Do you suffer from migraines? So much more than simply a headache, migraines can be debilitating. Often sufferers are left confined to bed and unable to function, with the time between attacks spent dreading the next one.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone because migraines affect around six million people in the UK. Read on to discover some of the reasons migraines occur and so how to prevent them.
The symptoms can vary widely from person to person, but the pain is often severe and throbbing, sometimes mainly on side of the head. You may vomit or feel nauseous, you might be sensitive to light or experience vertigo, slurred speech, ringing in your ears or double vision.
Some people have warning signs in the form of an aura before the pain comes on. These can include visual disturbances like flashing lights, stomach pain or nerve tingling in the face, arms or legs.
Usually, an episode lasts between 4 and 72 hours. You may have them very occasionaly or have regular chronic episodes for several days in a row.
Once the worst pain is over, you might feel lingering symptoms like confusion, fatigue and low mood for the next day or so.
Science hasn’t yet discovered exactly what causes a migraine, but it seems to be related to changes in the brain’s blood supply. During an attack, blood vessels in the brain expand, putting pressure on nerves and causing pain. This seems to be a result of chemicals released from the trigeminal nerve, one of the cranial nerves carrying pain signals.
Migraine may also be connected with imbalances in your brain’s happy neurotransmitter serotonin because its levels fluctuate during migraine attacks.
Although it’s not known exactly what causes the brain changes in migraines, they do seem to have certain triggers.
Many people notice certain foods spark can spark them off. Common dietary triggers include chocolate, processed meats, citrus fruits and red wine. Some of these along with another common culprit, aged cheese, contain an amino acid called tyramine. This can cause blood vessels in your head to constrict and then expand, resulting in pain.
Sufferers appear to be particularly sensitive to factors having no effect on most people. You may find particular circumstances spark off a migraine, like stress, environmental pollutants, strong smells, bright lights, food additives, changes in air pressure and going without caffeine. Too much or little sleep can bring on a migraine, as can a dip in your blood sugar caused by skipping meals.
On the other hand, many sufferers have no clear trigger for their migraines.
Your gut is closely connected with your brain, and people who suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms suffer from migraines more often. Because trigger foods don’t cause issues for everyone, the important factor is how you metabolise your food.
Studies have found sufferers have increased amounts of inflammatory chemicals in their bloodstream. This inflammation affects blood flow and blood vessels in the brain.
If your gut lining is more permeable than it should be, undigested particles of food and toxins will reach your bloodstream, causing food sensitivities and increased inflammation.
The health of the bacteria in your gut microbiome not only affect inflammation but are also important for producing serotonin for your brain. Certain unhealthy bacteria if they multiply out of control can release chemicals triggering migraines by dilating blood vessels in your brain.
Migraines are more common in women than men, and women often suffer from migraines at certain times each month. It’s believed changes in oestrogen levels sensitize cells in the body to migraine triggers. Because lifestyle factors like stress easily deplete progesterone, having excess oestrogen relative to progesterone is common amongst women.
Studies have found people suffering from migraines have lower levels of magnesium than average. Magnesium is important for muscular function in blood vessel walls as well as for serotonin receptors. In trials, supplementation with magnesium reduced migraines by over 40%.
A migraine is a complex condition affected by interactions between genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, meaning the underlying cause of your migraines is unlikely to be simply in your head.
Traditional medicines are designed to stop symptoms by turning off pain signals, but don’t address the underlying cause. Pain is a cry for help by your body, highlighting a deeper problem.
Functional tests can detect food sensitivities, examine the health of your microbiome, and assess your nutrient balance.
Underlying imbalances can be addressed with dietary changes to remove trigger foods, restore missing nutrients and balance blood sugar levels, while lifestyle strategies and targeted supplements can help maximise your gut function and balance hormone levels.
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