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Management of Migraines Headaches Using Herbal Medicine

Author and Trusted NTP practitioner

Margaret Gough N.D.

Greendale Natural Therapies

Margaret has been a practitioner for over 35 years and provides the following services - Homoeopathy, Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine, Iridology, Kinesiology, Flower essences & Nutrition.
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Sep 06, 2021

Management of Migraines Headaches Using Herbal Medicine

Migraine headaches are excruciating, pulsating with recurrent pain often on one side of the head. People who have nausea and vomiting indicate a true migraine. There is sensitivity to light and sounds with blurry vision and light-headedness. They are better for darkness and silence until the pain subsides. After a migraine episode, the person can be left drained and sluggish for a day or two.

An estimated 1 billion people experience migraine attacks, making it the third most common illness and it is one of the most common neurological medical conditions in the world. Around 90 percent of people who have migraine attacks have a family history of them.

It is considered migraines are caused by the dilation or expansion of the cranial blood vessels. Structural imbalances and misalignments, especially in the neck area can lead to severe headaches and migraines. Incorrect breathing techniques and poor posture with tightness in the muscles of the neck, face and head can be a problem. In our modern lives, muscle tension is widespread.

Migraines might simply be caused by a lack of oxygen getting to the brain. Some 40% of our oxygen intake goes straight to the brain – or it does if you're healthy and is carried there by your blood. Oxygen deprivation rushes blood to the brain. The pain comes from a sudden and rapid increase in the blood pressure inside the head.

Migraines also seem to be linked to hormone and gut health with attention to the liver. I used to be a migraine sufferer, which was hormone-related and induced by stress. Therefore, I can emphasize migraine sufferers, having experienced the pain and debility associated with them. My migraines completely disappeared once I reached menopause. 

When the vague nerve gets disturbed, the gall bladder and liver are the causing factors. The trigger is then neuro-gastric based. The liver is our chemical factory and 'detoxifier'. Its function relates to our digestion and metabolism

 Useful liver herbs include:

St Mary's Thistle (Silybum marianum)

St Mary's Thistle, also known as Milk Thistle is a medicinal plant where the therapeutic history dates back 2,000 years.  It is one of the bitter herbs that have been used traditionally to treat a range of liver and gallbladder disorders. Research shows that not only does it help the liver recover from illness or poisoning, it can also help protect it from damage.

Chelidonium majus (Greater celandine)

As antique as the Dioscorides era are the first records on using Chelidonium as an herbal remedy. It was used extensively in Central and Eastern European folk medicine. It was traditionally used to improve eyesight. It is highly effective in the treatment of liver disorders and assists in removing harmful toxins from the body.

Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale)

It has been used for centuries as a traditional medicine in the relief and treatment of several diseases. It is indicated for digestive complaints, healthy liver function, premenstrual syndrome, skin eruptions, arthritis and cystitis.

Centaury (Centaurium erythraea)

It has been used traditionally since the 10th century for digestive and liver complaints. It stimulates bile production, therefore helping the liver flush away toxins. The ancients named the plant "Gall on Earth" for its extreme bitterness.

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)

Its medicinal use dates back more than 2,500 years. It has been used for digestive and urinary disorders. It traditionally was thought to increase the flow of bile, which is why it was used for liver and gallbladder problems.

Triggers

Triggers are variants that can 'kick-start' the migraine syndrome.

These can be emotional, physical, hormonal, environmental or dietary events that set your migraine in motion. Primary and common triggers are posture and stress, although these are not the cause of your migraines. Migraine triggers are everywhere: food cravings, dietary, psychological and environmental.

A migraine is the end result of a very short chain of events – it's a sequence basically. The trigger is the agent, not the cause and this affects something in your body and it's that something that causes migraine pain. Things that should be avoided to help you from getting a migraine are those that raise the level of nitric oxide and/or tyramine in the body.

Tyramine is a major component of what triggers migraine headaches in the body. A certain function in the liver and intestines may be compromised in those who have low tyramine-triggered migraines. Tyramine is produced in foods from the natural breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine.

L-arginine is an amino acid and precursor of nitric oxide, which causes blood vessel relaxation or vasodilatation. It is obtained from the diet and it is necessary for the body to function properly and produce proteins. Because of its dramatic effect on blood vessels, L-arginine can cause headaches as a side effect in some individuals. L-arginine opens the blood vessels throughout the body, including those within the brain. This can lead to headaches, especially in people prone to tension headaches and migraines.

