Facts about migraine and key triggers
- Figures from the Migraine Trust (www.migrainetrust.org) show a staggering 25 million days are lost from work or school as a result of migraines.
- A migraine isn’t just any old headache. Although sufferers can experience the condition very differently, it is commonly characterised by throbbing head pain that is often accompanied by nausea, sometimes vomiting, tingling in the arms and hypersensitivity to light and sound. They can also find their vision becomes disturbed.
- According to the NHS one in five women and one in every 15 men in the UK suffer with migraine, experiencing an average of 13 attacks a year. An attack can last anything from a few hours to a few days and can be severely debilitating. Research shows women suffer more with migraines because of their higher levels of oestrogen.
- Migraine is often an inherited condition but can be triggered by stress, hormones, change of routine, certain foods and drinks, skipping meals and lack of sleep. Reassuringly, episodes tend to become less frequent with age.
- The ancient Greeks apparently tried to treat it by drilling a hole through the skull to release evil spirits from the head. Thankfully we now have less intrusive ways of dealing with it like these…
Eat enough but avoid ‘trigger’ foods
‘Food can play a role in the onset of migraines for some people,’ says Rob Hobson, Registered Nutritionist and Head of Nutrition at Healthspan, ‘with the most common triggers being chocolate and caffeine, as well as red wine (all of these contain high amounts of the amino acid tyramine). So you could start by removing these foods and drinks from your diet to see if helps.’ Rob also recommends you eat regularly as skipping meals is often a trigger and get enough foods rich in vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin (such as fish, eggs and dark green vegetables) which have been shown to help some migraine sufferers. Ditto enough magnesium-rich foods (see below).
Give it the hot and cold treatment
At the first sign of an attack grab yourself a coffee or tea – in small amounts caffeine can help head off an attack. But don’t overdo it – or you risk getting a ‘comedown’ caffeine withdrawal headache later. Then if you can, apply a cold compress to your forehead (ice cubes wrapped in a tea towel or a bag of frozen vegetables will do the trick) for around 15 minutes. This should have a numbing effect which can help dull the sensation of pain. In a study 77 per cent of those who used a cold compress during a migraine found it effective.
Use this dried herb
‘In clinical studies dried Feverfew leaf has been shown to reduce both the frequency and intensity of migraines’, says Dr Dick Middleton, director of the British Herbal Medical Association (www.bhma.info). The results are not instantaneous however and he adds, ‘It is important to take the dried herb continuously for several months to see maximum benefit.’ Feverfew, part of the daisy family, was known as ‘medieval aspirin’ and in clinical trials has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. You can find the dried leaf in Migraherb and Healthspan’s Feverfew Migraine Relief, £16.99 (www.healthspan.co.uk)
Around four out of five people who get migraines say stress is a trigger. Relaxing after a period of intensive stress can also be a common catalyst and researchers believe this is due to changes in certain brain chemicals like serotonin (known to help regulate pain). There are a range of de-stressing techniques to help you deal with stress and help head off migraine. Exercise is one of the simplest and most effective. Mindfulness and meditation apps are also easily downloadable and many people find them helpful. For other quick and natural ways to tackle stress and mild anxiety try A.Vogel Stress Relief Daytime Valerian-Hops oral drops, £10.50 or AvenaCalm, £10.50 containing stress-relieving hops and the herb valerian (Boots and avogel.co.uk).
Root it out…
A 2014 study involving 100 migraine sufferers compared the effectiveness of ground ginger with sumatriptan, a widely used migraine drug and the effectiveness of the ginger in treating symptoms was similar to the sumatriptan. Ground ginger is readily available from most supermarkets and is made by simply drying out fresh ginger root and grinding it into a powder. Ginger is also known to be helpful for alleviating nausea, another common migraine symptom. Try to add it regularly to your food (use it in curries and stir-fries or add it to fruit like stewed pears) or make ginger tea by adding boiling water to chopped fresh ginger root and allowing it to brew for around five-10 minutes.
Get enough of this mineral
There is some evidence that magnesium levels in the brain may be low during a migraine. Good sources of magnesium-rich foods include bananas, avocado, nuts and seeds, pulses, mackerel, low fat yogurt and figs. Research has also shown supplementation of magnesium can reduce the frequency of migraines (especially those with aura and other visual disturbances) for some people when compared to a placebo. Take it as a supplement in capsule form and/or add it to your bath in the form of Epsom salts or magnesium flakes.
Sniff out these…
Inhaling lavender essential oil appears to significantly ease migraine pain for some according to research published in the journal European Neurology in 2012. Those who inhaled lavender oil for 15 minutes during an attack recovered faster than those using a placebo. It can be inhaled by sprinkling a few drops on a tissue and breathing in deeply and/or you can massage a few drops onto the temples. The menthol in peppermint essential oil might also stop a migraine from developing according to a small 2010 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice. It was also found to alleviate nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light associated with migraine. The participants applied it to their forehead and temples to relieve symptoms. Find lavender and peppermint in Puressentiel’s handy Headache Roller Roll-on, £7.99 (Boots or uk.puresseniel.com).Last modified: June 10, 2021