Migraines affect one in five Americans and are poorly treated with conventional medicine — yet are nearly 100 percent preventable by addressing the underlying causes!
These aren’t just any headaches. These severe, nearly disabling headaches can occur from once a year to three to four times a week. They can last from hours to days, creating suffering for millions of people.
Migraines are often associated with an aura, light sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, and severe throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. They can even be associated with stroke-like symptoms or paralysis.
The Cost of a Migraine
The cost to society is enormous. Migraine headaches add $13 billion to $17 billion to our healthcare costs each year. These costs include medications, emergency department visits, hospitalization, physician services, laboratory services, and managing the side effects of treatment. Those are the direct costs from treatment, but migraines have indirect costs too.
Headache is the most frequent pain-related complaint among workers. Focusing specifically on migraine, one study found that the annual cost to employers exceeded $14.5 billion, of which $7.9 billion was due to absenteeism and $5.4 billion to diminished productivity.
So this is a HUGE problem — both to those who suffer and to society as a whole. Worse, migraines are hard to treat and very difficult to prevent with conventional approaches.
There are a host of pharmaceuticals that are used by western medicine as preventative agents: calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and more — which work poorly, if at all, and are accompanied by frequent side effects. Some doctors are now even using Botox to paralyze neck muscles in the hopes of easing migraines.
There is a whole class of medication called triptans, (like Imitrex, Maxalt, and Zomig), that can stop a migraine once it starts. Although these have made migraine sufferers handle the attacks better, they also have serious potential side effects, including strokes, and they are expensive. Still other treatments can lead to addiction or dependence.
The cost is high and for many, none of these treatments work very well or at all. The problem with migraines is the same that we see so often in medicine: We treat the symptoms, not the cause.
If we look at the underlying cause and not chase symptoms, you can be headache free in weeks.There can be more than 20 different causes of migraine headaches. A good functional medicine practitioner or someone who knows ayurvedic medicine can act as the medical detective and find these causes.
Here are the most important causes of migraines, identified by Dr. Mark Hyman, and their associated symptoms to identify problems.
Food Allergy/Bowel and Gut Imbalances
* The symptoms: Fatigue, brain fog, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, joint or muscle pain, postnasal drip and sinus congestion, and more.
* The causes: A processed food diet including aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), nitrates (in deli meats), sulfites (found in wine, dried fruit, and food from salad bars) is to blame. Tyramine-containing foods like chocolate and cheese are also triggers.
* The causes: Premenstrual syndrome with bloating, fluid retention, cravings, irritability, breast tenderness, menstrual cramps; use of an oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy; or even just being pre-menopausal, which leads to too much estrogen and not enough progesterone because of changes in ovulation.
* The symptoms: Anything that feels tight or crampy, like headaches, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, muscle cramps or twitching, palpitations, etc.
* The symptoms: Fatigue, muscle aching, and brain fog, although sometimes the only symptom can be migraines.
* The symptoms: Symptoms that come regularly at midday and are accompanied by hot, sharp, nervous tension in the body and mind. Migraines can arise from any of the vata, pitta, kapha dosha imbalances, but occur most often when pitta has moved into the cardiovascular system creating pressure around the nerves.
Individualized treatment plans are designed with the cause in mind. Keep in mind that sometimes a combination of treatments is necessary. Treatments will include a variety of modalities, such as herbal therapies, nutraceuticals, detoxification therapies, yoga, pranayama (breathing exercises), stress reduction techniques, meditation, acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and osteopathic treatment to fix structural problems.
Try this simple exercise to treat the pain of a migraine:
When you have a migraine, gently squeeze your earlobes, pulling the ear down, and do the act of yawning. This will relieve the pressure on the blood vessels and help to pacify the headache.
Recipe to prevent migraines:
If your migraine occurs regularly at midday try this:
1 ripe banana peeled and chopped
Add 2 tsp warm ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp date sugar
Pinch of cardamom on top and eat.
This is great for preventing regular pitta migraines.
Recipe and yawning exercise courtesy of Dr. Vasant Lad from “The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies.”