Migraines

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Complexity & treating the cause

I am sure that anyone else who has worked with people who suffer from migraines will likewise have come to the same conclusion that they are a highly complex health problem! To start with, even getting a clear diagnosis is tricky as there are so many ways in which they can appear. Only up to about a third of people get the classic visual 'aura' though most will feel it coming in some way or another well before it arrives. Experiences such as nausea, a pulsing or one-sided pain, an inability to function and sensitivity to sound &/or light are all common but most people will get some, rather than all, of those classic migraine symptoms. All that said, everyone who I have personally treated for migraine always gets them regularly or in some kind of cycle and all of them report levels of pain that are clearly very bad.

Migraine complexity comes into a whole world of its own when, instead of simply looking for which drug treats the symptom the best, we attempt to understand and treat the actual cause of the problem. Obviously I can't advise someone unless I see them in person so my challenge in sharing my positive experiences in this area in this article is to present the complexity of the holistic approach in a way that is practically helpful rather than being an overload of too much information! To this end I have divided up the main types of migraines along with their approaches that I see best helping, I hope it is of help to you!

Tension based migraines

Most migraine sufferers I have worked with have needed to release a great deal of tension, especially from their neck and shoulders, and I have put this area at the top of my list because, whilst I don't think tension might be the main cause of migraines, I personally believe it to be the number one contributor to the level of their severity. The thing about tension and its antidote, relaxation, is that everyone needs to find their own way to best get the help that works for them. If you already know that one of these approaches works well for you then I encourage you to keep using that and then possibly try some of the other approaches to see what else may help. However, if you really do not have much confidence in anything at present then I think you just have to take a try and see approach to any or all of what follows because something, surely, will help and maybe it will help a great deal...


Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)

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Herbs to release tension

There are some tremendously helpful allies in Nature for relaxing tension from the body in general and the muscles in particular. I will list a few of my top favourites here but I will recommend to you, if it is at all possible, to get these herbs from a registered herbalist or a truly trusted supplier. In herbal medicine both the quality of medicine as well as the correct dose of that medicine make a world of difference to the end result. As a further note I should point out that I, like many other herbalists, will use a combination of herbs in a tailor-made formula for my patient so it is not at all uncommon for me to use more than one of the following remedies at the same time...

Cramp Bark

This herb can be profoundly good at relaxing tight and cramped muscles anywhere in the body. It may need to be taken quite frequently and in a sufficient dose to truly turn a chronic condition around but, when used correctly, its effects can be profound. Much more information about it, including how to use it, found here.

Skullcap & Passionflower

I put these two great nervine herbs together because I so often use them as a pair. They are deeply relaxing to a stressed and tense nervous system and I have seen them be of great benefit to habitual migraine sufferers in the way they help to unwind that tight 'knot' within the upper spine in particular. You can learn a lot more about the intriguing Skullcap here and the beautiful Passionflower here.

Valerian

I should note that this is not a herb that suits everyone (really there is no herb that does) but when it is the right herb for the right person it can have a transformative effect on those tightly held physical tensions that make migraines so much worse - more on it here.

Californian poppy

This is mostly thought of as a 'pain herb' and it can have a high value when taken in strong doses for acute pain but I have also found it to be of particular benefit to some individuals who have too much tension in their upper body. I am sure the main reason it can be so healing for pain is its profoundly relaxing action when taken in sufficient dose - it is written up here.


Eschscholtzia californica

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Physical therapies

As a general rule I would say that the tenser your neck and shoulders the worse will be the migraine and also vice versa, the more relaxed you are the less the migraine sticks around and the less severe it tends to be. Relaxation is a big subject in itself and exactly how you do that releasing will depend a lot on your personality and what suits you best. These are by no means the only options but it is notable that for some migraine sufferers some kind of massage or body work can greatly help whereas others report that the regular practice of some kind of exercise works the best to help them to relax.

Body work

Getting the right kind of body work from an expert in this area has been a game-changer for many migraine-sufferers but it rather seems to greatly depend on finding the right person with the right approach! In terms of finding that person I'm sure that the general advice above on how to find a good herbalist has much in common with finding the right practitioner from any field.

