Treating and preventing headaches and migraines

Treating and preventing headaches and migraines

Author -  Good Health

Headaches - nobody wants them, nearly everyone gets them! Not all headaches are the same though and recognising what type of headache you have can be the difference between remedy and prolonged pain. Distinguish which type of headache you suffer from and learn how to treat and prevent them...

The first step in preventing and treating headaches & migraines is determining which type of head pain you're suffering from...

Cluster Headaches
A type of headache that persists for several minutes to several hours each episode. They return regularly for weeks or months and affect around 1% of the population. They are six times more common in males than in females and usually occur in those who have a higher consumption of alcohol or who smoke. The Pain usually comes on rapidly without warning and peaks within 2-15 minutes, with the pain felt around the eye or temple and are always unilateral (affects only one side of the head). They usually last for thirty minutes to two hours (average 45 minutes) in about 75%. Cluster headaches are often described as feeling like a "hot poker" being driven through the eye.  Other symptoms that can occur with cluster headaches are eye redness, tearing and nasal drainage.  The Pain of Cluster Headaches usually begins in, around, or above the Eye or the Temple and occasionally the face, neck, ear or hemicranium may be affected.

Exertional headaches
These usually occur as a result of strenuous exercise and involve severe pain around the back of the head. Excertional headaches affect 10% of people and are more common in men than women. The good news is they usually subside within a few minutes. They probably result from dehydration and an increase in blood pressure or circulation.

Migraine (also known as a Vascular Headache)
A migraine is characterized by a recurrent throbbing headache that often starts with symptoms such as flickering bright lights, blurring of vision, or numbness.

The classic migraine is different to the common migraine by an "aura" which signals the advent of a migraine approximately 30 minutes prior to its full onset. This "aura" manifests as flashes of whirling lights and/or black spots or blind spots, which distort the normal visual field, and an attack can last from one to 72 hours long.

The common migraine is characterized by a pulsating, severe pain, located on one side of the head, especially in the forehead or temple areas and is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or noise.

Migraines occur from constriction, which is then followed by dilation in the cerebral blood vessels. Migraines affect 10% of the population - 17% of women and 5% of men; with the most susceptible group being women aged 25 through to 44. There is also a strong genetic predisposition.

Rebound headaches
Rebound headaches commonly occur as a result of the over-use of analgesics. Typical symptoms of rebound headaches include return of an individual's headache 3 - 4 hours after the effects of the medication has worn off; and occur daily (or almost daily) lasting from six hours to a full day, or every other day, even every third day. The best treatment for breaking the rebound cycle is to stop taking or reduce the dose of analgesics, obviously working with a doctor or pharmacist. This may intensify the pain at first but should lead to an improvement once the analgesics are stopped.

Tension Headaches
These begin as a dull ache or squeezing type of pain in the back of the head that spreads to the crown of the head and the forehead.  They are characterized by a feeling of pressure.  Tension Headaches account for 80% of all Headaches.

Other headaches
Some headaches occur as a result of an infection such as sinusitis, allergies, a cold or the flu.

Causes of headaches are varied, but there are also some common causes…

  • Obvious causes such as excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption - did you know people who consume more than 240mg of Caffeine have a 25% greater incidence of headaches than people who do not consume caffeine and can actually get headaches as a symptom of caffeine withdrawal as well. This usually occurs about 18 hours after the last intake of caffeine.
  • An excessive intake of some amino acids may also cause headaches, including Aspartic acid, Glutamic Acid, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Phenylalanine and Tyramine.
  • Exposure to Microwaves, including the microwaves generated by mobile phones can also increase the risk of headaches.
  • Candida overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome from intestinal permeability (especially if it happens after eating) may also be another cause of headaches, so looking after and repairing digestive health is important. Seek help from a naturopath. Headaches may also occur from an allergic reaction to gluten, particularly in those with celiac disease because it causes inflammation in the brain.
  • Arsenic, copper, lead and mercury are heavy metals that may cause headaches as a symptom of toxicity.
  • Excessive circulating serotonin may cause headaches (by constricting the blood vessels).
  • Tobacco smoking can be a headache trigger, as well as red wine, especially for those with histamine intolerance due to the high histamine content of red wine.
  • Food additives - aspartame may cause headaches (primarily due to the methanol content of aspartame).
  • Conditions that can cause headaches are Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Hypothyroidism; and Fibromyalgia (approximately 70% of Fibromyalgia patients experience headaches or migraines).
  • Excessive stress can also be common cause of headaches.
  • Headaches may occur as a result of the PMS-C (cravings) form of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS). Oestrogen dominance may also cause headaches, so increasing progesterone with herbs such as Chaste Tree can help. Take Good Health’s Femzone.

