Naturopathic Migraine Treatment

Migraine headaches are caused by excessive dilation of the cerebral blood vessels, though scientists do not fully understand what causes the dilation in the first place. Blood vessels don't just dilate spontaneously—they are presumably responding to chemical changes that are occurring in the body.

A naturopathic physician or holistic medical doctor will want to take a complete medical, family, menstrual, and diet history before considering the cause of migraine. Some of the illnesses to be ruled out are bowel problems, mold allergies, vitamin deficiencies, hypertension, TMJ misalignment, food allergies or intolerances, dehydration, spinal subluxations, coffee/caffeine intoxication, and aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) toxicity among others. All of these problems can cause migraine symptoms and usually can be treated very easily without the use of drugs.

Paradoxical as it may seem, a surprising percentage of migraine headaches may be caused by migraine medication. The "rebound effect" of analgesic and ergotomine compounds has been implicated as a contributing factor for sufferers of daily headaches. Discuss this phenomenon with your prescribing doctor if you are taking more than 30 analgesic tablets a month or if you regularly use ergotamine derivatives. Withdrawal from these products can temporarily make headaches worse, but eliminating these products altogether may ultimately mean no more headaches —ever.

How & What You Eat Can Cause Migraines

When exploring the causes of headaches, the easiest place to start is diet. Food reactions are a significant contributor to headaches and some improvement in symptoms, if not complete remission, can always be achieved by eliminating problematic dietary items. The elimination/challenge trial described below is a good way to identify food reactions that may be causing your headaches.

Foods that most commonly induce migraines:

  • cow's milk
  • wheat
  • chocolate
  • egg
  • orange
  • benzoic acid
  • cheese
  • tomato
  • tartrazine (yellow food dye)
  • rye

Foods like cheese, beer, and wine induce migraines in some people because they contain histamines and/or vasoactive compounds that cause blood vessels to expand. Women tend to react to histamine-containing foods more frequently than men do, on account of a deficiency in an enzyme (diamine oxidase) that breaks histamine down. Taking supplemental B6 may be helpful in these situations, as it can increase diamine oxidase activity.

Nitrites, which are common ingredients in lunch meats and smoked/cured meats, dilate blood vessels, and may trigger migraine.

Nutritional Supplements for the Relief of Migraines

  • Wobenzyme: 5 tablets 3 times a day between meals; or, if this dose causes loose stools, 3 tablets 5 times a day
  • Magnesium citrate: 250mg to 500mg 3 times a day with meals
  • Vitamin B6: 25mg 3 times a day with meals; vitamin B6 supports the enzymatic breakdown of histamine.
  • 5-HTP (5- Hydroxytryptophan): 100mg to 200mg 3 times a day; 5-HTP increases seritonin and endorphin levels in the brain and has been shown to be as effective as commonly used migraine drugs and with none of the side effects.

Physical Medicine for Migraines

  • Submerge the feet in a bucket of very hot water while applying an ice compress to the back of the neck. This actually draws the blood down to the feet away from the head. Reduction of pain coincides with the duration of application.
  • Acupressure can be helpful. See a trained acupressure therapist for instructions on procedures to do at home.
  • Chiropractic adjustments and maintaining correct spinal alignment can be very supportive in the prevention of headaches that are triggered by muscle stress and spasm.

Miscellaneous Treatment Options for Migraines

  • Intravenous magnesium: IV magnesium can be very helpful for migraine patients who have low-grade magnesium deficiencies. Physician monitoring is needed for this procedure.
  • Biofeedback therapy: Look for a certified biofeedback practitioner to learn how to reduce pain with a relaxation response that is as effective as Inderol without the side effects.
  • TENS Unit: Electrical nerve stimulation units can reduce muscle spasm in patients with tension and migraine headaches. A health care practitioner's prescription is needed for insurance coverage of these units, which should be available through medical supply companies. Some chiropractors and physical therapists loan these devices out to patients for a small deposit.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture can balance underlying hormonal deficiencies, tone the gastrointestinal system, and calm reactive blood vessels.

A word of caution: When selecting an acupuncturist, be very careful to research the training and qualifications of your practitioner. Medical doctors can take weekend courses in acupuncture and call themselves certified acupuncturists. A weekend course is NOT enough to time to understand the complex philosophy or practice of Chinese medicine. These doctors can do harm, so be careful.

Choose a practitioner who holds a full doctorate degree in Chinese medicine, an O.M.D. (Oriental Medicine Doctor), or Lic.Ac (licensed acupuncturist). These practitioners are required to complete several years of training and often have completed internships in China, Japan, or Korea. The letters TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) after the name means that the doctor has additional training in prescribing Chinese herbs. The more knowledge a practitioner has about Chinese medicine and its supporting philosophy, the more able they are to diagnose and treat your symptoms. Also, as with all health care practitioners, check their practice's reputation in the community.

Migraines & Your Environment

Migraines can be agonizing, debilitating, and scary. The inclination to "make the pain go away now" can, ironically, be an obstacle to curing the pain. Migraines do not just happen—they are not a random occurrence. They are your body interacting with its environment. Explore your environment to determine what is upsetting your internal balance, and you can learn how to control your headaches and prevent them from ever recurring.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 25 Mar 2013