An estimated 15 percent of the general population suffer from migraines. Typically, the headaches affect one half of the head, are pulsating in nature, and last from two to 72 hours. Associated symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. The pain is generally made worse by physical activity. Up to one-third of migraine sufferers have an aura, which is a short period of visual disturbance that precipitates the migraine.
The development of migraine attacks is somehow thought to be related to inflammation in the nerves and blood vessels in the body. Conventional treatment is with simple pain medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. For those whose simple pain medications are ineffective, your doctor may prescribe specific medications such as ergots and triptans. However, all drug therapies come with some unpleasant side effects. In addition, they may not be totally effective and they definitely do not prevent future occurrences.
Fortunately, if you can pinpoint the root causes of your migraines, there are preferable ways to address them than pharmaceuticals. The following is a check list of common migraine triggers as well as nutritional deficiencies for those who suffer from migraines.
Common Migraine Triggers
First and foremost, you want to make sure you avoid the potential triggers of your migraines. Do bear in mind that what triggers a migraine for one person may not trigger it in another. Because every body is different, you need to be your own detective.
1. Food sensitivities
For migraine sufferers, it is very typical that their headaches are triggered by certain foods. Here are the most common ones:
- Gluten, a type of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley.
- Dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Corn and high fructose corn syrup
- Cured or processed meats
- Alcohol, especially red wine and beer
- Monosodium glutamate or MSG
- Citrus fruits
- Cane sugar
It is helpful to keep a food log so that you know what foods you have eaten and when your migraines start. If you suspect you may have certain food sensitivities, remove all the suspicious foods for a period of time to see if your symptoms improve. Depending on the frequency of your migraines, you may need to avoid the suspicious foods for at least a number of weeks or months to determine the culprit.
2. Hormonal imbalances
Some women may get migraines before their periods or during menopause.
- This is due to changes in estrogen levels.
- Causes include stress, consuming too much alcohol, caffeine, sugar, white flour, and refined starches, and not getting enough exercise or sleep.
- To rebalance your hormones, eliminate alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Exercise regularly and get at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Eat a diet rich in plant foods (especially in the broccoli family), flax seeds, and mercury-free omega-3-rich fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and sardines.
Other women may get migraines from hormonal medications such as birth control pills or hormone replacements. If so, talk to your doctor, consider going off the medications, and find alternatives.
Any kind of emotional trauma may give rise to a migraine, even after the stress has passed.
4. Changes in sleep cycle
Both missing sleep and over sleeping may trigger a migraine.
5. Physical exertion
Extremely intense exercise may bring on a migraine.
6. Dehydration and/or hunger
Skipping meals or fasting may set off a migraine.
7. External stimuli
Bright lights, fluorescent lights, loud noises, and strong smells may provoke a migraine.
8. Sudden weather or altitude changes
Common Nutritional Deficiencies
1. CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) or Ubiquinol (reduced form of CoQ10)
Nutritional deficiencies can also play a significant role in migraines. According to some experts, migraines are caused by mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are organelles inside your cells. They are like batteries or generators that produce cellular energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP); that is why they are also known as the powerhouses of the cells. Research has shown that when your mitochondria are sick or are not functioning well, your frequency for headaches goes up.
CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) is an antioxidant that helps your mitochondria burn energy more efficiently. Due to its ability to get to both the water and the fatty parts of a cell, it can reach every single cell all over your body, especially the heart and the brain. Research has found that if you are deficient in CoQ10, you are more prone to headaches and muscle pain.
Your body produces CoQ10 naturally. However, a poor diet and many drugs including birth control pills, hormone replacements, antacids, diabetes drugs, and statins deplete this nutrient.
One study published in the Journal of Neurology found that CoQ10 was superior to a placebo in preventing migraines and reducing severity. Of the patients who received 100 mg of CoQ10 three times daily, 50 percent reported significantly reduced frequency compared to only 14 percent who took the placebo.