  • Excessive dosages of certain vitamins can cause headaches including:- Choline (cluster headaches); Vitamin A; dosages over 100mg of Nicotinic Acid (a form of Vitamin B3) as well as excessive amounts of Vitamin D.

  • Deficiencies of certain vitamins can also cause headaches, including Biotin, Vitamin B1 deficiency (supplementing Vitamin B1 1,000 - 4,000 mg per day may alleviate Headaches in up to 78% of patients.), Vitamin B5, Vitamin D and Choline (cluster headaches).

  • Iron deficiency may cause headaches and headaches will ease once the iron deficiency has been treated. Try Good Health’s Iron Chews. 

Treatment for headaches:

  • Vitamin B3 may help to prevent and treat tension headaches.
  • 5-HTP may prevent headaches – this is great for relieving tension headaches as it’s known to  relieve anxiety.
  • Calcium and magnesium may alleviate headaches due to their anti-spasmodic action.
  • The herb Feverfew is well documented for alleviating headaches in up to 70% of cases.
  • Fish Oils (approximately 4,500 mg per day containing 800 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA) help to prevent and treat headaches.
  • Peppermint Oil applied topically to the forehead and temples may prevent/alleviate headaches.
  • Treatment for migraines:
  • Carnitine may help to prevent and/or reduce the severity of migraines.
  • Supplemental S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) after long-term use may help to treat migraines. As will Tryptophan.
  • People who are prone to migraines often exhibit lower levels of Melatonin secretion from their Pineal Gland and supplementing with 5htp may help to prevent migraines. Insufficient production of Serotonin may be the underlying cause of migraines so taking 5htp may help with the body’s production of Serotonin.
  • Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) from Evening Primrose Oil may reduce the severity, frequency and duration of migraine attacks by 86%.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids may reduce the incidence and pain of migraines and may increase the duration between migraine attacks by 86% due to the Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) content by stimulating the production of beneficial Prostaglandins.
  • Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) may reduce the severity, frequency and duration of Migraine attacks; flaxseed oil and chia seeds are both rich sources of ALA.
  • Combining Calcium and Vitamin D may be useful for alleviating Migraines in some people.
  • Migraines often occur as a result of low brain levels of Magnesium. Most migraine patients are found to have low “Brain Magnesium” levels during migraine attacks and supplemental Magnesium of 600mg per day may be beneficial.
  • 150mg of Coenzyme Q10 may help to prevent migraines. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) may also alleviate migraines.

Vitamins that can help with migraines:

  • Lipoic Acid
  • Vitamin B2 up to 400mg per day
  • Vitamin B3 (500 - 1,000 mg) may alleviate migraines if taken at the beginning of the symptoms of migraine.
  • Migraines may occur as a result of Vitamin B6 deficiency and Vitamin B12 may help to prevent migraines and may reduce the severity and duration.
  • It's interesting to note that many women experience migraines or headaches during or immediately before or after their menstrual cycle.  In these instances, Vitamin E may prevent migraines.


Foods and Herbs to help alleviate Migraines:

  • Feverfew 50 - 80 mg per day may reduce the incidence of migraines by up to 70%
  • Ginger may alleviate migraine (including the Nausea that often accompanies migraines).
  • Ginkgo Biloba may alleviate migraines in approximately 80% of migraine patients
  • Other modalities that can help include acupuncture, exercise and transcranial magnetic stimulation.
  • Migraine Triggers:
  • Elevated Cortisol levels due to stress have been implicated as a possible cause of migraines because they often occur during or after periods of stress. Take Magnesium Ultra and/or “Stress and Vitality Support” to ease stress.
  • Helicobacter Pylori - the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers may cause migraines. Interestingly 40% of migraine patients are found to be infected with Helicobacter Pylori and when Helicobacter Pylori is treated, the incidence of migraines improves.
  • Copper and excess sodium may trigger migraines and food allergies are believed to cause approximately 20% of all migraines. Coffee, alcohol, cocoa (chocolate), cheese and other dairy products, as well as food additives such as Aspartame, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Sodium Nitrite and Sucralose are additives that are also common migraine

A great way to determine which type of head pain you're suffeing from is to keep a diary of what you're eating, when you're exercising and your daily environment, noting down which days you have a headache or migraine.  After diarising this information for a month or so, you can look back at what is regularly occuring on the days you are suffering from head pain.

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