Exercise

There are many kinds of exercise which have a core focus on releasing tension as one of their core benefits. Yoga is one of the most well-known of these but there are many different kinds of Yoga as well as other types of practices such as Tai Chi, Pilates, Chi Gong etc. that may suit one kind of person much more than another. Some people might just find going for a walk is the best thing that suits them! Assuming exercise might genuinely help release tension and reduce migraine then, whatever form it takes, it obviously needs to be done on a regular basis to see benefits and I would recommend starting gently because much of how exercise helps us to relax is by firstly making us tenser. Proceed with care, especially at first!

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Tension, anxiety & relaxation

There is a question that you have to ask yourself if you get regular migraines which is ‘do they happen more often on the weekends on when I am on holiday?’ If the honest answer to that question is a ' yes' then you can be sure that stress is playing an important part in the cause of the migraines and that you will need to attend to this to truly get better.

If you are simply overworking and under-resting and this is part of the cause of your migraines then of course you need to get more rest but for some people that may be an easy matter to talk about but an extremely difficult thing to do. They know they need to relax but do not find that they are able to actually do it. The reason for that is almost always that they have accumulated too much tension and anxiety to be able to truly let go and get the rest they need.

Tension and anxiety have clearly always been a major part of many of my patient's health difficulties, not in the least limited to migraines, and I had already had such a lot of experience in this area that, in terms of practical tools, I was well prepared for the horrendous earthquakes that ravaged my home city of Christchurch in 2011. I can tell you for a fact that in the course of what followed, including the more than 10,000 aftershocks and the many hundreds of old and new patients that came for help, that any possibility that my approach to helping tension and anxiety would not be up to the job was entirely put to the test and it was not found wanting! I have an approach in this area that (so long as people do the work!) I have great faith in - it is written up in detail here.

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Blood circulation based migraines

Migraines are in essence a headache caused by a disturbance of blood flow to the head. In my own clinical experience it would appear that the kinds of tension described above are the leading causes of that disturbance but there are also many cases when the core issue is actually one of the circulation which can include matters of heart-health as well as the consistency of the blood itself.

Heart health

If you have some kind of heart problem and you also have migraines then you must know that there is a strong possibility that these two issues will be linked. Heart health is a big subject in itself but if you have problems with palpitations or arrhythmias then read the detailed article here or if you have issues with blood pressure then read here. If you don't have a name or diagnosis for whatever is going on but you just know in yourself that something isn't completely ok with your heart then, whatever else you do, start taking a good dose of some really good quality Hawthorn. It won't work in days and you probably have to take it for some weeks before you really feel what it can do but the ability of this humble herb to improve the strength and balance of the heart in all people from all backgrounds is nothing short of extraordinary. You can read a lot more about it here.


Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn leaves & berries)

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Get your blood runny

Migraine sufferers often tend to have sticky blood and when they are in actual migraine territory their blood can get as thick as pea-soup. I know this because I have a microscope on my desktop that I use to look at my patient's blood and this is a pattern I have frequently observed with migraine sufferers. I can also say for a fact that many of my own patients with migraines have fared a great deal better when they have taken steps to get their blood runny.

A healthy diet does matter in this area and if you are not already well informed as to what that means then I suggest you read my article on 'excellent nutrition' here. Likewise I strongly recommend any migraine sufferer to make absolutely certain that they do not become dehydrated (a leading cause of sticky blood) and to drink at least 6 cups of water a day.

For people with a certain disposition to get sticky blood diet it has been shown in practice that a good diet and plenty of water can still not be enough to actually see the blood free-flowing and this is where the use of herbs that have long been thought to help prevent migraines really come in to their own.


An example of non-sticky blood

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Cayenne

One of my personal favourite herbs to get the blood runny is the mighty Cayenne pepper. It is such a potent and pungent herb that I will almost always use it in capsule form and I can attest that for some patients I have worked with it has been the one herb that has made all the difference to a) their blood finally getting runny and b) their migraines becoming a thing of the past. Definitely worth considering but again an art to its correct use that very much revolves around finding the right dose - more here.