- If you want to try a CoQ10 supplement, get the reduced form called ubiquinol even though it is more expensive. Research has shown that ubiquinol is far more effective than CoQ10 due to its superior ability to be absorbed by the body.
- Take 100 mg three times daily for at least three months to see if your condition improves.
Magnesium is a relaxation mineral that helps relax blood vessel constriction in your brain. Unfortunately, it is estimated that half the population is deficient in this mineral. Why?
- If you eat a highly processed, refined diet containing white flour, meat, and dairy and have insufficient intake of magnesium-rich plant foods like greens, nuts, and beans, you are likely to be magnesium deficient.
- If you take medications such as antibiotics, birth control pills, diuretics, antacids, and acid blockers, they tend to rob your body of magnesium.
- If you consume excess alcohol, coffee, sodas, or salt, they deplete your body’s store of magnesium.
Know that magnesium deficiency is hard to determine through a blood test. In fact, it is the least sensitive way to detect magnesium levels because magnesium is mainly stored inside your cells, not outside in the blood.
Having said that, anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff – be it a body part or even a mood – is a sign of possible magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is a critical mineral responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and it is found in all your tissues, but mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. Therefore, if you are suffering from migraines and the above mentioned reasons for magnesium deficiency fit you, you should consider the following:
Stop draining your body of magnesium
- Limit alcohol, coffee, sodas, sugar, and salt.
- Check with your doctor if your medication is causing magnesium loss.
Focus on foods rich in magnesium
- Green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and seaweed.
Take an additional magnesium supplement
- The best magnesium supplement is magnesium threonate as it penetrates cell membranes, including the mitochondria.
- Other easily absorbable forms are magnesium aspartate, citrate, glycinate, and taurate. Magnesium fumarate, malate, and succinate are also good.
- Avoid magnesium carbonate, gluconate, oxide, and sulfate as they are the cheapest and poorly absorbed by the body.
- Take 500-1,000 mg daily for at least three months.
- Side effects from too much magnesium is loose bowel and diarrhea, a signal to cut down the dosage.
- People with kidney disease and heart disease should only take magnesium under a doctor’s supervision.
3. Vitamin B
Studies have shown that B vitamins (such as B2, B6, B12, and folic acid) help reduce migraine attacks significantly. Those who received high doses of B2 or riboflavin (400 mg per day), in particular, experienced a 50 percent reduction in migraine frequency after three months.
Since vitamin B is relatively safe with virtually no side effects, migraine sufferers may want to take 200-400 mg of B2 per day in divided doses together with a B complex supplement for three months to see if their condition improves.
4. Vitamin D
Studies have found that over 40 percent of the chronic migraine sufferers are deficient in vitamin D. The longer you suffer from migraines, the more likely you are to be vitamin D deficient. Although researchers have yet to pinpoint the mechanism underlying low vitamin D levels and the development of migraine attacks, it is believed that vitamin D helps reduce inflammation which plays a role in migraines.
The best way to naturally attain sufficient vitamin D is to spend 20 minutes daily in the sun, exposing your face, arms, and legs without the use of sunscreen. In the winter, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Most people need about 5,000 I.U. a day to achieve the optimal blood level of 50-70 ng/ml.
There is plenty of research backing up the migraine and food sensitivity connection. Hence, changing your diet is the foremost consideration for migraine sufferers.
As an observation, many migraine sufferers who switched to a Paleo diet have rid themselves of recurring migraines. The likely explanation is that the Paleo diet allows only food that is not processed, which excludes grains, bread, pasta, pasteurized dairy, artificial additives and chemicals. Instead, the diet focuses on lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, along with wild caught fish, organic pastured poultry, and grass-fed meats.
Since everyone’s underlying cause for migraines is different, it is imperative that you be your own detective. Once you have identified the triggers, try your best to avoid them. Consider the various nutritional deficiencies as they may also help prevent future migraine occurrences.