Effective Ways To Reduce Migraine Naturally


Migraine is a complex condition associated with severe, recurrent headaches in which throbbing, pulsating or hammering pain is felt on one side of the head. Discomfort often centres around the eye, although it can be felt anywhere on the head or neck. Nausea or vomiting can also occur, along with hypersensitivity to light and noise.

Some people experience a warning ‘aura’ with sensory disturbances up to an hour before an attack. This may include visual symptoms such as shimmering or flashing lights, zig-zag shapes or blind spots, difficulty in speaking, or numbness and tingling on one side of the face.

Migraines tend to build over one to two yours, and can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.

How common is migraine?

Migraine affects at least 1 in 10 adults, with three times more women affected than men. It often runs in families, headachewith symptoms beginning at puberty to cause recurrent attacks until middle age, when they often disappear.

What causes migraine?

Migraine was originally thought to result from the constriction and rebound widening of blood vessels in the brain, leading to congestion. Newer scanning procedures have led to the theory that migraine is due to over-excitability of nerve cells in the brain due to an underlying, low-level inflammation. This is believed to trigger secondary changes in cerebral blood flow in response to certain triggers. This may involve a particular branch of the trigeminal nerve, found within the forehead, which is why devices that stimulate nerves in this part of the body are often effective in preventing and treating migraine. 

Emerging evidence suggests that migraine is associated with disturbances in brain energy metabolism, involving dysfunction of mitochondria, the energy-generating structures found in most cells, including neurons in the brain. A number of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements that improve mitochondrial function are therefore effective in preventing and treating migraine headaches in many people.

Different people find they have different migraine triggers, which can include:

Too much or too little sleep Tiredness and fatigue  Stress or changes in stress levels
Lack of exercise Extreme emotions Smoking cigarettes
Menstruation Ovulation Pregnancy
Bright or fluorescent light Strong odours Weather conditions
Motion sickness Exposure to cold Eating ice cream
Over use of painkillers Medications (eg contraceptive pill) Skipping meals
Dehydration Eating certain foods Drinking red wine

Because individual triggers are so specific to each person, no particular situation will trigger symptoms in all people, or even in the same person at different times. A combination of factors may be needed to bring on an attack.

Researchers have even found that if you make love when you have a headache, the pain can be re-triggered every time you climax for at least six weeks afterwards. In some cases, this re-triggering of headache effect lasts for a year or longer. Not tonight, I’ve got a headache is a valid excuse after all!

NB If you experience recurrent headaches, you should always have a medical assessment to determine the cause. If your doctor confirms that you have migraine, the following nutritional approaches will help.

Nutritional Approaches For Migraine

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Follow a well-balanced, Mediterranean-style diet that emphasises wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, fish and is low in salt – the so-called DASH diet designed for people with high blood pressure is ideal. Keep your intake of refined carbohydrates (eg sugar, white bread, white rice, white pasta) to a minimum but eat little and often to maintain blood glucose levels. Select healthy snacks such as fruit, and drink sufficient fluids – especially water.

Cutting back on dietary fat may help. One study found that following a low-fat diet significantly reduced migraine frequency, intensity, duration and the need for medication. Concentrate on obtaining healthy oils (olive, fish, nut oils) instead as research suggests that increasing intakes of omega-3 fats and reducing omega-6s can reduce the frequency, duration and severity of migraine – possibly due to beneficial anti-inflammatory effects.

Eat magnesium-rich foods (eg spinach, sweet potatoes, and wholegrains) as levels of magnesium are consistently low in people with migraine and magnesium deficiency may be present in up to half of sufferers.

A night-time snack may reduce migraine

Going all night without food triggers physiological changes that include release of stress hormones, in a similar way to skipping meals or fasting during the day. When researchers analyzed over a thousand food diaries they found that having a night-time snack before bed reduced the chance of experiencing a migraine headache on the following day by 40% compared to days without a previous night’s snack. Even eating a late dinner reduced the odds of a headache the next day by 21%, although this finding was not statistically significant and could have occurred by chance alone.

Avoid chewing gum which can trigger migraine

If you normally use chewing gum, it’s a good idea to stop. Gum chewing has been identified as a cause of chronic headache in children and adolescents – probably due to tension in the large chewing muscles or strain around the temporomandibular joints which irritates the trigeminal nerve. When a group of 30 teenagers were advised to stop using chewing gum for a month, 26 out of the 30 reported significant improvements and 19 found their migraine headaches disappeared. When 20 of the group decided to reintroduce their chewing gum habit, all experienced a recurrence of their migraines within days.

