Headaches, especially migraine headaches, may be among the utmost debilitating symptoms or conditions out there. In fact, migraines are among the most common causes of emergency room visits for women between 18 and 45 years of age. When experiencing a migraine, many different symptoms can occur beyond head pain including vision disturbances, dizziness, confusion, neck pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, digestive symptoms and poor motor coordination. Consequently, more than three million American migraine sufferers are living in fear of their next migraine making uncovering the underlying cause and supporting natural systems essential to alleviate the problem.
There are numerous possible causes for headaches manifesting in many different ways. Further evaluation with a physician, such as those at Today Integrative Health and Wellness, can help you understand what may be instigating your headaches and get you on a path to healing. To get your started, here are some common causes for migraine headaches.
- Blood sugar imbalances. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when meals are skipped or a few hours following a meal high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. For instance, a muffin for breakfast with a Frappuccino or a soda, both high in simple carbohydrates, rapidly raises the blood sugar, which gives you that burst of energy. As many of us have come to experience, about one or two hours later we are again feeling hungry, grumpy and tired seeking out more food. The rapid and easy metabolism of the sugar is what causes these symptoms. This is because the brain is the primary user of the sugar we eat and consequently, is the first organ to respond to a decrease in blood sugar triggering a headache. Consuming small meals containing protein and healthy fat more frequently throughout the day can help prevent dramatic changes in blood sugar preventing a hypoglycemic headache.
- Dehydration. Like with sugar, your brain is also one of the primary organs that use our dietary water to function. In the modern day, we live in a high stress and results-driven environment warranting high levels of productivity. To address these demands, many of us turn to coffee, tea or energy drinks to keep us going, which dehydrate the body due to the diuretic effect these beverages have on the kidneys. Alcohol also has a similar effect promoting water elimination through urination. Drinking one to two eight ounce glasses of water at the onset of a headache can help hydrate the brain and address any headaches due to dehydration. It is important to discuss your optimal water intake with your physician because other health conditions and lifestyle habits need to be taken into consideration before determining how much overall water a person should consume.
- Hormonal imbalances. Hormones serve as a signaling mechanism coordinating many different organ systems in the body. Such a broad reach means that full evaluation of hormonal function, including reproductive, thyroid and stress hormones, is important in the treatment and assessment of migraine triggers. For instance, some women experience menstrual migraines, which occur at different phases of the menstrual cycle like ovulation or menstruation. Others experience migraines when stress escalates. By tracking your headaches, you can help determine if they occur at a certain time of the month providing your practitioner with useful information in the treatment and management of your headaches. From there, different treatment recommendations can be made including herbal therapies, nutrition, lifestyle modifications or bio-identical hormone replacement.
- Dietary intolerances or nutrient deficiencies. A common consensus among many different professions, including neurologists and headache specialists, is that what you eat plays a key role in headache development. All agree that eating a diet rich in a variety of whole, fresh and healthy food is essential to prevent headaches. For some migraine sufferers, chemicals including artificial sweeteners, additives and food dyes in pre-packed and processed foods can trigger or sustain a headache. Additionally, food intolerances or allergies elevate overall levels of inflammatory markers in the body causing a migraine. Some known food triggers include chocolate, alcohol, aged food and citrus; however, further evaluation is often needed if elimination of these foods does not improve migraine headache frequency or severity. Fortunately, assessment for these food intolerances can be done through dietary elimination or a simple blood test. Consider discussing these options with your doctor.
Various nutrient deficiencies can also be contributory to migraine headaches. The most well known is magnesium, which is a mineral found in many nuts and seeds. Studies have shown that migraine patients often have lower serum levels of magnesium compared to those who do not experience migraines and have responded well to oral and/or intravenous replacement. In addition, intravenous magnesium therapy has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of acute migraine helping the headache resolve more quickly and be less severe. Other nutrients that can be contributory are iron, vitamin B2, and vitamin B5, which should be evaluated for and discussed with your medical provider.
- Stress. In the United States, we find being stressed is a normal part of daily life. While some stress may be seen as helpful in keeping us productive, chronic stress is detrimental to our health. Stress causes the release of a hormone called cortisol, which is pro-inflammatory and may contribute to a migraine. In addition, we often make poor dietary choices and decrease our amount of sleep when stressed further contributing to headache development. Finally, we frequently carry our stress in our neck and shoulders resulting in chronic tension and tension headaches. Such headaches can set us up for the development of a migraine or prolong any that we may be experiencing. Stress management techniques are essential to decreasing overall tension and improving headache frequency and severity. These techniques can include deep abdominal breathing, neurofeedback, meditation, acupuncture, massage, exercise and yoga. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga had a reduction in migraine headaches compared to those who did not do yoga therapy.
- Sleep disturbances. Sleep is an essential part of the body’s healing cascade. Not getting enough sleep to allow for complete repair can set us up for a migraine headache the following day. In addition, neurotransmitter imbalances, such as serotonin, can contribute to migraine development. Establishing a regular sleep and wake cycle is essential in the treatment of migraine headaches. Discussion of neurotransmitter support should be discussed with your medical provider to determine the best options for you.
Not only does muscular tension contribute to headache development, so does eyestrain and disturbances in bony alignment. The vertebrae in our neck and upper back can get out of position due to repetitive motions or poor posture. By getting the bones manipulated by a practitioner or repositioned using an Activator tool, the alignment can be restored allowing for decreased tissue tension and improved blood flow. There is also a broad array of evidence supporting the use of acupuncture for structural realignment and pain relief. The medical literature indicates that acupuncture and prescription medications, have equal effectiveness in reduction of number of headache days per month. Other components such as getting an ergonomic workstation and avoiding prolonged computer usage can lessen physical imbalances and eyestrain improving migraine headaches.
- Physical imbalances. Not only does muscular tension contribute to headache development, so does eyestrain and disturbances in bony alignment. The vertebrae in our neck and upper back can get out of position due to repetitive motions or poor posture. By getting the bones manipulated by a practitioner or repositioned using an Activator tool, the alignment can be restored allowing for decreased tissue tension and improved blood flow. There is also a broad array of evidence supporting the use of acupuncture for structural realignment and pain relief. The medical literature indicates that acupuncture and prescription medications, have equal effectiveness in reduction of number of headache days per month. Other components such as getting an ergonomic workstation and avoiding prolonged computer usage can lessen physical imbalances and eyestrain improving migraine headaches.
Understanding the root cause or contributing factors to your migraine headaches may let you live in less fear of your next migraine attack. Schedule an appointment with a medical provider, such as those at Today Integrative Health and Wellness, to get a comprehensive evaluation and begin your journey for migraine treatment and headache relief.