3 ways to get rid of migraines for good

By Alive & Well

Marj had her first migraine the other day. She didn’t actually know what it was at the time – she just thought she might be going blind. So you know, not stressful at all.

When she came up for air, she asked me to find out what the bejesus that was all about.

The word ‘migraine’ is one of those words that gets bandied about lightly (sometimes by lovely people seeking a serious-sounding excuse for a doona day) – a bit like ‘flu’ when ‘cold’ will do.

Frankly, colds are miserable enough, and so are headaches. But migraines take things to another level – specifically, a vascular level, where your blood vessels enlarge and chemicals are released from the nerve fibres that coil around those vessels, causing inflammation and intense pain.

Marj’s warning signs were textbook – she’d had a background headache all day, and then in the late afternoon she started seeing stars as she typed away on her computer. This morphed into blurred vision, to the point where she couldn’t really see anything in front of her, and then the nausea set in…

When migraines strike – and why

Credit: Lel4ndMigraine attacks can last anywhere from 6 to 48 hours, and in most cases they bring on a level of nausea, numbness, weakness, exhaustion and sensitivity to light and sound that is genuinely debilitating (and often, worse on one side of the head).

So what causes them? Well, take your pick. One study suggested that more than 70% of patients suffered migraines in reaction to food intolerances[1], but these joyous things can be triggered by a bunch of different things including:

  • too much alcohol, caffeine or smoking (your own or someone else’s)
  • food – intolerances, or just overdoing it on overly-processed foods like some commercial chocolate, or preservative-heavy foods like smoked fish and chicken, or anything with MSG or nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, some salami)
  • short-circuiting senses – exposure to certain odours or perfumes, or loud noises or bright lights
  • changing sleep patterns or skipping meals
  • acute physical or emotional stress
  • extreme dehydration and a lack of good salts in the diet.

How to get rid of them for good

Minimise your use of painkillers as much as possible. They won’t address any of the underlying symptoms, may set you up for painful recurrence, may even add to the problem (reaction to medication is another trigger) and are highly addictive.

Start with the healthiest, most balanced lifestyle you can manage. Diet, exercise and stress management are critical and can eradicate the vast majority of migraines if they’re managed properly.

Specifically, the best things you can do to live a migraine-free life are:

1. Work out what your triggers are, and avoid them like the plague

If it’s a food intolerance, find out what it is and just remove it from your diet. If it’s medication, work with your doctor to find an alternative. If it’s always after a boozy night out, think twice about how much you drink. Increase your awareness of what happens in the day prior to your migraine and you will find your answer.

2. Drink lots of water every day

People who are prone to migraines should really drink 3-4 litres of water every day to ward off the chances of dehydration. The rest of us should be on 2 litres per day anyway.

3. Check your biochemical status and address nutritional deficiencies

This is easily done with a holistic doctor or naturopath and a few simple tests. Some of the most common issues amongst migraine sufferers are:

  • Lack of magnesium, which can be addressed with supplementation and/or a diet rich in foods like spinach, pumpkin, seeds, peanuts, tofu, broccoli and black beans
  • Abnormal prostaglandin levels – prostaglandin are molecules in your body that send important messages around the place – or not, if they’re unhappy, in which case you should lower your consumption of animal fats, and up your intake of essential fatty acids via foods such as salmon, herring, mackerel, hemp oil, walnuts, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, olive oil, flaxseed oil and wholegrain foods[2]
  • Low omega-3, particularly amongst adolescents[3] – supplementation can bring the body back to balance quickly.

Talk to whichever health professionals you need to – physical, mental or otherwise – to get to the bottom of your migraine triggers.

In the meantime, when you feel one coming on, drink a litre of cold water immediately and lie down for 30 minutes – ideally, in a quiet, dark room with your eyes closed.

What sets off your migraines? How do you manage them?

(1) Natero G et al: Dietary migraine: fact or fiction? Headache 29:315, 1989.
(2) Woodcock BE, Smith E, Lambert WH, et al: Beneficial effect of fish oil on blood viscosity in peripheral vascular disease, BMJ 288:592, 1984.
(3) Harel Z, Gascon G, Riggs S, et al: Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of recurrent migraines in adolescents, Journal of Adolescent Health 31:154, 2002.