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How to deal with migraines

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Dealing with the pain of migraines can be difficult. Naturopath Jennifer McLennan looks at helpful ways to prevent and minimise attacks.

Migraines are a class of headaches believed to be caused partly by genetic factors. They cause moderate to severe pain typically on one side of the head. Unlike secondary headaches caused by viruses, sinusitis, colds and flu, etc migraines are primary headaches. The exact mechanism is not entirely known but certain stimuli can trigger mediators which can cause inflammation or dilation of the blood vessels which ultimately irritates nerves in the head

People can experience neurological symptoms such as spots or stripes in their vision sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting. The headache can last for hours or even days.[5]

There can be many triggers for developing a migraine. Some examples of these include: too little sleep, alcohol, stress, fatigue, over-excitement, diet, or hormonal changes.

Women experience migraines 2-3 times more than men. 22 researchers believe that hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle are a trigger for developing a migraine. These hormonal changes can affect neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and can trigger a cascade of events which trigger a migraine.

How to minimize migraine attacks and severity:


Feverfew has a long history of use for the prevention of headaches. Active constituents from the leaf have been identified and although the exact mechanism of how feverfew works is not well understood, preliminary studies suggest the herb has anti-inflammatory, pain modulating, anti-spasmodic and serotonin modulating effects. Feverfew seems to decrease the frequency and also intensity of migraine headaches and associated nausea and vomiting.

Feverfew is best used for prevention of migraine headache rather than for the acute treatment of an existing attack. It will take up to four months to be most effective, and stopping is best done gradually over the course of a month.


Magnesium deficiency and impaired metabolism of magnesium may play a role in migraine attacks. Clinical evidence is showing that up to half of those suffering a migraine attack have lower than normal levels of magnesium. Magnesium is involved in normal serotonin function and muscle contraction and has effects on neurotransmitters and cellular energy production.

Magnesium supplements may assist with prevention and reduced severity of migraines including hormone-related migraines for women.

B vitamins are important in nerve function.

Other measures to help prevent migraine attacks:

  • Regular relaxation and stress prevention such as meditation and yoga may help
  • Avoid triggers that you have identified such as foods and alcohol. If you are not entirely sure triggers your attacks keep a diary of daily activities
  • Adequate sleep is important
  • Acupuncture or massage