Identify food triggers for migraine

Many foods are known to trigger migraine, especially milk, German sausages and cheese. Other reported dietary triggers include coffee, garlic, eggs, beans, beef, citrus fruits, corn, fried foods, nuts, pork, shellfish, tea, tomatoes, chocolate, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and red wine. In fact, it’s worth cutting out all alcohol – at least for a month – to see how you respond. Alcoholic drinks are a headache trigger for around one in three people with migraine – possibly due to a direct toxic effect on brain cells rather than through dilation of blood vessels.

Keep a food diary for migraine

Because triggers are so individual, keeping a food diary can help to pinpoint associations. Jot down everything you eat for at least two weeks, or long enough to cover 3 migraine attacks. Bear in mind that trigger foods/drinks are usually consumed 24 to 48 hours before the migraine occurs.

While keeping your diary, do you best to eliminate all other factors such as menstruation or work stress as far as possible. Avoid missing meals as a survey of 123 migraine sufferers found that fasting was among the most common migraine triggers. 

Consider immune testing for migraine triggers

bloodtstIf you have difficulty pinpointing your migraine food triggers, a finger prick blood test that assess blood levels of anti-food antibodies may help. This clinical immune testing (ELISA) identifies any raised levels of antibodies (IgG) aimed against certain foods – typically 100 to 200 foods are assessed.

Eliminating foods to which you have a raised IgG level may reduce the frequency and severity of your migraine attacks. Although controversial, research studies have shown benefits in some people.

In one study, 84 people were advised to remove ‘true’ foods identified by immune testing, while another 83 were asked to eliminate ‘sham’ foods to which they did not have raised IgG antibodies. After 4 weeks, those following the ‘true’ diet had significantly fewer (23%) migraine headaches, while at 12 weeks the difference was 15% fewer headaches. 

In another study, involving 21 people with both migraine and irritable bowel syndrome, eliminating foods to which they had raised IgG levels significantly fewer attacks, maximum attack duration, and maximum attack severity compared to when they were not following the diet.

A further study, involving 30 people diagnosed with migraine without aura, also showed a statistically significant reduction in the number of headache days and the number of migraine attacks while eliminating the foods for which raised levels of IgG antibodies were identified. The researchers concluded that ‘diet restriction based on IgG antibodies is an effective strategy in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks’.

The immune testing kits involve taking a small pinprick sample of blood which is sent to an accredited laboratory for testing. The blood tests aren’t cheap, but if other approaches haven’t helped to identify your trigger foods, they remain a useful option.

Most food intolerance tests check for raised IgG antibody levels to at least 50 foods, including common migraine triggers such as milk, yeast, wheat, soy, mushroom, coffee and garlic. 

 

Effective devices to reduce migraine headache

A variety of devices are designed to help relieve or reduce migraine attacks. Some have a simple pain-killing action, some block out bright light or particular light wavelengths, while others were developed by scientists to reduce headache through actions on the nervous system – especially a branch of the trigeminal nerve in the forehead.

Cefaly nerve stimulation for migraine

The symptoms of many migraine headaches involve the trigeminal nerve, one branch of which ends above the eye socket, and within the forehead.

The first generation Cefaly device reduces migraine symptoms using an adhesive electrode placed on the forehead over the trigeminal nerve. Cefaly generates precise micro-impulses to produce a relaxing effect on this nerve and surrounding muscles. When used for 20 minutes a day, Cefaly reduces migraine symptoms in 40% to 50% of migraine sufferers. Cefaly can also be used when you feel a migraine coming on to reduce progression of an attack. It usually takes up to six weeks before full improvement is felt.

image004The latest device, Cefaly II, also applies precise neurostimulation to the supraorbital branch of the trigeminal nerves. It has been redesigned to include a magnetic contact between the forehead electrodes to improve conductivity between the two, and headband ‘arms’ have been removed so it can be used while wearing glasses, and is easier to carry with you in a pocket or handbag.

Both Cefaly devices are side effect free, and are even safe enough for use in children over 8 years of age, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. There is a 60 day partially refundable guarantee. Electrodes can be re-used for around 20 sessions before they need to be replaced.

The original Cefaly is highly effective at reducing migraine, banishing them altogether in many people with regular use. Although an expensive investment, the 60 partially refundable guarantee means you can evaluate its effectiveness and return it if it doesn’t work for you. Many patients describe it as a life-saver.

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Cefaly II attaches to the forehead via an adhesive electrode strip.

