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

Migraines are a highly complex health problem. To start with, getting a clear diagnosis is tricky. Only about a third of people get the classic visual 'aura' though most can feel the migraine 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 get some, rather than all, these classic migraine symptoms.

All that said, everyone who gets migraines suffers from them in some kind of cycle of remission and relapse, and everyone reports levels of pain that are clearly very bad.

Many, perhaps most, people with migraines will have tried different drug therapies and will have had varying levels of success with them. It is certainly the case that the severity of some migraines will warrant a potent pharmaceutical intervention and the observation from practice is that, in such cases, there is a lot to be said for trying a number of different approaches before settling on whatever seems to help the most.

Hopefully, you already have some medication that you can use only as needed and can trust that it will help to at least a reasonable extent. If so, the following material that represents some approaches of holistic medicine towards migraine should be understood as trying to reach into the cause of the problem. Use medications as required whilst working through the areas that need it and, all going well, you will greatly reduce the frequency and severity of the migraines. If you do not have any pain or migraine treatments that you can rely on then none of the following recommendations are any different, it is only that the need to find a way to break cycle of migraine becomes that much more urgent.

There are four main issues that may need work. For some people, there will be a crossover from more than one, others will just need to attend to one area to get a lasting shift. In any case, there are no quick fixes here, this kind of approach requires a person to be both patient and methodical, willing to sustain a program of treatment and to honestly assess what difference it makes over a period of weeks or even longer.

Tension based migraines

There is a question that you must ask yourself if you get regular migraines which is ‘do they happen more often on the weekends on when I am on holiday?’ If, in all honesty, the answer to that question is ' yes' then you already know that stress and tension is an important part of the cause of the migraines.

Many migraine sufferers need to release a great deal of tension, especially from their neck and shoulders. This area is put first because, whilst tension might not be the main cause of migraines, it can 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 for what best works for them. If you already know works, use it. Don't fall into the trap that people in stress are always prone to which is 'I'll relax when I've resolved my stress" which, of course, never happens.

As well as doing what you know and trust, try some or all of the following to see what makes the biggest difference to help reduce tension and prevent migraines.


Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)

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Herbs to release tension

There are some tremendous allies in Nature for helping with excess tension and some key favourites are introduced below. Note that it is ok and quite normal to use more than one of these herbs at the same time.

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 so, if possible, get your herbs from a registered herbalist or other trusted supplier.

Cramp Bark

Cramp bark can be profoundly good at relaxing tight and cramped muscles anywhere in the body. It may need to be taken quite frequently and certainly in sufficient doses but, when used correctly, its effects can be profound. More information, including how to use it, found here.

Skullcap & Passionflower

These two herbs work particularly well as a pair to relax a tense nervous system. More about the intriguing Skullcap here and the beautiful Passionflower here.

Valerian

Valerian doesn't suit everyone, but when it is the right herb for the right person it can have a transformative effect, more here.

Californian poppy

Mostly thought of as a 'pain herb', the main reason Californian poppy can be so healing is its profoundly relaxing action when taken in sufficient dose, more here.


Eschscholtzia californica

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Physical therapies

As a general rule about migraine, the tenser the neck and shoulders, the worse the migraines and vice versa, the less the tension, the less the migraine.

Body work and exercise are, of course, not the only ways to release tension from the body, but they are singled out here because their effects are so direct, palpable and immediate. Some people respond best to the passive relaxation of receiving body-work, some people respond best to the active relaxation achieved through exercise, some will benefit equally from both. Whatever you do, you must gradually assess how much it is helping and discard what doesn't work, stick with what does.

Body work

Getting the right kind of body work has been a game-changer for some migraine-sufferers but it rather seems to depend on finding the right person with the right approach!

Many of the recommendations at the beginning, in the section on 'finding as good herbalist' will equally apply to this area. There surely must be plenty of attention paid to the neck and shoulders and perhaps the head itself. You should be in no doubt if it is making a significant difference within just 2 or 3 sessions.

Exercise

Exercise is a key way for many people to destress and relax. Some prefer a vigorous blow-out with relaxation as a natural result afterwards, others prefer exercises that focus on releasing tension within their method, for example, Yoga Tai Chi, Pilates, Chi Gong etc. Some people find a good walk works better than anything else, you need to know yourself and do whatever works best for you.

Anxiety

People always know if anxiety is an issue for them, If you need to delve more deeply into this subject, there is an article that goes much further into what kinds of herbs and holistic approaches can best help, found here.

