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Migraines: what you need to know


Do you or someone you know suffer with migraines? Read below and find out what causes them and what you can do to manage them!

Migraine is defined as a regular throbbing or pounding sensation at the front or side of the head, often accompanied by sight problems, heightened sensitivity and limb stiffness. The symptoms vary from painful headaches, disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sounds and smells and nausea. Symptoms of migraine varies from person to person, and the migraine  attacks can vary in length and frequency.

There are different types of migraine, the most common types of migraine are migraine with aura and migraine without aura. The ‘migraine with aura’ There is no known cause for migraine, most people with it are genetically predisposed to migraine. There are a number of factors such as food sensitivities and allergies, nutritional deficiencies, stress, hormonal changes, lack of sleep and environmental factors (toxins) that induce migraines.

Migraine facts

  • There are an estimated 190,000 migraine attacks experienced across the UK every day.
  • Around 25 million days are lost from work or school every year due to migraine.
  • Women are much more likely to experience a migraine attack than men. 18% of women suffer from migraine, compared to 8% of men.
  • Depression is three times more common in people with migraine than it is in healthy individuals.
  • 50% of migraine sufferers remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Allergies and food sensitivities can trigger different types of headaches; vasoactive amines like tyramine (strong cheeses, beans) and phenylethylamine (found in chocolate), octopamine (found in citrus fruits, red wine, beer and fermented food). Histamine in broken down by the enzyme diamine oxidase in the small bowel, and a lack of this enzyme can trigger a headache when histamine-rich foods are consumed. Other trigger foods that cause headaches or migraines are alcohol, caffeine, gluten, cured ham and artificial sweeteners as they all create and increase inflammation in the body.

Migraine sufferers have a different mix of gut bacteria that could make them more sensitive to certain foods. Research shows that migraine sufferers had higher levels of bacteria that are known to be involved in breakdown nitrates, which are found in processed meats, leafy vegetables and some wines. Migraines can be triggered when nitrates in these foods are broken down causing vessels in the brain to dilate. When nitrates in food are broken down by bacteria in the mouth and gut they are converted into nitric oxide in the bloodstream. One study found oral and faecal samples in healthy participants showed higher levels of bacteria which is linked to the breakdown of nitrates.

Poorly digested foods, by-products of digestion, altered gut bacterial populations caused by hormones and antibiotics can interfere with the normal physiology and cause toxicity. Gastrointestinal tract infections, excess intake of alcohol, NSAIDs, stress, antibiotics, corticosteroid hormones and chemical contamination of food/household products are some of the factors that can adversely affect the barrier function of the gastrointestinal tract resulting in increased permeability (leaky gut). These changes in permeability can stimulate hypersensitivity responses to food. This can cause non-specific inflammatory activation via the complement system and cytokines and increase the toxic load on the liver.

Deficiencies in nutrients can lead to high amounts of stress and inflammation in the body. A deficiency in vitamin B2 (riboflavin) results in migraines. Both magnesium and fish oil have been associated with the inhibition of vasospasm. Magnesium also stabilises cell membranes and reduces inflammation. Studies have indicated that magnesium supplementation has been effective in migraines. In some individuals, mitochondrial dysfunction resulting in impaired oxygen metabolism has been implicated in migraine. Coenzyme Q10 is a natural substance and essential in the electron transport chain. Many studies have shown that taking Coenzyme Q10 decreases attack frequency.

Hormonal imbalances caused by stress, or consuming high amounts of alcohol,  sugar, flour and not getting enough sleep can result in migraines. Women are known to suffer from premenstrual migraines which is caused by imbalances in oestrogen and progesterone.
Research indicates imbalances in melatonin means people sleep less which is a trigger for headaches.

Toxins such as heavy metals (mercury, lead), parabens, formaldehydes and particle pollution can contribute towards headaches and migraines and interfere with digestion, nutrient absorption, cellular transport, oxidative damage, enzyme interference and mimicking of hormones. 

Below are a few simple things you can do at home to manage your migraine

  1. Remove common food allergens from the diet.
  2. Supplement with B vitamins and magnesium.
  3. Consume a diet rich in plant foods, particularly the broccoli family, flax seeds and other fruits and vegetables.
  4. Take melatonin to help with sleep.

The way you manage your migraine will be unique according to your symptoms and triggers. A Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioner can help manage and treat migraines by taking a comprehensive health history, getting any lab tests necessary (comprehensive stool test, intestinal permeability screening, food intolerance, etc) and guide you through a treatment plan.

If this resonates with you then…

Take advantage of our 15-minute sessions either with a Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioner, designed to give you the support you need with your concerns and to get you started on your road to recovery.

Find very quick and effective results!

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