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Occles for migraine

Occles Eyewear provides a total blackout. Originally invented to block bright sunlight when sunbathing, they are also highly effective for removing light stimulation when a migraine attack is coming on, making it easier to rest, meditate or sleep even in the most uncomfortable situations. They rest gently over the eyes, with soft seals that let you open your eyes – even when in bright light – with full sun protection.

Importantly, they don’t press against the trigeminal nerve branch in the forehead.

occles-pillow-pack-front occles-aqua-top occles-wihte

Occles blackout eyewear provide UVA/UVB and blue light blocking protection. 

They are adjustable to fit a range of head sizes. Available in aqua, black and white.

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Green light for migraine

Researchers have found that exposure to pure-green wavelengths reduces sensitivity to light and the severity of migraine headache by at least 20%. Scientists are currently developing a light bulb that emits a pure, narrow band wavelength of green light at low intensity, as well as sunglasses that block all but this narrow band of pure green light. In the meantime, green lenses that block red and blue light have been launched to reduce light sensitivity during a headache.

Migralens Migraine Headache Relief Glasses are approved by the Migraine Action Association. These wrap-around glasses block out red and blue light wavelengths which can make headaches worse, to reduce the intensity, severity and duration of migraines..

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Cooling relief for migraine

Taking too many oral painkillers is now recognised as a potential trigger for migraine, and can cause a rebound headache in some people. Several topical alternatives can relive pain and muscle tension via effects on nerve endings, but onlyi a few are suitable for use on the forehead.

The latest development in treating both migraine and difficulty sleeping is the recognition that cooling the head helps. Exposure to cold causes dilated blood vessels to constrict, relieving headache and cooling the brain which, in turn, releases chemicals that promote a better night’s sleep.

The Migra-Cap combines cold therapy and darkness to relieve migraine headaches. A cut-away design allows you to pull long hair through for comfort. Store in a fridge or freezer ready for use. Available colours include Lavender, Purple, Royal Blue, Navy or Black. Keep the gel-filled cap in the fridge ready for use.

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The IMAK Eye Pillow is a pain-relief mask with massaging beads that is designed to help soothe migraines, headaches, sinusitis or puffy eyes.  The mask can also be chilled in the fridge or freezer for maximum effectiveness.  Available in black or teal blue.

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Kool’n’Soothe Migraine Cooling Strips do not require refrigeration and work for up to 8 hours. Once removed from its packaging, the soft gel sheet can be cut to size, if needed, and is designed to stick to the forehead so it stays in place. Fragrance-free.

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Arkopharma’s cooling, roll-on Migrastick relieves headache and migraine using 100% pure, natural essential oils of Mint and Lavender. Simply roll over your temples, forehead and the nape of your neck using circular massage movements. Lovely scent and nice to use.

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4head is my go-to remedy whenever I experience a headache. Swipe the menthol stick across your forehead and the rapid, cooling sensation usually relieves tension and an incipient headache within 15 minutes. Use it as soon as possible when you feel a migraine coming on. It is non-greasy, colourless and does not leave a sticky residue.

4head can be used repeatedly, as often as required, although I’ve never needed to use it more than twice for the same headache. I keep a 4head in my handbag, one in my bedside drawer, one in my office, and one in the car. Don’t throw away in the inner cap – replace it to keep the menthol from evaporating away. One of my 4head sticks is still going strong, and effective, after ten years!

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 New 4head Quickstrips are specially formulated to treat migraine headaches. Place one on the forehead for instant cooling relief and to relax tense head and neck muscles. Works for up to 6 hours and is ideal for use when lying down. For when out and about, of course, the original 4head swipe stick provides invisible relief.

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Magnetic therapy for migraine

I am a great fan of magnetic therapy. Every cell in your body generates its own electromagnetic field due to the flow of electrically charged ions in and out of cells, and the transmission of electric impulses along nerve cell membranes. Red blood cells also contain the pigment, haemoglobin, whose iron molecules are readily magnetised. Researchers have also found minute particles of magnetite within the human brain which are believed to play a role in modulating brain waves and biorhythm cycles.

Your cells and nerves interact with the electromagnetic fields produced of magnets placed near the skin, and the effects are spread around the body by magnetised red blood cells in your circulation.

Although research is limited, a study involving 77 people found that 4 weeks of impulse magnetic-field therapy produced clear or very clear relief of headaches, including migraine, in 76% of those receiving active treatment compared to 2.5% of those receiving placebo treatment.

The Medipaq Magnetic Headband is designed to quickly relieve migraines and other headaches. It contains 7 therapeutic magnets

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Supplements & herbs to prevent migraine headache

Some people prefer to use a natural approach to relieving pain, especially if they have experienced side effects to over-the-counter or prescribed analgesics, such as rebound headache. The following supplements have some research evidence to back their use in the prevention or treatment of migraine.  Most of them appear to work, at least in part, through their roles in energy production.

