Migraines: Peter Goadsby discusses preventive drugs
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Migraines are thought to affect one in seven people worldwide, and around 90,000 migraine attacks occur each day in the UK alone! Despite their high prevalence and debilitating nature, fewer than 50 percent of migraine patients are satisfied with currently available pharmaceutical treatments, and many try to self-medicate with over the counter painkillers, increasing the risk of further headaches if overused. Even though there is no set cure for migraines, natural remedies are worth a shot. Express.co.uk chatted to Hannah Braye, Nutritional Therapist for Bio-Kult (www.bio-kult.com), to find out the top seven natural remedies for migraine.
There is no one clear cause or solution to migraines, so tackling them may require investigation into a number of different aspects of health.
However, Nutritional Therapist Hannah said: “By approaching migraine holistically through changes to diet and lifestyle and, in particular, supporting the health of the gut, many sufferers can see a significant improvement in symptoms, allowing them to experience a greater quality of life.”
Not sure where to start? Here are the top seven remedies to try, according to Hannah.
Live bacterial supplements
Migraines are often accompanied by digestive symptoms and there is a clear association between the prevalence of migraines and many digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastro-oesophageal reflux (GORD).
Hannah said: “Low levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut can cause damage to the lining of the digestive tract, contributing to leaky gut.
“Leaky gut is a risk factor for inflammation, and it is thought inflammatory compounds originating from the gut may potentially act on the trigeminal nerve (a major pain pathway) in the brain, triggering migraine attacks.
“Live bacteria supplements are thought to be beneficial due to their ability to help support a healthy microbial balance and the health of the gut lining.
“In fact, a recent clinical trial found that the 14 strains of live bacteria in Bio-Kult Migréa, significantly reduced both episodic and chronic migraine frequency and severity in as little as eight weeks.
Blood magnesium levels have been found to be reduced in migraines, according to Hannah.
She said: “Sufferers compared to non-sufferers and research suggests magnesium deficiency may contribute to attacks (particularly in menstrual migraines).
“Magnesium is easily depleted by intense exercise, stress, alcohol and other factors, and many people may be getting less than optimal amounts through the diet.”
Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, chard, kale and collard greens, are a great source of magnesium so try and eat at least one to two portions a day, the nutritional therapist said.
Hannah added: “Studies indicate that magnesium supplementation also has the ability to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, and contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue (which often accompany attacks).
Regulate your hormones
Varying levels of ovarian hormones, especially oestrogen, may play a role in migraine development, making women more predisposed to attacks.
To help naturally balance hormones, Hannah said it’s important to make sure the liver is functioning optimally as this often-overlooked organ is responsible for deactivating and eliminating hormones from the body.
The nutritional expert said: “Staying well hydrated and eating a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables is advisable.
“In particular, the brassica family of vegetables (eg. broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, kale, turnips, collard and mustard greens, watercress and cabbage) contain compounds called glucosinolates, which increase the activity of liver enzymes involved in hormone detoxification.
“B vitamins are also particularly important for hormone detoxification and vitamin B6, in particular, has been shown to contribute to the regulation of hormonal activity, so supplementation may be beneficial for those whose migraines have a hormonal link.”
Identify hidden food intolerances
Certain foods and food additives are thought to potentially trigger migraine attacks in sensitive individuals.
This can occur within a few hours or some days after eating them.
“This can make identification of trigger foods difficult,” said Hannah.
Common culprits include:
- Catecholamine inducing foods (eg. chocolate, cheese, caffeine, and citrus)
- Tyramine and histamine containing foods (eg. strong/aged cheeses, cured meats and fish, overripe fruit, fermented foods and broad beans)
- Food additives such as nitrates and MSG (found in processed meats and other processed foods), onions, tomatoes, artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose and aspartame), alcohol (especially wine and beer) and gluten.
Hannah said: “Try keeping a detailed food diary and recording any corresponding symptoms to help identify any triggers.
“Or alternatively consider working with a registered nutritional therapist in order to carry out an elimination diet, where commonly aggravating foods are removed for a period of time and re-introduced in a systematic way, once further steps to support the health of the gut have been taken.”
Neurogenic inflammation is believed to play a key role in the development of headaches as low-grade systemic inflammation is thought to contribute to localised inflammation in the brain.
Studies indicate that a combination of increasing anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and reducing more pro-inflammatory omega-6 in the diet may help reduce both duration and frequency of headaches, and the need for medication.
Hannah said: “Omega-3 is found in high amounts in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring (aim for 2-3 portions a week). Vegetarian sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts.
“To reduce omega-6 intake, avoid vegetable and sunflower oils, processed foods and excessive consumption of cereal grains and opt for organic/grass-fed (rather than grain-fed) meats.
“Addressing microbial imbalances in the gut and supporting the health of the gut lining has also been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines.”
Being overweight can increase the risk of migraines and also potentially make them more frequent and severe (possibly due to increased obesity-associated inflammation).
Studies indicate that weight loss intervention may significantly reduce migraine frequency and intensity.
Hannah said: “An integrative approach including nutrition, physical activity and cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be particularly effective.
“Intense exercise however can be a trigger for migraines, whereas gentle to moderate exercise is thought to be beneficial.
“So ease yourself into any new fitness regime by opting for restorative yoga, pilates, swimming, jogging or walks.”
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