Chronic migraine sufferers know the feeling all too well — that debilitating, hide-in-your-room pain that seems to always hit you at the wrong times.
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Relief often comes in the form of ibuprofen or a prescription rescue medication, but did you know there are natural, drug-free ways to fight (and prevent!) those crippling migraine headaches, too?
“From my perspective, an integrative, functional medicine approach should start with the basics,” says integrative medicine specialist Melissa Young, MD. “We need to assess diet, nutrient levels, sleep, hydration and stress, all of which are common triggers for migraine and headache.”
Here are four ways Dr. Young suggests to combat chronic migraine headaches:
1. Eat frequently
Eating small, frequent meals keeps your blood sugar stable and helps control migraines. Try following a mainly Mediterranean diet – one high in fruits, vegetables, beans, lean proteins, such as free-range chicken and turkey, and healthy fats, such as wild salmon, nuts and seeds and olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet has shown to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack and death related to heart problems by 30%.
2. Watch for dietary triggers
What you put in your body can have an effect on your migraine headaches. Consume caffeine in moderation, including regular and decaffeinated coffee, over-the-counter medicines and prescription medications.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) commonly found in Chinese food.
- Nitrates found in deli meats, pepperoni and hot dogs.
- Sulfites in salad bars, wine and dried fruit.
- Artificial sweeteners.
- Greasy, fried food.
“Watch for any reactions to aged cheeses, chocolate, alcohol and fermented and pickled foods, which are also common dietary triggers,” says Dr. Young. “Your doctor may recommend a therapeutic elimination diet to determine if you have delayed food sensitivities, including gluten.”
3. Get enough nutrients
Your doctor should also check for nutritional deficiencies.
“There appears to be a link between the mitochondrial energy production in your cells and migraines,” says Dr. Young. “Making sure you have the right levels of CoQ-10, vitamin B2 and magnesium, in particular, is helpful in the prevention and treatment of migraine.”
If you take any supplements, it’s important to let your doctor know. They may recommend a 400 mg daily riboflavin (vitamin B2) dose, three 100 mg CoQ-10 doses daily to reduce symptoms or 400 mg to 1,200 mg of a magnesium glycinate daily dose.
“In addition to migraines, low magnesium levels can lead to constipation, muscle cramps, fibromyalgia, fatigue and anxiety,” she says. “Herbal therapies, such as butterbur and feverfew, can also help prevent migraines.”
Butterbur is beneficial for seasonal allergy symptoms and feverfew, an herb that prevents blood vessel dilation, may help combat migraines, too.
Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can trigger migraines. Lifestyle measures like diet, exercise, weight loss, as well as herbs in some cases, support hormone balance and lessens this particular trigger for migraines.
4. Manage your stress
While stress is an inevitable part of life, making lifestyle changes to manage your stress can also decrease the number and severity of your migraines and tension headaches.
“I teach meditation to my patients, including mindfulness and mantra meditation,” says Dr. Young. “Diaphragmatic breathing and the 4-7-8 breath technique are powerful tools to decrease the impact of stress on the body.”
Chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapy can also offer migraine relief. If you decide to go this route, be sure to consult with a trained integrative functional medicine physician who can create a personalized treatment plan based on your health history and a physical exam. To get the maximum benefit, find a provider who is experienced in searching for and identifying the root causes of migraines.
“From my perspective, functional integrative medicine assesses the underlying causes for each individual patient and personalized their treatment,” she says. “There is often an underlying genetic predisposition for migraines, but when we identify and treat each person’s unique environmental triggers, we see improvements in the severity and frequency of their headaches.”