If you are taking any prescribed medicines, always check with a pharmacist before taking any migraine supplements to ensure there are no known interactions.

Vitamin B2 for migraine

Pilltime(1)Migraine is believed to involve disturbances in brain energy metabolism, and vitamin B2 supplements can improve the function of mitochondria – energy-generating structures – within brain cells.

A review of 11 study, seven involving adults, and 4 with children, found that vitamin B2 supplements (riboflavin) are a safe and well-tolerate option for prevention migraine symptoms in adults, although it is less effective in children.

In one study, involving 55 people with migraine, the frequency of attacks and number of headache days was reduced by at least half for 59% of those taking 400mg riboflavin daily, compared with a similar improvement in only 15% taking placebo

Taking vitamin B2 (riboflavin) will colour your urine bright yellow, but it is a safe vitamin to take. The upper tolerable level for long-term use from supplements is suggested as 40mg, but short-term use of 400mg has been used in clinical trials to prevent migraine.

No studies have reported significant adverse effects from high riboflavin consumption and, in fact, the EU failed to derive an upper limit for riboflavin due to lack of evidence. However, if you decide to take high doses, do seek individual advice from a nutritional therapist. 

You may obtain beneficial effects from lower doses, of course.

Magnesium for migraine

Eat magnesium-rich foods (eg spinach, sweet potatoes, and wholegrains) as levels of magnesium are consistently low in people with migraine and magnesium deficiency may be present in up to half of sufferers.Magnesium is also important for mitochondrial function and energy production in cells, including brain cells.

A trial involving 70 people referred to an emergency department with migraine compared the effectiveness of magnesium supplements against usual prescribed treatment (dexamethasone and metoclopramide). The results showed that taking magnesium supplements was associated with decreased pain severity at 20 minutes, 1 hour and 2 hours compared with drug therapy. The emergency department concluded that magnesium sulfate was a more effective and fast-acting treatment for acute migraine headaches than standard medical care.

Another trial showed that taking magnesium supplements (360mg/day) reduced menstrual migraine when taken in the two weeks before menstruation, and significantly reduced the number of days with headache compared with placebo.

If you are sensitive to the laxative effects of magnesium, using it as a spray that is absorbed through the skin is a popular option. 

Co-enzyme Q10 for migraine

Co-enzyme Q10 is another factor needed by mitochondria for energy production within cells, including those of the brain. Low levels of CoQ10 mean that cells do not receive all the energy they need and they function at a sub-optimal level which, in the brain, has been associated with migraine headache.

A study that compared co-enzyme Q10 (100mg three times a day) against placebo in 42 people with migraine showed that by the 3rd month of treatment, Co-enzyme Q10 was significantly better than placebo for reducing attack-frequency, headache days and days with nausea. Symptoms were at least halved in 47.6% of those taking co-enzyme Q10 compared with 14.4% of those on placebo.

Two forms of CoQ10 are available – ubiquinol, which is the reduced, ‘body-ready’ form, and ubiquinone which is converted into ubiquinol within the mitochondria for use.

Combinations may work best

The above three supplements, riboflavin, magnesium and co-enzyme Q10, are often taken together for the synergistic effects on energy production in cells, and have been combined in clinical trials.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Headache and Pain, involved 130 adults who experienced at least three migraine attacks per month. These were divided into two groups. Half were asked to take a fixed combination of magnesium (600mg), riboflavin (400mg) and co-enzyme Q10 (150mg) in a supplement (Migravent/Dolovent) which includes other multivitamins and trace elements that help to maintain energy production in the brain. The other half were given tablets with no active ingredients.

After three months treatment, migraine days declined from 6.2 days per month to 4.4 days in the active supplement group, and the intensity of migraine pain also significantly reduced. In those taking placebo, migraine days only reduced from 6.2 days down to 5.2 days with little change in pain intensity.

 

Ginkgo biloba for migraine

Ginkgo biloba is among the oldest living tree species, dating back over 270 million years.Its fan-shaped leaves contain a variety of unique antioxidants that have been shown to stabilise cell membranes, relax blood vessel walls and increase the flexibility of red blood cells, so that oxygen-rich blood flows more freely through the brain and peripheries.

A study involving 25 people who experienced migraine with aura, who were asked to record their symptoms during two consecutive attacks. In the first one, they only took note of the duration of their neurological symptoms. In the following attack, they were instructed to take a combination of 60 mg Ginkgo biloba, 11 mg coenzyme Q10 and 8.7 mg vitamin B2 (Migrasoll). Aura duration (expressed in minutes) was significantly reduced by taking the Ginkgo supplement and, in four people, the pain phase disappeared. 

