I used to be a regular migraine sufferer. Almost every single month, a migraine would pop up unannounced. I learnt very quickly that from the first sign of ‘aura’ vision (where everything has an annoying glare/ fuzziness to it), I had about 15 minutes to bunker down and implement as many of my natural remedies as I could to try to deter it as quickly as possible before the pounding sensation in my brain would start (the not-so fun times). If I wasn’t quick enough, I would be left with a teeny tiny fuzzy hole, the size of my pinky fingernail nail to see out. Oh and did I mention a pounding, painful headache? AND on top of that, some people can also start to feel nauseous or even start vomiting. Extreme sensitivity to light, smell and sound are also very common. Try driving a car like that! Actually, please don’t, it’s extremely unsafe. Just focus on getting into bed or an epsom salt bath and follow my tips below.
So many people turn to over-the-counter painkillers at the first sign of a niggling headache or migraine. BUT, have you ever stopped to think about what could be causing your headache or migraine in the first place? AND have you ever read some of the side effects of some of these common painkillers? Aspirin can cause the following side effects in some people; gastrointestinal ulcerations, nausea, heartburn, drowsiness, cramping, rashes and abdominal pain. Ibuprofen can cause nausea, digestive issues, bloating, headaches (hmmm?), mild itching or rashes, ringing in ears, nervousness and more. I know that all headaches and migraines are not the same, but taking pain killers like these will not address or fix the root cause. They’re just a bandaid.
Lets take a look at some of the most common headache or migraine triggers.
Common Headache or Migraine Triggers;
It’s probably no surprise that stress is a tension-type headache trigger and high cortisol surges can also trigger a migraine. So basically, stress can make your head hurt — and a headache can really stress you out. Either way, to reduce the pain, rein in the stress.
During my one-on-one nutrition consultations, I’ll always ask my clients how much water they drink. More often than not, they respond with ‘not enough’. A lot of us drink too much coffee, and not enough pure, clean filtered water. Not drinking enough water can cause the constriction of the meninges, which are thin layers of tissue that line your brain and spinal cord. They can constrict when you’re dehydrated, and because the meninges have pain receptors, this can cause headaches or migraines.
HORMONAL FLUCTUATIONS & THE MOON
Premenstrual migraines are incredibly common. I used to experience migraines that came on around the full moon every month, and so many of my female clients share this experience too. For females, migraines can happen when hormones fluctuate, for example, leading up to your period or when you ovulate. Often the hormone issue is estrogen dominance (too much estrogen relative to progesterone), which can contribute to cycle-related headaches and migraines.
Additionally, in the second half of the menstrual cycle a woman’s immunity is suppressed by progesterone, so any overgrowth of pathogens or parasites in the gut and elsewhere in the body becomes more active, producing an increased amount of toxins that can initiate headaches or migraines.
People who suffer from migraines may want to check if they’re getting enough of certain vitamins and nutrients. Of particular importance for prevention and treatment of migraines is magnesium. In fact, one study I read actually found that a regular intake of magnesium reduced the frequency of headache and migraine attacks by over 40%. Other Vitamins to look into further are; vitamin D, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and B Vitamins, particularly riboflavin (vitamin B2).
A lot of my clients come to me complaining of getting headaches weekly or even daily. I’ll probe them about their diet and it eventually comes out that they’re just too busy to take a small break and eat lunch at work or they can’t find the time to eat anything in between soccer practice, dance lessons or swimming lessons for their children. Unfortunately when you skip a meal, the result can be headaches and migraines, as well as irritability, moodiness, low energy and low blood sugar levels. Our body needs nourishment. If you don't give it the right fuel it will start to scream at you (aka headaches or migraines) and let you know that something isn't right.
Gluten may be a trigger for migraines in some people. In all people, gluten increases a lining protein called Zonulin, which signals a loosening of your intestinal cell tight junctions. Some people can handle this, but anyone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot handle this without gluten proteins leaking through and wreaking havoc in their body.That means that gluten may trigger migraines in people who have celiac disease + those who have a sensitivity to gluten.