High L-arginine foods include turkey, pork, chicken, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, peanuts (most nuts), spirulina, dairy, chickpeas and lentils.

Histamine has been known for many years to cause a vascular type of headache pain. High histamine levels are usually caused by allergic reactions. Research has focused on antihistamines as a possible treatment and histamine as a migraine-provoking agent.

I have had success in using Histamine homoeopathically.

Food or drinks that can trigger a migraine include:

  • Soybeans, nuts, chocolate - possibly due to the chemical beta-phenylalanine.
  • Nitrate-rich foods, such as cured meats.
  • Monosodium-glutamate (MSG) is an additive often found in processed foods.
  • Artificial sweeteners especially aspartine.
  • Tyramine - is one well-accepted migraine trigger. Tyramine is a substance found naturally in some foods, especially in pickled or fermented foods, aged cheeses, smoked fish and cured meats.
  • Alcoholic beverages – fermented alcohol contains tyramine. Beer, red wine, champagne, whiskey, vermouth, sherry and some liqueurs. 
  • Citrus and tropical fruits like orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and tangerine contain high levels of tyramine. Tropical fruits have higher tyramine levels when ripened. Ripe bananas, pineapple and avocado should be avoided if you are particularly sensitive to tyramine.

Treatment with Herbal Medicine

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

Feverfew is an anti-inflammatory agent, which reduces pain. It is mainly used for migraine prophylaxis. Greek medicinal literature mentions its anti-inflammatory properties and its use in relieving menstrual discomforts.

Medieval herbalists were well acquainted with Feverfew and it's valuable uses. British herbalist, Nicolas Culpepper, recommended it for "all pains of the head". While Gerard (ca1636) and Fournier (ca1491) both indicated feverfew's use as a treatment for migraines and facial neuralgia. Like many other herbal remedies, feverfew gradually fell into relative obscurity until some researchers in England decided to investigate the usage of this plant by various migraine sufferers.

They were surprised to discover the extent of feverfew's prostaglandin inhibitory functions. Since prostaglandins are associated with inflammations, fever and temperature regulations, as well as other body functions, it was felt that feverfew's effect on the body might somehow interfere with this prostaglandin synthesis.

Several different groups of researchers set out to isolate the active principles and determine the action of feverfew. The research was conducted at Miles Laboratory Ltd Kings College and City of London Migraine Clinic as well as George Washington Medical School.

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Black Cohosh is an anti-spasmodic, sedative, hormone balancer and anti-inflammatory. It was used by the North American indigenous people and the Eclectics used it for gynecological conditions, such as pain associated with premenstrual syndrome, menopausal complaints, including migraines.

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)

Blue Flag is a blood purifier and stimulant to the liver and intestines. It is beneficial for glandular disorders, relief of enlarged lymph nodes, indigestion, headaches or constipation, particularly when related to a sluggish liver.

I have successfully used Iris Vers 200 homoeopathically for migraines. 

Curcumin

Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric helps migraines by reducing inflammation in the cranial blood cells. Calcium, Cat's Claw or iron may benefit those with left-sided migraines. Magnesium, turmeric or zinc may benefit those with right-sided migraines.

Chamomile (Matricara chamomilla)

Chamomile has a calming effect and is a common ingredient in today's herbal teas. It is a useful herb for migraines, vertigo, and GIT complaints, such as bloating, minor spasms, dyspepsia, impaired digestion, colitis, colic, diverticulitis, IBS, anxiety and nervous disorders.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

It has a rich folk history as both a food and medicine. The Greeks were especially well acquainted with Fenugreek, it being one of their most important medicines. The botanical name means 'Greek-Hay' in Latin. Fenugreek is a useful herb to support a weakened or inflamed digestive system and helps in lowering blood pressure and sugar levels.

Paeonia (Paeonia lactiflora)

Paeonia is a hormone modulator and is useful for headaches and muscular spasms. White Peony was used in China to treat nervous complaints, muscular cramps, hypertension and menstrual irregularity in women. It is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, anticonvulsant, analgesic, antithrombotic and steroid hormone modulator.

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus)

It is useful for migraines triggered by hormonal changes. It is excellent at balancing hormone levels and can be used as tea.

It has been used as a uterine tonic and general pregnancy tea for at least two centuries.

Wood Betony (Betonica officinalis-Linnacus)

Is useful for the treatment of migraines, heartburn and gastritis. It strengthens the solar plexus. It is beneficial for frequent stomach cramping and general nausea, which is often concurrent with debilitating headaches.

