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Updated: Jul 4, 2023

What is a Migraine? Migraines are a genetic neurological disorder. A sensory processing disorder caused by having hyper- reactive brain. Now known as a ‘disease’ of the nervous system, in the past it was thought that migraines were caused by changes in blood vessels. We now know this is not the case. What contributes to a Migraine? Migraines react to small experiences with an exaggerated response. This can occur due to:

  • Brain Stem: Crossroad of the brain’s circuits. There is a muscle in our necks called the sub-occipital muscle which connects to our spinal cord. There are 3 different nerves here, and when this muscle spasms the ‘signal’ can be misconceived and sent down any one of these pathways. You may have heard of one of the nerves; the Trigeminal nerve, which is the main nerve that sends sensory innovation to the face. Many patients will experience light and sound sensitivity, and mistake sinus symptoms for reoccurring infection. The brain may mistake abnormal pressure from within the sinuses, teeth, and eyes, as well as nasal congestion and runny nose.

  • Poor Gut Health: Although this idea may seem bizarre, there is a huge connection between the gut and our brains. We consider our gut as our second brain, and it’s health can significantly impact our nervous system and vice-versa. There is a big connection with poor gut health and the onset of headaches and/or migraines.

  • Hormones: Oestrogen and progesterone affect the nervous system; as these hormones rise and fall throughout a lifetime can affect migraines. Oestrogen receptors are found on neurons in the brain, and oestradiol (oestrogen) sensitises our body to pain.

  • Genetics: defective proteins in DNA cause hyperactivity through altered signalling processes

So what triggers a Migraine? Each individual’s nervous system has a threshold. Imagine your nervous system as a bucket. When you wake up, your bucket is empty. Certain things that occur throughout your day (for example, stress, fatigue, pollution, emotions, irritable bowel) add ‘load’ to our bucket and fill it up. Once our bucket is filled, our bodies react by giving us a headache/migraine. Normally people will be able to reduce this ‘load’ when we rest and eat healthy meals. Individuals that suffer from migraines reach their threshold faster, or even wake with their bucket filled putting them at higher risk of experiencing an attack.

  • Migraines are closely linked with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • STRESS is a huge factor when it comes to migraines (as our bodies are in a constant state of fight or flight which increases our hormone Cortisol and can cause significant inflammation around our bodies)

  • Environmental toxins and chemicals: pollution, Bisphenol-A (from plastics), pesticides, toluene, benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE) phthalates (adhesives, cosmetics, flame retardants, cigarette smoke, cleaning agents etc.)

  • Poor diet and appetite: Not eating enough, high processed foods, processed vegetable oils, saturated and trans fats, high sugar, alcohol.

  • Fluctuating hormones: as well as cortisol, oestrogen and progesterone have potential to trigger a migraine. Each of these triggers lead to a state of inflammation in our bodies that adds to our nervous system load.

Potential food triggers?

  • 5 Cs: Chocolate, Cheese, Caffeine, Citrus, Claret (and other red wines)

  • Alcohol

  • Mono sodium glutamate (MSG) (found in most takeaway foods)

  • Nitrates (such as cured and deli meats)

  • ArAficial sweeteners such as aspartame

  • Tyramine (breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyramine levels increase in foods when they are aged, fermented and stored for a long period of Ame)

  • Salicylates (naturally occurs in foods)

Food triggers occur in 10-20% of people with migraine. Many will crave snacks in the prodrome phase (one or two days before migraine onset) such as chocolate or chips. However, food cravings are not necessarily a trigger.

Food intolerances due to poor gut health: We never want to remove whole food groups (such as histamine foods) when it is not necessary. However, this may be beneficial for a short period of time whilst going through a gut healing and/or liver detoxification protocol. Then, reintroducing them and potentially determining the few foods that may have a correlation with your migraines (please follow your health pracAAoner’s advice through a gut protocol).

  • Missing meals or insufficient food is one of the most significant dietary triggers for migraine attack. Try eating 5-6 small meals a day.

  • Another factor to consider is dehydration

How can we help resolve symptoms associated with Migraines?

  • Manual desensitisation offered at the Melbourne Headache Centre (Thumb press on certain spots on the spine and the sub-occipital muscle).

  • Work on stress response (manage your nervous system load).

  • Take a look at your diet.

Supplements that may help migraines:

  • Magnesium

  • Gut repair (e.g. glutamine, zinc, vitamin A)

  • Probiotics

  • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)

  • CoQ10

  • B vitamins

  • L-theanine

  • Digestive enzymes

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