber & Weber. You can find it at www.betterhealthinternational.com.
A study in the medical journal Cephalalgia arch shows that coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine headaches. Best of all, there are no side effects.
It sounds too simple to work, but drinking water may help to “head off” a migraine attack. It’s not that you’re dehydrated; it’s that the physiology of the body changes when you add pure water, and that change may in some way trigger a switch that turns off or prevents the headache.
When you do get a migraine, grab two ice packs and put one on the area where it hurts the most and one on the back of the neck. Also, putting an ice pack on your head and a hot water bottle or flaxseed pack (warmed in the microwave) on your feet can be helpful, since your head is throbbing and your body is chilly. Or try taking a hot bath with an ice pack on your head. Doing both at the same time is a natural remedy that addresses two problems at once.
Sometimes a smell can trigger a migraine or, if you already have one, make you nauseous. Migrastick, which is a rollerball stick that contains essential oils of lavender and peppermint, can help relieve nausea by blocking bad smells that bother you. In addition, it has pain-relieving properties. You can find more information at www.migrastick.com.
Another remedy that works for nausea is eating soda crackers and sipping cola over crushed ice. “The caffeine also has a prokinetic effect on the gut. It helps reverse gastric statis and helps get the gut moving again,” says Christine Lay, M.D., a neurologist at the Headache Institute at St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. If you like ginger ale for nausea, choose a natural brand, because some contain the preservative sodium benzoate, which can actually be a trigger for migraine. Candied ginger can also work to ease nausea.
Sleep can help, too. After you take some remedies, try to get a half-hour of solid rest. It gives the medicine a chance to work, and if you fall asleep even for a short period of time, that can stop a migraine cold. We don’t know how sleep does it, but it is one of the most powerful ways to stop a migraine. After your headache is gone, be easy on yourself. Think of it as a time to rest and replenish yourself. Rehydrate yourself—aim for a quart and a half a day, and replenish necessary B-complex vitamins that help curb migraine headaches.
Incorporating relaxation and tension-relieving practices like progressive relaxation, belly breathing, biofeedback, yoga, acupressure, and acupuncture into your life may help relieve and prevent headaches. Try one or a few of these on for size.
Start with your face. Contract all the muscles for a moment and then relax. Move on to the shoulders and all the different muscle groups of the body in succession, from head to toe.
To relieve the tension and stress that can bring on tension headaches and aggravate migraines, try this relaxing belly breathing exercise created by Dennis Lewis, author of Free Your Breath, Free Your Life.
(The Belly Breathing Practice is taken from Dennis Lewis’ website, www.authentic-breathing.com and is used with his permission. Dennis Lewis is the author of The Tao of Natural Breathing and the audio program Natural Breathing)
Research shows that biofeedback can also be helpful for migraines. By using a do-it-yourself biofeedback program like Healing Rhythms (www.wilddivine.com), created by Deepak Chopra, M.D.; Dean Ornish, M.D.; and Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., you can learn to lower your stress levels, which may help reduce the incidence of tension headaches as well.
Acupressure a kind of traditional Chinese medicine that’s based on the same ideas as acupuncture, may help. “I’ve had patients do acupressure on the acupuncture point between the thumb and index finger, called Large Intestine 4, during the aura and not get their headache,” says Robert A. Duarte, M.D., Director of the Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Pain and Headache Treatment Center in Manhasset, New York, and a certified acupuncturist. “It’s not 100 percent, but it’s an option.”
Research shows that acupuncture can be a safe and effective natural treatment for the relief of tension-type headaches. One theory is that the practice releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical in the body. From the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view, it is thought to relieve the stagnation of chi, or energy, in the body.
Migraines are never any fun, but armed with these natural remedies, you can get rid of them quickly and inexpensively. Good health!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Natural Remedies by Chrystle Fiedler