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Blood circulation based migraines

Migraines are, in essence, headaches caused by disturbed blood flow to the head. In many cases, the core issue is one impaired circulation which, in turn, can relate back to the health of the heart or the consistency of the blood itself.

Heart health

If you already know that you have some kind of heart problem, and you also get migraines, then there is a strong possibility that these two issues will be linked.

Heart health is a big subject but, to start with, if you have problems with palpitations or arrhythmias then read here. If you have problems with blood pressure then read here.

However, if you don't have a name or diagnosis for whatever is going on but, nevertheless, know in yourself that something isn't completely ok with your heart then, whatever else you do, start taking a good dose of Hawthorn leaves and/or berries.

It may take a couple of weeks before you can feel what Hawthorn can do however, the ability of this humble herb to improve the strength of the heart in all people from all backgrounds is nothing short of extraordinary, read 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 migraine territory their blood can get as thick as pea-soup. This is known because many patients have had their blood analysed under a microscope and, likewise, they often fare better when steps are taken to get their blood runnier.

Firstly, dehydration is a leading cause of sticky blood stay so stay well-hydrated! For most people, this means drinking at least 6 cups of water a day but the way you know you are doing it right is with how often you need to go to the toilet to pass a reasonable amount of urine. Less than once every two hours is not enough, more than once an hour is too much. To be sure of good hydration, the sweet spot is to need to go every 1-2 hours.

Further to water, there are several herbs that are well-proven to make the blood less sticky.


An example of non-sticky blood

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Cayenne

One of the best of all medicines to help get the blood runny is Cayenne pepper. For some people, Cayenne has been the herb that has made all the difference to their blood finally getting runny and their migraines becoming a thing of the past. Best to use in capsule form to achieve the kinds of doses that may be necessary, more here.

Gingko

Ginkgo is not a herb that suits everyone and it comes with a caution but for some migraine sufferers this has been a key remedy to shift their condition. 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!

Of course, a person who is taking a medicine to help migraine will want to avoid anything that gives them a headache but it must be understood that a) it happens for a reason b) it is not at all a bad sign and c) it should soon pass.

The reason it can happen is that, as the Ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain, it is like a river that pushes against a dam until it breaks and the water runs more freely. If you get a distinctive headache, which would be very different to a migraine, take it as a good sign that a better blood flow is happening to places that needed it. You can decrease the dose of Ginkgo if you get a headache but don't stop using it and, as soon as you are ready, build the dose back up to the recommended amount on the label. More here.

Feverfew

Feverfew has become somewhat famous as a migraine remedy and. at least a part of how it appears to work, is in helping to make the blood less sticky. Large doses are not required but consistent dosing is, more info here.

Omega-3, Garlic & Ginger

Omega-3 oils in the diet or in supplements (e.g. 3 grams a day) help the blood to be less sticky.

Likewise, Garlic and Ginger are well proven to help the blood be less sticky, amongst other benefits. The following links provide some potent recipe suggestions, along with other information of interest.
More about Garlic here, and Ginger here.


Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew)

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Allergy-based migraines

Food allergy, or intolerance, is a real and common root-cause for migraine and understanding how to diagnose and treat allergy or intolerance can be vital to getting a cure.

It may be wise to focus on this issue first and foremost when a person had other indicators that they might be suffering from food allergy or intolerance such as:

a) a history of eczema or asthma in childhood
b) allergic 'shiners' i.e. dark rings under the eyes
c) bloating, discomfort and bowel disturbance after eating 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, if you need to explore this area in practical detail, read here

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Hormonal -based migraines

Hormones clearly play a major role for many women who suffer migraines and this is clearly indicated in such signs as:

a) migraines begin around the menarche; the onset of puberty and menstruation
b) there is a pattern of migraines occurring at regular times within the menstrual cycle
c) the migraines change in the peri-menopause and completely stop after menopause

It is possible to get a tremendous amount of help from Nature in bringing about a change in this area but it is not a job for the faint-hearted. The same herbs that are potent enough to achieve a significant shift in hormonal balance are equally able to make things worse if used in the wrong way for the wrong person.

I personally do not have a protocol of certain hormonal herbs for migraines, and would be dubious about someone who said they did, because women will significantly vary in what they will best respond to in this regard.

If you know that your migraines are related to your hormones, then you certainly should turn to herbs for help but proceed with caution and, if you possibly can, get an experienced practitioner to help.

It might be useful to read a generalised article about women's health in this regard, it talks more about the vital subject of complexity introduces some key women's herbs, found 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.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences. There's a brief introduction 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