Certain foods ease inflammation while others can set off symptoms and make inflammation worse. The following foods are some of the biggest triggers for headaches and migraines and can often make the pain worse;
Refined grain products
Conventional dairy products
Pickled or cured fish
Red wine and other types of alcohol
Chocolate (some people can be triggered by chocolate)
Caffeinated drinks (for some people, about one cup of coffee or tea daily can help headaches, but withdrawal or drinking more are usually problematic
Eggs (especially if someone has an unknown allergy)
Artificial food additives and artificial sweeteners
Flavour enhancers, preservatives, MSG, nitrates and other additives
High amounts of sodium, especially when coupled with low intake of other electrolytes
For some people, certain types of beans and legumes (as they contain natural amine chemicals)
GUT ISSUES - LEAKY BRAIN
I have to get a bit sciency on this one, so stay with me. Your blood brain barrier (BBB) is very similar in structure to your gut barrier. Both are made up of endothelial cells with tight cellular junctions. These two barriers, along with other endothelial barriers in your body, are regulated by signalling proteins such as zonulin (activated by gluten) and occludin, among others.
When your BBB is disrupted, inflammatory molecules, endotoxins, and nitric oxide can leak through into your brain and cause inflammation. Neuroinflammation can trigger migraines. When your BBB is leaky, all kinds of neurological symptoms can occur, including migraines, dizziness, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Over time, neurological autoimmunity and degeneration can occur, including cognitive impairment and dementia.
Many digital devices and LED light sources emit mostly blue light. Research has found that this blue light can induce headache and/ or migraines as well as worsens the pain and other migraines symptoms. I would also highly recommend eliminating your exposure to blue light/ digital devices while you're in the middle of a migraine.
It is important to understand that these are not the only causes for headaches and migraines, this is just a snapshot and your triggers may be different. I’ve just tried to cover the most common ones.
Holistic Tips to help prevent, manage and reduce headaches and migraines
If you’ve suffered from migraines, you know how painful they are. Below, I give you my best natural migraine remedies that I turn to whenever I experience a migraine. Have a read through them all so you can find what works best for your migraine headaches.
Manage Your Stress
Migraines from stress can be prevented by taking steps to minimise the stress in your life.
There really isn’t an issue water can’t assist with. Health is built upon proper hydration. Once we are properly hydrated, our organs are able to function optimally and the body can do its job. If you have a migraine or a headache, drink a big glass of filtered water. Drinking water provides relief from headache in most people within 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Reduce or eliminate the top triggers that affect the gut and migraines: dairy products, gluten, wheat, eggs, processed soy, processed corn, refined carbohydrates, sugar, corn syrup, and inflammatory foods. Replace those inflammatory foods with a variety of fresh whole foods that contain the numerous vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants that are associated with migraine prevention.
You may be thinking that sounds crazy… how could coffee help ease a migraine or headache, wouldn’t it make it worse!?! Well coffee can dilate the blood vessels which help to remove harmful toxins that can be the cause of the inflammation or headache in the first place. This isn’t really that surprising when you begin to look into the headache and migraine medications, as their active ingredient is caffeine. However, this method depends on how much coffee you consume, for example if you’re already consuming 3-4 cups per day (or more) it’s not likely to have a beneficial effect. However if you’re like me and only have 1 cup of coffee per day, then it can definitely benefit your symptoms and help ease your headache or migraine. One of the first things I do when I get a migraine is make myself a delicious cup of Bulletproof coffee.
Balance Your Hormones
If you suffer from monthly, menstrual related migraines or headaches. I would highly recommend you work with your chosen healthcare practitioner to get the individualised advice and support you need towards balancing your hormones. This was one of the best things I ever did to help reduce the amount of migraines I experienced.
