Sunday, March 13, 2011
The Dreaded Migraine Headache
There was a time when I suffered from occasional migraine headaches, putting me out of commission until the next day. Vibrating with pain, I’d have to take myself to bed, suffering in darkness, willing the pressure to subside as I tried as best I could to breathe it away. So many of us suffer from migraines, recognizing the warning signals that herald them and then either taking strong measures to assuage them through pills or herbs, or just simply trying to sleep the pain away.
Migraine headache occurs when blood vessels enlarge due to a chemical imbalance in the system. This triggers pressure throughout the nervous system, leaving us with symptoms such sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, diarrhea, tingling in the hands and feet, flashes of light, and blind spots. Because migraines prevent the stomach from emptying into the small intestine, we also can experience discomfort in the entire digestive system.
It’s In the Details
Migraine headaches are the result of the enlargement of the temporal artery, which is a major artery located outside the skull under the skin. As it swells, it releases chemicals that are drawn to the inflamed blood vessels. Simultaneously, the trigeminal nerve, the major sensory nerve in the face that affects muscles for biting, chewing, and swallowing, is affected. Serotonin, the chemical that regulates pain, also become imbalanced. When serotonin levels are out of sync, neuropeptides are released that then travel to the outer covering of the brain, or the meninges, causing the blinding pain we associate with migraine headaches.
Causes of Migraines
Migraines can be triggered by many factors, depending on your individual biochemical makeup. Affecting over 28 million Americans, women are generally more susceptible to them than men, as often they are generated by menstruation, PMS, and menopause. When there are extreme hormonal fluctuations in the body, levels of estrogen and testosterone are affected. It is also possible that certain hormonal medications can trigger or deepen the pain of a migraine headache. This can include certain hormone replacement formulae as well as oral contraceptives.
One of the most common triggers for migraine headaches are certain foods, especially those containing tyramine. A partial list of these foods includes red wine, aged cheeses, beans, figs, smoked fish, and chicken livers. Nitrates are major culprits, so if you are migraine-prone, cut down or better yet, eliminate foods like bacon, salami, hot dogs, or any type of smoked food. Eating processed and fast foods can lead to migraines as they also contain nitrates along with a host of other unfriendly additives. Monosodium Glutamate or MSG, is especially dangerous. This is often used in Chinese food, so make sure when ordering from your favorite Chinese restaurant that you specifically request no MSG. Too much salt, aspartame, and caffeine can trigger symptoms, as can nuts, peanut butter, chocolate, citrus fruit, onions, dairy, and pickled or fermented foods.
Each one of us has her or his particular sensitivity to various factors in the environment. Some people suffer from migraine headaches due to their genetic makeup. Other factors can include sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, the sun’s glare, potent and toxic smells such as those found in cleaning solutions, paint thinners, and the like.
Migraine headaches can occur when we don’t get a decent night’s sleep or when we get too much sleep. Jet lag, fluctuations in barometric pressure, and certain medications can also bring on symptoms of a migraine. Exposure to smoke, emotional or physical stress, overexertion, or too much sensory stimulation can also be culprits. Skipping meals and fasting can also bring on migraine headaches as the body begins to release toxins.
If you do get migraine headaches, try to identify the triggers so you can steer clear of them in the future. Drink plenty of water to wash the toxins out of your system. Drinking ginger tea is helpful for migraines that occur in the front of the head. Other herbal teas that are helpful are feverfew, peppermint, passionflower, ginkgo biloba and white willow bark. Lie down in a comfortable, quiet, dark place and breathe deeply and consistently until sleep comes or the symptoms abate. Remember, “this too shall pass.”