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

Butterbur is very effective for reducing the frequency or severity of migraine attacks. Butterbur extracts possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and vasodilatory properties, which may explain their efficiency for migraine prevention.

Thyme (Thyme Vulgaris)

Thyme was used medicinally by Hippocrates ("the father of medicine") over 4,000 years ago and later by the first-Century Greek physician Dioscorides, as a treatment for respiratory disorders, The 17th Century herbalist Nicolas Culpepper recommended thyme for whooping cough, gout, stomach pains and shortness of breath. The Eclectic physicians used thyme for dyspepsia, hysteria, dysmenorrheal, flatulence, colic, headache and neuralgia.

Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia)

Lavender [alt tag: 7 Reasons to Love Lavender] is a carminative and works as a mild sedative. It, therefore, helps you to calm down and relax.

  • Lavender essential oil is better for tension headaches and not so good for vascular migraines. Start by rubbing this lavender essential oil from the forehead to the temple for an end-of-the-week migraine person.
  • Rosemary oil helps in treating hormonal imbalances, which is one of the major causes of migraines in women.
  • Peppermint oil is useful for a headache or migraine. You can put peppermint oil or fresh peppermint in a cup of hot water, inhale the steam and drink the liquid.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger tea is helpful for migraines, especially when feeling nauseous. 

Magnesium

Individuals who suffer from recurrent migraine headaches have lower intracellular magnesium levels than individuals who do not experience migraines.

During acute migraine attacks, 50% of patients have lower ionised magnesium levels. Low magnesium may be involved in the pathology of migraines, due to the effects on vasodilation and neurotransmitter synthesis.

The concentration of magnesium affects neuro-transmitters and receptors, as well as the body's ability to synthesize and release nitric oxide, which affects the dilation of cranial blood vessels.

Magnesium restoration assists in:

  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Stress
  • Muscular cramps and spasms
  • Muscular tension
  • Migraines

If you're living with migraines you probably already know that certain foods and drinks can trigger an attack and therefore know what to avoid.

Foods that may prevent or reduce the intensity of migraine pain include

  • Magnesium-rich foods  
  • Dark leafy greens, e.g., spinach and Swiss chard, avocado,   bananas which give you energy when you need it,
  • and tuna.
  • Nuts e.g. cashews and seeds e.g. flaxseeds sprouted pumpkin seeds and chia seeds are good sources of magnesium and they help in enhancing the blood circulation in our body.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and pain e.g. salmon, mackerel, trout, and herring.
  • Flaxseeds and legumes are also a rich sources of omega-3s.
  • Watermelons provide fluids to keep you hydrated.
  • Berries relieve sinus pressure and are high in antioxidants, e.g. blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.
  • Broccoli, brussels sprouts and bok choy may help prevent a menstrual migraine, which is due to the falling levels of estrogen.
  • Mushrooms are high in riboflavin B2 and may prevent a migraine, especially for a leaky gut. Quinoa, nuts and eggs can also help with this. 
  • Herbal teas help with overall hydration e.g. Peppermint and Chamomile. Ginger tea is good for a tension headache.
  • Yoghurt is a probiotic food that hydrates and may improve gut health. Many individuals with migraines experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation. It is high in calcium and our brain needs adequate amounts to function properly.
  • Water depletion causes dehydration, which can also precipitate a migraine. If you drink a good amount of water (1.5L per day) the quality of life will improve.

It is recommended to seek professional help from a health care provider in regards to the best herbal medicine migraine treatment.

FAQs About Migraine Headaches

What are some types of migraines?

Some types of migraines include chronic migraine, hemiplegic migraine, silent migraine, episodic migraine, retinal migraine, classic migraine, menstrual migraine, abdominal migraine and vestibular migraine. The most common type of migraine is migraine without aura also known as the common migraine.

Can lack of sleep cause migraines?

One of the most common triggers of migraine headaches is a lack of sleep which leads to changes in sleep patterns. Additionally, not having a consistent sleep schedule can result in more frequent migraines. For this reason, it is important to establish a consistent sleep schedule as a way to better deal with migraines.

Why do I get migraines when my heart rate goes up?

When experiencing a migraine your heart rate and breathing increase which contributes to tension and pain. If you are prone to headaches, an abrupt change in your internal biochemical environment can make your head pain worse.

Related Topics

From the NTP Practitioners,  Herbal Medicine,  Migraines,  Headaches

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