Optimise Your Vitamin Intake
Although you may be considering supplements, it’s important you receive as many vitamins from your food as possible before you turn towards supplementation. Your body can metabolise and absorb vitamins from your diet more effectively and efficiently than from any man-made, isolated supplement. If you have magnesium deficiency, the best way to top them up is to take a bath. Simply add in magnesium salt flakes and soak for 20 mins to begin restoring your magnesium levels, to aid detoxification and to help relieve migraines/ headaches. You can also aim to increase the amount of magnesium rich foods in your diet such as; cacao, coffee, dark leafy greens, broccoli, activated nuts and seeds, mackerel, avocado, figs and fermented bananas and fermented dates.
If you have low Vitamin D levels it’s important you expose your skin to the sun. The amount of Vitamin D we make ourselves from sunlight conversion is dependent upon where we live, what time of year it is and how much sun exposure we get. I recommend you get 15 minutes of sun each day to top up your Vitamin D levels as well as eating Vitamin D rich foods like; grass-fed ghee, butter, egg yolks and liver pate or liver capsules if you can’t/ won’t eat liver.
I could get super sciency and start talking about oxidative damage, methylation and mitochondria, but for the sake of (trying) keeping this blog brief, migraine sufferers often have gut problems that will impair the absorption of B vitamins. Vitamin B rich foods to include in your diet include; organ meats such as liver, grass-fed meats, leafy greens, poultry, seaweed, beets, brussel sprouts, asparagus, tomatoes, seafood, nuts and seeds to name a few.
While whole foods are safer, some migraine sufferers may need to supplement with quality high doses of Vitamin D, magnesium, coQ10 and B vitamins. I recommend seeking guidance from a health professional; please don’t take cheap forms vitamins as they may do more harm than good.
Enjoy Fermented Foods That Support Brain Health
I’m also putting my reduced migraine attacks down to fermenting and eating foods that are particularly great for my brain, my gut, for detoxification and for reducing inflammation. And lately I’ve been loving fermented mango, papaya, bananas and wild blueberries. So you know how much I love my mangoes, but did you know they’re an incredible brain food? They’re also packed with enzymes, they’re a prebiotic, meaning they stimulate and feed the good bacteria in the intestines which aids digestion and assimilation + mangoes help to restore the spleen and liver.
Fermented Papaya has a soothing and cleansing effect on the digestive tract and gently removes toxins while reducing inflammation, plus it contains enzymes to aid digestion and potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. They also help to cleanse and rebuild the liver. Fermented Bananas are another excellent brain food. They help to rebuild neurotransmitters and strengthen the nervous system. And wild blueberries, can’t forget these powerful beauties because they remove toxic heavy metals from the brain. So over the past couple of months I’ve been fermenting these and also combining these brain nourishing foods to make my Sunshine Smoothy Bowl or freezing them into ice blocks, adding to smoothies and more.
Many times, headaches and migraines come with a tight feeling in the neck and around the temples, either from tension, stress and/ or poor posture. Regular chiropractic care can help to reduce the severity and frequency of them as well.
Lavender & Peppermint Essential Oils
I like to apply a combination of lavender and peppermint oil topically on the temples and wrists and on the back of the neck. It really helps to effectively alleviate a headache, reduces muscle tension, aid sleep, has a cooling effect and relieves stress. You can also use these oils in a diffuser or add 5-10 drops in a warm, magnesium salt bath to assist in relaxing your body and mind.
Feverfew is an herb that’s well-known for being a preventative, natural headache and migraine remedy. It has been reported that after taking feverfew, migraine attacks gradually become less frequent. You can consume feverfew as a tea, or in capsule form too, just ensure it’s a high quality tea or supplement.
I’ll often take curcmin capsules as well (curcumin is the anti-inflammatory component in turmeric). It’s anti-inflammatory properties are so strong it even matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs on the market (but without those negative side effects). Curcumin is also helpful for reducing pain associated with migraines + it’s a powerful antioxidant which reduces oxidative stress (which is another migraine trigger). If you don’t have access to curcumin tablets, you could try making an anti-inflammatory turmeric shot. I like to mix in a heaped tsp of organic (non-irradiated) turmeric into water or coconut water kefir and add in a small pinch of black pepper and drink it. You may need to do this a few times per day though.
