We will carefully consider a migraine sufferer’s whole physiology. This enables us to identify and treat underlying imbalances or vulnerabilities of the individual, which could be contributing to, or facilitating, a migraine attack.
Experiencing these symptoms?
Our approach to migraine
‘Migraine is curable!’ according to Canadian Professor of Neurology and president of the American Headache Society, Allan Purdey.
According to Purdey, ‘migraine attacks can be reduced to the point where the attacks produce no appreciable disability’. He explains that although the condition is not well understood, and it is believed that all migraines may not come from the same cause, the most likely approach to a migraine ‘cure’ is to find and stop the cause of a person’s attack, something which varies from one individual to another.
The leading cause of disability in the under 50s, the experience of a severe migraine can be overwhelming. Researchers have found it extremely difficult to pinpoint what happens in a migraine, let alone how to treat it, is because the same processes do not occur in the body of every migraine sufferer.
We can see this is obvious by the way that symptoms can vary so dramatically, even in the same person in a different attack. One might experience an ‘aura’ of visual disturbances, with fatigue, irritability and sensitivity to light, sound and smell. This could be followed by a throbbing headache, speech problems, vomiting, or numbness and muscle weakness. The way in which symptoms do or do not occur is very individual, and as a holistic practitioner I understand how necessary it is to look at the whole person and fully explore symptoms in and out of a migraine attack, to identify what is happening.
Largely symptomatic, the use of preventative drug treatments has fallen in the past few years due to side effects.
Strong pain relief, such as opioids, are no longer advised since they have been found to cause medication overuse headache, as well as causing permanent damage by altering the body’s natural pain system. Over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen are recommended, though they can cause side-effects such as stomach, liver and kidney problems.
Other drugs called triptans are sometimes given to contract blood vessels in the brain, as well as anti-sickness drugs.
Kadian and Kumar wrote an update this year, about a type of migraine which was first described in 1961; the basilar migraine – a migraine which begins in the brain stem and can be differentiated by unusual and specific symptoms including vertigo or an altered mental state.
Drugs which are used to treat epilepsy, hypertension and depression have been proposed as preventative treatments for migraines in the US in a 2018 review by authors Loder and Rizzoli, who suggest that patients choose between the options based on how likely they are thought to work and the possible side-effects. A difficult decision, particularly, as Loder and Rizzoli point out, those who suffer with migraines tend to be more likely to experience side-effects of medication.
A large amount of research has been conducted on the herb Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) in the treatment of migraines, and most of it is very confusing! Multiple studies have extracted one constituent (parthenolide) from the plant, hoping to find a solid cure in the relief of migraines, only to find that results are inconclusive. This is a common issue in herbal medicine research. As a herbalist I know that you cannot dissect parts of a whole plant and expect them to behave as the whole plant would. Indeed, Feverfew is one of many herbs to be considered in a migraine formulation, though it certainly would not suit everyone and is generally better for the prevention, rather than the relief, of migraines.
A number of factors have been highlighted as migraine triggers and genetics are thought to play a large part, with a 50% chance of genes being passed on. Certain dopamine receptors and a generalised hyperexcitability within the nervous system are some potential genetic contributors. But by identifying a susceptibility or tendency in a person before it becomes an illness, we can work to strengthen an individual’s natural resources and protect against the onset of migraine.
Commonly associated with chronic gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and gastroparesis, migraine has also been found linked to depression and obesity.
Alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, hormones, flickering lights, noise or certain scents are some possible migraine triggers, along with a wide range of foods including chocolate, cheese and citrus fruits. Though, trying to outwit the migraine by removing triggers alone may not always work, as known triggers do not always cause an attack. A very frustrating condition, indeed!
By carefully considering a migraine sufferers’ whole physiology, it is possible to see and treat underlying imbalances or vulnerabilities of the individual, which could be contributing to, or facilitating, a migraine attack.
There are three standard mechanisms which have been identified to occur within the brain during a migraine attack, and briefly involve:
As a holistic practitioner, I identify the extent to which a person is affected by these processes, as well as any other possible contributing factors.
By assessing a person’s blood pressure – and here I do not mean simply declaring it high or low, I mean using it to evaluate what is really happening in the body. With this technique, we can identify the level of constriction or relaxation within the nervous system (this is called autonomic balance), as we often observe a tendency to a particular dominance. This information could help to decide which herbal medicine to prescribe and then used to monitor progression over a period of time.
Evaluating the different organs and systems in the body and looking at stress, hormones, diet and lifestyle factors gives a broader picture of what is going on. Often, liver support is required, or we could work to correct an imbalance in the circadian rhythm. Do not despair when giving up chocolate doesn’t resolve things! A multifactorial and holistic treatment approach can be extremely effective in the prevention and relief of migraines.