Gingko

Again this is not a herb that will suit everyone and it definitely needs to come with a caution but for some migraine sufferers this has been a key remedy to help them shift their condition around. The caution is that Ginkgo not only makes the blood runnier but it also increases blood flow to the head and what that means is that some people will initially get a characteristic headache several days into starting to use the Ginkgo! Most people will take that as a bad sign and so stop using it but it is not necessarily a bad sign at all, rather I tell people that it is like a river that has been running up against a dam and as it starts to build up pressure you can initially feel worse but then the dam will gradually let go and the blood will start to flow with much greater ease. The art is to slowly build the dose up and then back off as soon as the headache begins but not to stop altogether. In time your body adjusts to it and you can raise the dose again. How much you aim to get to depends entirely on the product and as there are so many Ginkgo products on the market I can't possibly advise you on that - suffice to say the one that I use I will start with just one pill a day but may eventually build up to 3 or even 4 - so there is a big range of dose. For those who are interested I have some more info on this rather fascinating herb here.

Omega-3, Garlic & Ginger

I am also a big fan of using Omega-3 fish oils for those who tend to sticky blood, usually 3 grams a day (3 capsules) and likewise I think that having plenty of Garlic and Ginger in the diet can only help to keep the blood runnier and to prevent the stickiness that is surely a big factor in the migraine profile. For those who would like to read much more about them I have a write up on Garlic here and Ginger here that both include a number of home-remedy type recipes for a variety of the common ailments that can beset us!

Feverfew

Feverfew is actually quite a famous migraine remedy due to it becoming popularised for this use in the last century. I would say it is only one of a group of herbs that may be of help but I think where it can be of especially good value is where the blood tends to be too sticky. There are ingredients in Feverfew that help to reduce blood viscosity and this is why I think it has helped many migraine sufferers in the past. Large doses are not required but consistent dosing is - much more practical info on it here.


Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew)

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Allergy-based migraines

Food allergy, or intolerance, is a very real potential root cause for migraine and understanding how to diagnose and treat this area can be vital to their cure. I would be likely to focus on this issue foremost if a person had other indicators that they were suffering from food allergy/intolerance such as:
a) a history of eczema or asthma in childhood and/or migraines or bowel problems as an adult
b) allergic 'shiners' (dark rings under the eyes) and/or a tendency to cracks in the corners of the mouth
c) bloating and discomfort after certain foods
d) a directly perceived association between eating certain foods and getting migraines!

The whole subject of food allergy and intolerance is rife with myths and misinformation so if this an area that you need to explore the you should start by reading my comprehensive article on the subject here

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Hormonal -based migraines

Hormonal-based migraines is another big subject in itself and one that is particularly hard to get clear-cut answers on. How I can be so sure myself that hormones can affect migraines is the number of women I have met who tell me that they know fully well that they are directly related. Further to that we can see that migraines will often start at the same time as the young woman begins menstruation and that they often finally stop when she reaches gets through the menopause!

I can tell you for a fact that you can get a tremendous amount of help from Nature in bringing a hormonal imbalance back into alignment but this is not a job for the faint-hearted. The herbs that are potent enough to achieve those kinds of effects are equally able to make things worse if you use the wrong herb in the wrong dose. I do not have a protocol of certain hormonal herbs for migraines (and I would be dubious about someone who said they did!) because women truly vary in what they will best respond to in this regard. I think that, especially if you do think that your migraines are related to your hormones that you should certainly turn to herbs to help but - proceed with caution and again, if you possibly can, do get an experienced practitioner to help you in this area. It might help to read my general article about women's health in this area. It introduces you to some of my favourite women's herbs and talks about complexity etc. which is something very relevant to the subject of migraines; it here.


Vitex agnus-castus (one of the key women's hormonal herbs)

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Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as what might potentially help you to treat or prevent migraines. As it happens the majority of the patients I have personally worked with who have migraines have been Tigers and then to a lesser extent EBs (Elephant/Butterflies) in any case there is a brief introduction to this great subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd