Migraines are more than really bad headaches. In addition to throbbing head pain, migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, dizziness and sudden mood changes. They can cause agonizing pain that leaves you huddled in a dark room with a cold cloth on your forehead for hours or even days.
Are you tired of unpredictable migraines derailing all your plans? Let’s take a look at what triggers migraines and key lifestyle changes and supplements that can help.
Who is at Higher Risk of Migraines?
Genetics play a big role in who gets migraines. According to research, migraine tendencies are hereditary – but your genes only speak to your risk of getting migraines. Lifestyle and environmental factors can determine which gene expressions are turned on and off.
So even if migraines run in your family, you may never typically experience one. But if you go through a period (and who doesn’t?) of high stress, bad food choices and too little sleep, a migraine may strike out of the blue. And I can personally attest to this, I never had a migraine until I moved to Seattle and started medical school. The perfect combination of a high stress level, an (unknown at the time) allergy to mold, the rainy weather and unbalanced hormones led to migraine almost weekly!
Women Are More Likely Than Men To Get Migraines
Women are three times as likely than men to get migraines. Changes in estrogen levels are a key migraine trigger factor, so the fluctuation of a monthly cycle, the onset of menopause, or a hormonal imbalance that is difficult to predict can all lead to issues. It’s not surprising men are at much lower migraine risk.
Common Migraine Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Migraines truly demonstrate the importance of personalized medicine. What triggers a migraine for one person, has no effect on another. Individual triggers are important to identify, but it’s usually a combination of triggers that bring on a migraine. Migraine-sensitive individuals have a ‘migraine threshold’ that can be met by numerous combinations and permutations of triggers. Once that threshold is crossed, the migraine is on its way.
Let’s take a look at some key triggers- see if any of these ring a bell!
Changes in estrogen levels are key migraine triggers. Key life events that feature estrogen such as your period, pregnancy and menopause are all times when migraines are more likely to strike.
Low estrogen levels often go hand in hand with low serotonin levels, which can further contribute to a migraine by encouraging release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). Not to mention the wild mood swings.
Stress Related Hormone Fluctuations
Stress interplays with our hormone pathways as well, creating the imbalance that triggers the migraine. Have you noticed that you get migraines more often after a difficult day? You’re not alone!
Foods and Beverages
Migraine food triggers are as individual as people. Food Sensitivity Testing can identify your personal food triggers, so you can avoid them. Here are the biggest migraine offenders:
- Alcohol (especially red wine), coffee
- Processed foods
- Aged cheese
- Additives like MSG, nitrates or aspartame
Sensory and Toxin Overload
Avoid situations that involve bright lights, loud sounds and exposure to chemical smells. Paint, perfume and cleaning products are the worst triggers, as they contain hormone-disrupting environmental toxins.
Check Your Personal Care Products
Avoid chemical-laden personal care products and cleaners, and opt for more natural choices. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource for toxin-free living. Their Guide to Healthy Cleaning rates more than 2,500 cleaning products and their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database rates over 87,000 products for toxicity risk.
You may notice you get migraines when it’s very humid, or on rainy days. Barometric pressure is the most common weather trigger, but you might also be reacting to changes in humidity, temperature, wind and sun conditions.
Limit Your Migraine Triggers At Any One Time
You can’t control the weather, but you can control how many triggers you’re exposed to at the same time if you know the weather is about to change. Some weather apps include ‘migraine forecasts’. Barometric pressure can change hours or even days before we actually see a storm. So if a migraine strikes on a clear, sunny day, chances are a storm is brewing. Consider yourself an early-warning storm system!
Daily Routine Changes
Our bodies function best with a consistent food and sleep routine. Skipping lunch to finish that work project? Staying up late to do laundry? Skimping on your water intake?
Too much disruption to your ideal routine and migraines could result. Try to keep at least one routine consistent, and not change too much at a time. Add alarms to your phone to keep sleep and meals on track. Your body will thank you by not going into migraine mode!
When a migraine hits, you’ll do almost anything to make the pain stop. Pain medications are a common solution, but over time they can make your migraines appear more often, cause more pain, and last longer. The same goes for medications for other migraine symptoms like nausea and vertigo, and high blood pressure meds.
Preventing Or Reducing Migraines
Did you see any familiar triggers in this list? The tricky thing is that what triggered you last week may not trigger you this week. Here are some tips that may help you prevent your next migraine, or reduce its severity:
Keep A Migraine Diary
Keeping a migraine diary for one to three months will reveal your migraine trigger patterns. With so many potential triggers, it’s vital to know what combination of circumstances will push you over your personal migraine threshold. Apps such as Migraine Buddy and Migraine Monitor make it easy to track your triggers. Paper diary templates are available too.
Yoga & Relaxation
As stress and migraines are closely linked, any relaxation practice like mediation, Tai Chi or breathing exercises will reduce your migraine risk. Regular yoga practice can help by reducing anxiety and upper body tension, improving circulation and promoting relaxation. A May 2020 study concluded that “Yoga as an add-on therapy in migraine is superior to medical therapy alone.”
A Nutrient Rich Diet
Which nutrients are effective for migraine treatment? Research shows that magnesium (a.k.a. the relaxation mineral) and CoQ10 supplementation can significantly decrease migraine frequency, duration and severity.
Herbal medicine also has much to offer migraine sufferers. Feverfew and ginger are both ancient herbal migraine remedies, and modern clinical research now supports their efficacy. Ginger also makes a delicious after dinner tea to help you relax and digest!
My go-to Migraine Protocol*
- When I feel a migraine coming on, which thankfully is very rare for me these days, may 1-2 times a year at most, here’s what I do:
- Make sure that I am keeping up with hydration for the day
- 300 – 400mg Magnesium Glycinate every hour for 1-4 hours, as needed
- 2 capsules of New Chapter GingerForce every hour for 1-4 hours, as needed
Don’t Let Your Migraines Linger Untreated
The longer migraines disrupt your life, the more likely that additional issues like depression and anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, constipation and chronic pain in other areas of the body may appear.
We can look at genetic testing to see if you’re at higher migraine risk, Food Sensitivity Testing to find your food triggers, and check your hormone levels to get the full picture. Get in touch with me and let’s work together on a personalized treatment plan with nourishing nutrients that will get you out of non-functioning migraine mode, and ready to face all life’s challenges pain-free.
*Migraine protocol is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.