The doses used in this study were relatively low. Better results may occur with higher doses, but have not yet been tested against migraine in clinical trials.

Doses of Ginkgo biloba that are used to treat migraine vary from 60mg to 6000mg.

A dose of 120mg is typically used to improve memory. Higher doses of 6000mg may be helpful for preventing migraine.

5-HTP for migraine

5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP) is only found in two places in nature – in the human body, and in the seeds of a West African medicinal plant, Griffonia simplicifolia.

5-HTP has been used in the prevention and treatment of chronic daily headache, tension headache and migraine. It acts as a building block to boost production of serotonin in the brain, which is involved in regulating the dilation and constriction of brain blood flow. 5-HTP is also thought to increase pain thresholds by increasing levels of endorphins – the brain’s own morphine-like painkillers.It also promotes better sleep through conversion on to melatonin hormone.

When compared with the prescribed beta-blocker, propranolol, and placebo, 5-HTP produced a statistically significant reduction in frequency of migraine attacks and was consider a possible alternative to propranolol for many patients.

Another study involved 124 people who were treated with 5-HTP or the antimigraine drug, methysergide. Significant improvements were seen in 71% taking 5-HTP and 74% taking methysergide, who experienced either prevention or a substantially decreased number of attacks. Side effects were less frequent with 5-HTP, however, and its greatest benefits were in reducing the intensity and duration of attacks. The researchers concluded that 5-HTP coud be a treatment of choice for preventing migraine.

It is important to buy products made to pharmaceutical standard to ensure there are no contaminants. Which ever brand you select, check that it is made to GMP in the UK or CGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practice) in the US.

Feverfew for migraine

Feverfew is a plant belonging to the daisy family. Its leaves contain a substance called parthenolide whose actions regulate serotonin effects in the brain to reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. In the UK it is classed as a traditional herbal medicine for the treatment of migraine

In clinical trials, 70 per cent of people taking feverfew leaf extract found it either prevented headaches or lessened their severity. In three out of four trials, feverfew extracts lessened the severity of headaches as well as related symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

A study published in The Lancet showed that feverfew significantly reduced the average number and severity of migraine attacks, and the degree of vomiting, with no serious side effects.

In a trial involving 170 people with migraine, taking feverfew extracts for 16 weeks reduced the average number of migraine attacks per month by 1.9, with the chance of responding being 3.4 times that of placebo.

Butterbur for migraine

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is an interesting plant that grows in damp, marshy areas and is commonly known as bog rhubarb. Its leaves, root and bulb contain a number of substances, such as petasin and isopetasin, which have natural pain killing, antispasm and anti-inflammatory actions.

Butterbur has a long history of use to relieve migraine, with studies suggesting it is significantly more effective than placebo, reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks by up to 68%.

Until 2012 it was one of the most popular herbal medicines used in the UK to prevent and treat migraine. Then, on what some scientists feel were flimsy grounds, manufacturers were asked to remove Butterbur products from their shelves. Cases of liver damage had been associated with the use of some Butterbur products due to the presence of substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). The herb is not on the list of prohibited herbs in the UK, however, as there was insufficient evidence to ban it, and some people import it for their personal use.

Butterbur remains available in the US, however, where it is a popular supplement to prevent and treat migraine headache.

For absolute safety, it is important to select a product that has been tested and is certified as ‘PA free’. 

Seeking Help

It is important to seek medical advice if you experience:

  • Three or more headaches a week
  • A headache that keeps getting worse and won’t go away
  • Other symptoms such as a stiff neck, fever, vomiting, confusion, drowsiness or unexpected symptoms affecting your eyes, ears, nose or throat
  • A headache plus dizziness, slurred speech, weakness, or changes in sensation (numbness and/or tingling) which may indicate a stroke or mini-stroke
  • A persistent headache following a head injury
  • A headache triggered by exertion, coughing, bending or sexual activity.

Please leave feedback

Have you used any natural remedies to treat migraine? If so, which have you found most helpful? If you have any questions, comments, or product recommendations, please use the comment form below. Thanks.

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About Dr Sarah Brewer

Dr Sarah Brewer qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine and Surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master's degree in nutritional medicine from the University of Surrey. Sarah is a licensed Medical Doctor, a Registered Nutritionist and a Registered Nutritional Therapist. She is an award winning author of over 60 popular self-help books and set up this site to showcase all that is good in the world of self-help.

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