Does your migraine have you laid up in bed again? You’re missing work too often and your relationships with your family are strained. You’re locked in a dark room, your head is throbbing with intense pain, and you’re sick to your stomach. You feel alone, helpless, and you’re tired of taking medications for your migraines. There must be a more permanent solution to get your life back? Read on and learn how to get rid of migraines naturally.
In North America, about 18% of women and 7% of men suffer with migraines. Migraine headaches are less common than tension or sinus headaches but tend to be more severe and disruptive. One migraine can put you down for the count for a few hours or several days. Migraines are also responsible for more missed work and disrupted family life than any other headache type. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Medications for acute and chronic migraines can help at times. Unfortunately, medications do not solve the root cause of the problem and there are side effects to medications.
Some Causes of Migraines
Although there can be a genetic factor to migraines, there are usually multiple triggers outside of genetics that would have more influence on triggering the migraine. When many of these triggers hit you all at once, you’re chances of getting a migraine go up. Some of the triggers include:
- spinal misalignments and nerve dysfunction
- “leaky” gut (food intolerances, intestinal dysbiosis, gut infections)
- blood sugar problems
- hormonal problems
- magnesium deficiency
- sleep problems
The chiropractic and functional medicine approach is to figure out exactly what triggers the migraine and focus on those triggers for the treatment. In other words, chiropractic and functional medicine work to find the root cause(s) of the migraine versus just covering up the symptom. When you approach migraines this way, your treatment success goes up.
Chiropractic care for your migraines
Chiropractors are specialists in detecting the underlying causes of headaches related to the muscles, nerves, and joints in the neck and skull area. Spinal misalignments and stress and tension in the muscles in the neck and skull area are often found in patients who have migraines. (6) Spinal misalignments cause poor nerve input into the brain and poor nerve output to your body parts. As a result, muscle weakness can also be found in migraine patients. This is like having a blown circuit or breaker switch. By realigning the spine (adjustments), chiropractors help restore proper brain and nerve function and turn your power back on. Muscle strength increases and migraines will often get better or go away.
By realigning the spine (adjustments), chiropractors help restore proper brain and nerve function and turn your power back on. Muscle strength increases and migraines will often get better or go away.
Chiropractic care may not be the answer for every migraine sufferer, but it’s certainly worth a try. In fact, 72 percent of migraine sufferers in a clinical trial noticed a ‘substantial’ or ‘noticeable’ improvement after a period of chiropractic care. (7) Even if it didn’t work, at least you will be more mobile and your brain and nerves will work better.
Functional medicine approach to your migraines
You can see there are many migraine triggers. When you work with a functional medicine practitioner to figure out what your triggers are then treatment is more focussed and more likely to succeed. Because there are so many triggers, I’m going to discuss two of these triggers to keep this article shorter. I will discuss some of other triggers in part 2.
Leaky gut and inflammation
Your gut is a hollow tube that is supposed to be tightly regulated. It’s supposed to keep toxins inside the tube to excrete later and let good nutrients from food into the blood so your body and mind can functional well. If you have leaky gut (intestinal permeability) toxic chemicals can leak into the blood. The toxic chemicals would include toxic proteins from food as well as toxins from bacteria from inside the gut (lipopolysaccharides or LPS). This creates inflammation (swelling) and can, in turn, trigger migraines.
Food Intolerances, an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the gut, gut infections, and an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO), can all cause leaky gut. All of these potential causes should be investigated thoroughly with proper lab testing and health questionnaires.
- Food intolerances
Toxic proteins from food can leak into the blood and cause an immune response leading to inflammation and migraines. If you know you react to specific foods and get migraines, it’s likely you have leaky gut. As well, gluten (refined flours and cereal grains), is the only known food protein that directly causes leaky gut on everyone. However, not everyone that reacts to gluten will get a migraine, but it’s something to consider eliminating from your diet. The other issue with food intolerances is you can develop autoimmune diseases. There are other foods that can cause inflammation as well and this would have to handled on a case by case basis.
The most reliable way to find out what foods you are intolerant to would be to do a proper elimination/reintroduction diet for 1-3 months. There are specific foods you would eliminate all at once for a certain period of time and then you would reintroduce each food you have eliminated one at a time. You’re going to need guidance on how to do this so see a health practitioner that is an expert in this field or here is a digital program that is excellent: 14Four.me
The other option to determine if you have food intolerances is to get your blood tested for antibodies to foods (IgA/IgG antibody testing). At the time of this writing, Cyrex labs offers the most reliable blood tests to analyze if your immune system is reacting to specific foods. The advantage to these tests is you get fast results, but they’re not as accurate as doing the elimination diet and they are pricier. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t want to commit the time and energy into doing an elimination diet than this is a good solution. You have to work with a health practitioner that can order the test kits for you and interpret the results.
- Imbalance between good and bad bacteria (intestinal dysbiosis) and gut infections
If you don’t have a good balance and diversity of good bacteria in the gut you are more likely to have a leaky gut.
- Good bacteria keep the lining of your gut lining sealed, so when you don’t have enough good bacteria the lining of the gut can leak.
- Good bacteria make a substances called short chain fatty acids which act as an anti-inflammatory and help keep the lining of the gut healthy. If you don’t have enough good bacteria you could have excess inflammation that can cause gut lining seal to be broken.
- Good bacteria protect us from bad bacteria, parasites, and yeast from overgrowing in our gut leading to a gut infection. Gut infections are common causes of leaky gut.
- 70-80 percent of our immune cells are in our gut. The good bacteria keep these immune cells functioning well. If you don’t have enough good gut bacteria, you are more likely to get gut infections, inflammation, and leaky gut.
Whether or not you have gut symptoms or not, if you have migraines that haven’t been helped with therapies like chiropractic care, acupuncture, or massage, getting thorough gut testing (stool, urine, breath tests) by a functional medical or nutritional practitioner would be highly recommended. Thorough gut testing can show if you have enough good bacteria, if you have infection(s), and if you’re producing enough short chain fatty acids.
Treatment would often involve killing off the infection(s) with a mix of herbal botanicals and probiotics, sealing the gut barrier, and replenishing the good bacteria (i.e. prebiotic foods and fermented foods).
Blood Sugar Problems
When you eat sugar or carbohydrates (carbs), your hormone insulin will rise to carry sugar into your cells so you can use it to make energy. Eating too many refined carbs (i.e. bread, pasta, and cereal) and refined sugars (i.e. candy and pop) cause blood sugar and insulin levels to rise too fast followed by a rapid decline in blood sugar and insulin levels. This creates a low blood sugar state (hypoglycemia). Symptoms of hypoglycemia include: irritability, weakness, dizziness, disoriented, and cognitive decline. Hypoglycemia can also trigger migraines.
If you find you have to eat every two hours just to sustain your energy and moods, you likely have hypoglycemia. Assess your diet if you get migraines when you are in a hypoglycemic state.
Switching to a nutrient dense diet (i.e. Paleo template diet) that includes meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats will keep your blood sugar levels more stable. This will help give your body and brain energy for longer periods of time. If your migraines are indeed triggered by hypoglycemia, this diet should reduce or eliminate the number of migraines you get.
In the next article, I will discuss hormonal imbalances, magnesium deficiency, sleep problems, and stress as triggers for migraines and what you can do treat them.