Migraine is conventionally treated with prophylaxis, painkillers, and opioids. Some of these medications have adverse side effects or fail to ease the symptoms. For example, every day more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. (R) Based on extensive research in migraine etiology, scientists have also established many natural and home remedies for relieving migraine symptoms and frequency. They are typically safe and do not have harmful side effects. This article provides some science-backed tips and tools for managing migraines and headaches naturally.
Consult your health care professional before taking supplements or considering alternative treatments for your current health care protocol.
Sleep is important for migraineurs. Animal studies suggest that poor sleep (especially the lack of REM sleep) upregulates the expression of proteins linked to chronic pain. Sleep deprivation can also increase next-day amygdalar hyperreactivity and sensitivity to sensory stimulation. Sensory stimulation such as loud noises, pollutants, and bright light can cause headaches and trigger a migraine (sensivite brain hypothesis). Thus, it is important to ensure that the nervous system gets a proper chance to calm down and build resilience towards sensory stimulation during the night. Deep sleep also has an important role in detoxifying the brain from harmful substances (such as beta-amyloid) by activating the glymphatic system. Migraine is also linked to neurotoxicity and thus, deep sleep is also fundamental for managing headache and migraine pain.
When a migraine is online, many patients report that sleep can help in terminating headache. It calms down the nervous system HPA-axis and modulates neurotransmitter activity that can possibly modulate migraine pain as well.
- Read more: 30 tips for better sleep
2. Supplements to prevent migraine
Some supplements have been linked to reduced migraine frequency and symptoms.
- Ubiquinol ssupports mitochondrial function and cellular energy production. It has been shown to decrease migraine frequency. Migraineurs have also higher risk for COQ10 deficiency.
- Magnesium is a mild sedative and supports GABAnergic signaling in the brain. It has shown to ease migraine pain and decrease their frequency.
- Migraineurs have low brain magnesium during migraine attacks
- Many migraineurs have magnesium deficiency
- Supports cell’s energy production and metabolizing other vitamins (such as iron and other B vitamins)
Vitamin B complex
- Lowes the levels of homocysteine (migraine with aura is associated with elevated homocysteine levels)
- N-acetyl cysteine is a new innovative treatment for migraines and there over 20 promising studies about NAC in the prevention of neurological disorders
- NAC modulates glutamatergic, neurotrophic, and inflammatory pathways and may prevent excessive glutamate circulating in the brain. Excessive glutamate is associated with migraine pain (S) (S) (S).
4. CBD and CBD-A oils (cannabis oil)
Within the past few decades, the popularity of CBD in relieving chronic pain has grown. The research in regards to migraines is limited but promising. For example, in one study of 48 people with a migraine, cannabis reduced migraines for almost half of the participants. (R) Also, cannabis compounds may help to reduce the use of opioids for those who suffer from chronic pain (S)
CBD is one of the two main active compounds in the cannabis plant. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (natural pain-regulating system) preventing the break down of anandamide. Anandamide is a natural endorphin that has the potential to decrease pain sensations. CBD does not have any psychoactive properties, as such, it won’t make you high. Cannabis oil also does not cause dependency. Typically, you can find cannabis oil in health food stores or pharmacies.
A purified CBD oil that contains no THC received approval by the FDA in June 2018 to treat two rare and severe types of epilepsy. (S) Migraine and epilepsy are similar in their mechanisms and effects on the nervous system.