Liver Overload - Detox
A prominent factor in migraine headaches is liver overload, resulting from chemical exposure in our food, water, cleaning products and skin care products. The liver is the body’s detoxifying organ, filtering out metabolic wastes and toxic chemicals from the bloodstream. If the amount of toxic substances arriving at the liver is greater than it can process, it will become congested and overloaded, meaning its function is impaired. I recommend drinking pure celery juice with turmeric or ginger (as it will reduce inflammation and help with the nausea) like my kidney cleansing green juice or this Beetroot Liver Tonic.
I also often take between 4-8 capsules of Activated Coconut Charcoal because it helps to mop, bind and remove up to 100x the charcoals own weight in toxins. I try to take this 2 hours away from my beautiful fermented juices, bulletproof coffee and/ or food if I'm using it as a detox tool. However if I have a very severe migraine attack I will take a big dose of charcoal immediately and it helps to dramatically reduce symptoms as it helps to remove a lot of the toxins that may be causing the migraine attack.
Read my blog 7 Simple Ways to Detox Your Body for more tips and information.
Nourish and Nurture Your Gut & Your Blood Brain Barrier
The gut is considered the ‘second brain’ because it is connected to the brain through an extensive network of neurons, hormones, and a highway of chemicals that influence our mood. It’s a two-way street. Dysfunction in the central nervous system leads to dysfunction in the gut. This means a migraine could both trigger and be triggered by gut issues/ dysbiosis.
So what do you do? It's incredibly important to address sealing a leaky brain, decreasing brain inflammation and oxidative stress. This would be best if you work with your chosen health care practitioner to improve these issues. I'm lucky enough to be able to get some incredible liquid herbs to support the healing of my blood brain barrier from the Kultured Wellness Naturopaths. However, you can start with some of my favourite blood-brain barrier sealers; turmeric, ashwagandha, and rhodiola. It’s worth mentioning that glutathione is an important antioxidant for the brain and that really good quality CBD oil is also an excellent agent because it crosses the blood-brain barrier and reduces brain inflammation. If you need help creating gut friendly recipes, I have a heaps of free recipes you can access here + I have a gut friendly cookbook called GUTALICIOUS
If you suffer from severe headaches and migraines, it might be worth looking at your memories and emotions that were associated with them. When did you start getting headaches/ migraines and what caused them? When you get headaches/ migraines, do you feel like you need more control, are you a person that strives for perfection, do you overcommit or put too much pressure on yourself? Do you always put others ahead of you, are you feeling guilty, anxious, angry or annoyed? This is something I would highly recommend you consider. Working with a good kinesiologist will help you release these emotions too.
Avoid Blue Light
The type of light you’re exposed to really does impact how you feel. While flashing or flickering lights are the most likely to bring on a migraine attack, blue lights, fluorescent and LED bulbs containing blue light are also massive triggers and aggravators. And where are people the majority of their lives? In an office environment (or even a shopping centre) under these horrible lights, straining their eyes looking at monitors and smartphones that emit blue light. It’s really no wonder so many people struggle with migraines nowadays. The good news is there is some relief. You can get blue light blocking glasses that block this harmful blue light and can help prevent both headaches and migraines brought on by blue light. They can even help minimise symptoms, like light sensitivity, once a migraine has already been triggered.
And if all else fails, relax and sleep it off in a dark, comfortable room.
Debilitating headaches and migraines do not have to be part of your life. But to regain your health, you need to address the root cause of the symptoms.Your body’s symptoms are alerting you to something deeper, but it’s your job to listen to what it’s trying to tell you. I’ve given you lots of options for the next time you have a headache or migraine, so just pick a remedy and give it a try! If that doesn’t work, move down the list. If you suffer from regular headaches or migraines, you have my sympathy, but hopefully, using these tips, you can prevent and get rid of those nasty, painful migraines that show no mercy.