How I achieved a migraine-free life
One moment you’re happily chatting, the next you can hardly see the face of your companion.
Migraines appear so suddenly their sufferers are left baffled about how to do the most basic of tasks (like get home to bed) and unable to function for up to three days.
About 15 per cent of Australian women and 5 per cent of men experience migraines, with each person affected differently. Let’s be clear, though – a migraine is not just a headache: it’s a special type of hell.
Migraines have been a regular part of my life, worsening as I grow older. While my symptoms were once limited to vision disruption, pain and exhaustion, they increased in severity to include vomiting, temporary loss of speech and limb numbness.
As this happened, research emerged suggesting migraines create long-term damage to brain structure. There are other long-term effects of regular migraines, says Dr Frank Jones, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners: “It
disrupts life completely and has psychosocial impacts such as increased anxiety, increased risk of depression and chronic pain.”
“Migraines, like much other pain we experience, are the body’s way of telling us it is out of balance,” says Naturopath Kyeema Fanning from Melbourne clinic, Nu-Leaf. “We have two choices: suppress them with pain relief … or address the underlying cause.”
It isn’t enough to know your migraine triggers, Fanning adds: “The trigger itself does not cause the migraine. A trigger is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back; it begins the process of a migraine in a person that is susceptible.”
And so, we must look at the causes of migraines in order to built that strength to cope with potential triggers.
These causes are often complex and different for everyone. “Treatment which works for one person often fails another,” says Dr Jones, “so the patient and doctor need to work together to reach the right outcome.”
I’ve been migraine-free for over a year now – and it’s bliss. If you’re a migraine sufferer, here are some ideas about what might be causing yours, and how to find relief.
You are what you eat
Food can be both a cause and a trigger of migraines. Caffeine, cheese, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, eggs, MSG, gluten and chocolate are common things for migraine sufferers to avoid.
“Dietary changes can assist in detoxification and nutrient replacement,” says Fanning, who often advises sufferers to keep a diary to monitor links between foods and migraines.
In this approach, food is not only a cause but a potential solution; food is medicine.
“Research suggests a link between migraines and deficiencies in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin B2,” says Fanning.
Eating foods high in these nutrients – like leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains – may be helpful.
Hormones fighting it out
Many women notice their migraines appear on a monthly basis, which hints towards a relationship between the migraine and hormones.
“There is evidence to suggest that excess oestrogen contributes to migraines – specifically those that coincide with cycle events like ovulation and/or the period,” says Chinese medicine practitioner Nat Kringoudis.
What is it that’s driving your oestrogen through the roof? There are often lifestyle factors that need to be addressed, says Kringoudis: “There are several things we can do to better manage oestrogen. We need to ensure our digestive health is happy, our liver’s ability to detox is sound, our diet is generally nourishing, we are coping well with stress and our environment is also suitable. When we can begin to tick off boxes, we can really make inroads towards balancing our hormones better.”
Stress: the cause of migraine evil
Many migraine sufferers suspect stress as a reason for their pain, however it can be hard to know where to start dealing with this broad cause.
“We must look at how we can help our body’s cope better with stress because we can’t always remove the driver immediately,” says Kringoudis. “But we must also look at our choices around our lifestyle and jobs, because if we don’t get to the core, we will only ever be able to treat symptoms.”
Fanning says everyone finds different ways to releases stress, and suggests massages to remove physical tension, meditation, yoga and exercise.
Kringoudis adds that acupuncture is very effective at helping treat the causes of migraines and supporting the body to cope with stress and pressure.
Look after your liver
While the causes of migraines range enormously, in Chinese medicine there is a theory. Kringoudis explains, “Generally most migraines are caused from stagnant liver activity which causes heat to rise up, affecting the head.”
While your liver is built to do a job, it needs to be supported in order to operate at its best.
“A good cleanse is as good as a holiday,” says Kringoudis, adding that this doesn’t mean going to extremes. “Gone are the days of participating in a gruelling cleanse regime – it’s all about helping the body to work better whilst not placing any additional stress on the digestive system to really allow it a few days to recover.”
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