Anyone who has experienced the pain of a migraine knows how debilitating it can be. These vise-like headaches can come without warning and may be accompanied by bright lights, nausea, anxiety, and disturbed thinking. They can last for hours or days, upsetting your life and the lives of people around you.
Migraines affect up to 30 percent of women, twice as many as men. There's no one cause, so you may need to be a bit of a detective to figure out what causes your headaches and what solution might be best for you.
One possible cause is an abnormality in blood vessel constriction and dilation caused by unstable blood vessels. Here, large blood vessels are dilated (widened) and smaller blood vessels are constricted, preventing normal blood flow and causing pain.
Chronic stress is one cause of migraines. In this case, the headache is triggered by the production of a pain-producing substance by nerve cells called "substance P." Substance P dilates blood vessels and releases allergic compounds such as histamines. Both food allergies and chronic stress may be implicated in this type of migraine.
Allergies to foods high in chemicals called amines, including phenylethylamine (chocolate and cheeses) and tyramine (red wine, dairy, nuts, citrus, and beans), are also associated with triggering migraines.
Serotonin: But a major cause of migraine headaches is a brain chemical called serotonin. Platelets and small blood vessels store serotonin, chemical that helps blood vessels relax and constrict. Some people with migraines have platelets that clump together more than normal and release excessive amounts of serotonin. Migraines occur when serotonin levels increase. Often, a mitral valve prolapse is present as well. This condition, known as a leaky heart valve, can damage platelets, which only continues the circle of pain.
Migraines may be caused by too much or too little serotonin. The drugs Imitrex and MAO inhibitors increase serotonin production and are used for migraines that originate from too little serotonin. If you're taking these medications, you should know that 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), a natural serotonin-precursor found in natural food stores can give you similar results without side effects.
Vitamin B6 is also needed to help produce serotonin, so be sure to get enough of both 5-HTP and B6. I suggest 25 mg of vitamin B6 along with 100-200 mg of 5-HTP three times a day. Using these nutrients for two or three months may prevent your migraine from recurring.
Low blood sugar is another cause of migraines. Some people have a defect in the way their bodies utilize glucose, causing dips in their glucose levels. Low blood sugar, or fasting, can either prevent or trigger a migraine. If refined sugar, alcohol, potatoes, or other foods that turn into sugar quickly trigger your headache, look to your blood sugar for the cause and solution to your pain. Chromium is a mineral that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Try taking 200- 400 mcg of chromium piccolinate three times a day.
Alkalosis: Florida dentist, Steven N. Green, DDS, has found that alkalosis (too little acid) can bring on a migraine. His solution is to take two grams of a powdered vitamin C with mineral ascorbates every hour until the migraine subsides. If you're prone to migraines, keep a dozen packets of easily available Emer’gen-C handy. Dr. Green uses the Super Gram III, which can be found in natural food stores, many drug stores, and some supermarkets.