By Dr. Scott Saunders
Anyone who has suffered from a migraine knows it isn’t just an intense headache; it’s a debilitating health issue that affects over 10 percent of the world’s population. And anyone who suffers from chronic migraines knows the struggles of preventing and treating each migraine that hits.
But what if you could treat and prevent migraines through a few simple life changes? What if, instead of treating migraines with medicines that knock you out or overload your body with caffeine, you had safe, healthy, and effective alternatives?
It is possible. The first step is understanding the complexity of migraines and the limits of the treatments available to you. Then, you must learn about the simple life changes you can make and how their benefits to your body and mind far surpass those of “modern” remedies.
Migraines are not ordinary headaches. Migraines affect the autonomic nervous system, which regulates most of the other systems in your body and controls things like your blood pressure and temperature. A migraine often occurs when the blood vessels that feed your brain constrict, causing things to stop working as they should. This results in symptoms like intense pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, vision changes, light and sound sensitivity, and other neurological symptoms.
Migraines can be triggered by many different things, but common triggers include chemical stimulants — like caffeine, chocolate, coffee, energy drinks, teas, sugar, or any food to which one is sensitive — excessive stress, overstimulation from too much exercise, insomnia, excessive noise, alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal), and infections from illnesses. Triggers can be difficult to pinpoint, as they usually differ from person to person.
“Modern” Migraine Treatments
Ironically, many common migraine treatments include some of the very things that trigger migraines, like caffeine. Caffeine has been used as a migraine treatment for years, and it’s an active ingredient in name-brand migraine pain relievers. Some sufferers find relief using different sedatives, which cause the migraine sufferer to sleep off his or her pain. Another “modern” treatment is ergot alkaloids, which are very toxic and affect the body’s nervous system.
Additional medications are then used to try to prevent migraines before their onset, which include blood pressure medication, seizure medication — to bring stability to the autonomic nervous system — and tranquilizers. In the end, migraine sufferers are faced with the cost of taking multiple medications, as well as dealing with side effects, such as drowsiness and weight gain, which are the result of many common treatments.
Migraine Solutions That Can Also Work
Certain lifestyle changes are shown to be as — or more — effective in treating and preventing migraines. These changes are completely within your control, do not require a doctor visit or prescription medication (thereby saving you time and money), and can improve your overall health as well. Here are four changes you can begin implementing today:
A popular herbal formula containing magnesium, feverfew, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is found to oftentimes be better at preventing migraines than the prescription medications currently available. Introducing these supplements in your daily routine could help keep even chronic migraines at bay.
One study looked at 26 migraine sufferers, who participated in cycling exercises during a 12-week trial period. During that time, there was only one migraine occurrence. Overall, the participants showed an improvement in fitness and suffered fewer migraines.
3) Stress Reduction
Stress reduction techniques are found to be as effective as exercise and medication in decreasing migraines. In one of the most thorough studies on migraine treatment and prevention, researchers in Sweden randomly split 91 migraine sufferers into three groups. The first group exercised for 40 minutes, three times per week. The second group was given a drug to help prevent migraines. The third group used relaxation techniques to reduce their stress and prevent the onset of migraines. All three groups showed an equal decrease in migraines by the end of the trial period.
Avoiding triggers is an effective and fairly easy way to prevent migraines. Eliminating common triggers like sugar, soda, caffeinated beverages, and MSG is a great starting point. Those who don’t get excellent results by avoiding these stimulants should try an “elimination diet,” which involves eliminating all potential triggers. Then, after being migraine-free for a week, slowly reintroducing each food or drink, one at a time. The individual’s true triggers will cause migraines to return.
Migraines may be a complex and debilitating issue for many people, but they don’t have to control your life. You need not live in fear of the next onset or worry that your medication may not be effective against your migraine’s powerful symptoms. Simply changing a few aspects of your lifestyle — like diet, exercise, stress reduction, and supplementation — can allow you to regain control over migraines and win the battle over pain.
Dr. Scott Saunders is the Health and Nutrition Advisor of Barton Publishing, a company that promotes natural health through teaching people how to cure themselves using alternative home remedies instead of expensive and harmful prescription drugs. Saunders is the director of The Integrative Medicine Center of Santa Barbara, which balances conventional medicine with alternative healing modalities to achieve optimal wellness.