Nearly 1 in 4 households in the U.S. has at least one migraine sufferer. Despite its prevalence, the condition remains under-diagnosed, poorly understood, and often mistreated.
If you suffer from migraine headaches, your coping strategy is probably to take a potent prescription or over-the-counter drug (e.g Ibuprofen). This is a common response, especially because it’s the one recommended by many doctors, but most people don’t realize that taking these medications regularly (twice or more a week) has the potential to wreak havoc in your body by damaging the lining of your stomach and intestines.
And the FDA recently strengthened the warning on prescription and over-the-counter NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) due to the increased risk of heart attacks and stroke associated with their use, in both people with or without other risk factors.
At Parsley Health, we’re constantly on the hunt for underlying causes of migraine headaches and safe, supportive treatments. We work with our members to help them understand that there is a root cause behind their headaches and that by addressing that cause, they can be pain free— and pain-medication free.
What causes migraines and what you can do today to get rid of them
You might be Magnesium deficient.
Magnesium deficiency is much more prevalent in migraine sufferers than in people who don’t get migraines. Magnesium is a very important nutrient because it supports so many biological functions in the body including liver detoxification, hormone regulation, nerve function, muscle relaxation, and the proper constriction and dilation of our blood vessels, including those supplying the brain.
Good food sources of magnesium to include in your diet every day are pumpkin seeds and dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard. Taking regular Epsom salt baths promotes magnesium absorption through the skin while doubling as a a great mind-body relaxation tool. Sometimes daily magnesium supplementation before bed can also help.
You could be intolerant to something you’re eating.
Sensitivity to certain foods, such as gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol, sugar, or caffeine could be triggering your migraines. By identifying and avoiding foods that your immune system is reacting to, you’re able to naturally decrease inflammation in your body.
Doing an expert-supported elimination diet is the only way to know for sure if and which foods could be contributing to your migraines. If you you’ve never tried an elimination diet and suspect that certain foods may be causing issues for you, a health coach can support you with eliminating and reintroducing foods in a systematic way to identify triggers.
Stress might be setting them off.
Short term stress can lead to tightness in the neck and head that may present as a tension headache or a migraine caused by constricted blood vessels.
More long term psychological stress (external adverse events, anxiety, time pressures, financial pressures) or chronic internal physiological stress (inflammation, exhaustion, indigestion, toxicity) may also be causing or perpetuating your migraines.
The stress response activates the fight-or-flight reaction, which over time can lead to impaired detoxification of toxins, hormones, and amines (e.g. histamine and thyramine that naturally occur in some aged and preserved foods like cheese, wine, and fish), all of which, when built-up or imbalanced in the body, can trigger a migraine.
Chronic stress also tilts the body into a pro-inflammatory state. A migraine, and pain in general, often signifies some level of inflammation somewhere, in this case the brain.
Lastly, stress hormones interfere with normal thyroid hormone function and both low and high thyroid levels can cause headaches.
You may have thyroid dysfunction.
Thyroid disease, usually associated with fatigue, hair loss, dry skin and stubborn weight gain when thyroid levels are low, and rapid heart rate and restlessness when thyroid levels are high, surprisingly may present with migraine as the only significant symptom.
A simple blood test can assess thyroid hormone dysfunction and personalized interventions can help restore balance.
Other hormone imbalances
Migraines occur in both sexes but are predominantly found in women. Fluctuations in estrogen seem to trigger headaches in women with migraines. Both estrogen and progesterone are neuromodulatory hormones (affecting several neurons in the brain) and imbalances between estrogen and progesterone may give rise to conditions that increase susceptibility to migraine.
Balancing hormones is a complex process involving multiple organ systems, so you not only need to support the reproductive organs, but also heal the gut, support the liver, and balance the adrenal glands, all of which play a role in hormone balance.
While not all migraines are caused by these factors, they can play a big role and are an important first step to explore in order to help you determine what’s behind your migraines.