Stress is a major trigger of a migraine and stress prevention can help managing migraines. Ashwagandha a herb sold in supplement form. It has shown to decrease subjective feelings of distress and anxiety (R). In one study of 64 participants with chronic stress, ashwagandha reduced the biological stress markers and psychological stress for 75% of the participants (S). It also decreases oxidative stress in the brain. (S)(S) Ashwagandha also blocks a peptide released during oxidative stress and prevents a rapid release of glutamate, which is associated with migraines. (S) (s)
Other herbs that can help to manage stress by calming the nervous system include:
- Holy basil (tulsi)
- Lemon Balm
4. Caffeine reduction
Coffee can also be a migraine trigger. If reducing coffee is not an option, there are supplements and nutrients that can smooth out hyperactivation caused by caffeine. L-theanine, for example, promotes a relaxed state in the nervous system (measured by increased alpha waves). Cinnamon and ginger can help in reducing the spike in blood pressure followed by coffee. (S)
- Add 50-200 mg of L-theanine to 1 cup of coffee
- Use coffee that has less caffeine and stabilizing herbs and mushrooms (such as cinnamon or reishi) and oils (MCT oil or ghee)
Instead of coffee try caffeine-free stimulants and adaptogenic herbs such as:
- Chaga tea
- Cordyceps mushroom
- Peppermint tea
- Ginger tea
Mindfulness is a psychological tool that helps mentally detaching from the experience of pain and treat the pain like an environmental ‘noise’ signal. It can also modulate brain activity and change brain structure in areas that control emotion, pain, and self-regulation. It is one of the most powerful psychological tools for pain management used in clinics, schools, and workplaces around the world.
To learn meditation try these practices:
- Participate to an 8-week MBSR course
- Read Full catastrophe living by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Try meditations from Youtube
- Use a meditation App like Headspace or Calm
- Try also other meditation techniques such as Focused Attention Meditation and Loving-Kindness meditation
6. Using computer glasses and blue light blockers
Staring at the computer screen for a long time can cause strain to the eyes, which may trigger a migraine. Using yellow-tinted glasses helps – especially if you tend to be on the computer for long periods of time. Computer screens and phones also emit blue light. Blue light exposure, especially in the evening, can delay melatonin production and disrupt natural circadian rhythm causing sleep problems. Red-tinted glasses block the blue light emitted by computer screens and phones.
- Read more: product recommendations
8. Light optimization
Migraineurs have a so-called hypersensitive brain which is also common in photophobia (light sensitivity). (S) (S) As much as 30-80 % of migraineurs report light as a trigger for headaches and over 90 % of migraineurs are light-sensitive during the attack. (S) Light can trigger migraines within seconds; for example when stepping from indoor lightning into the bright sunlight.
Even between attacks migraineurs are more sensitive to light. Those without migraine report light becoming too bright at 23,000 lux (a sunny cloudless day). However, for migraineurs, even illumination as low as 500-1000 lux (cloudy day) can cause headaches and pain. (S) This is also the typical indoor lightning in some working and public places, such as factories, production lines, hospitals, treatment rooms, libraries, and markets. This sort of light exposure for several hours a day may explain some of the chronic headaches that migraineur with photophobia experience.
One of the most reliable triggers of migraines is flashing or flickering lights. For some, they provoke migraines more than office lighting or bright light.
To prevent migraines caused by lights:
- Wear sunglasses outdoors and in bright indoor environments
- Optimize home and office lighting
- Use blue light blocking glasses in the night and evening
- Reduce computer screen flickering
- Read more: Optimising light exposure for migraineurs
9. Breathing and HRV training
Migraine shares many mechanisms with a chronic sympathetic nervous system disorder. Migraine elevated levels of certain neurotransmitters, for example; dopamine, prostaglandins, adenosine triphosphate, and adenosine, which are all linked to SNS-activation. (R)
Learning to mindfully calm down your nervous system might release tension and anxiety related to pain. For example, breathing techniques like boxing breathing and belly breathing are really powerful ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and cultivate emotional balance. Another way is to use HRV training where breathing is combined with mindfulness. HRV training typically includes the usage of an App in combination with an HRV-sensing sensor.
10. Avoiding dietary migraine triggers
Certain foods are among the most common triggers for headaches and migraines. They include
- Sucralose and other artificial sweeteners
- Casein (dairy)
- MSG (glutamate)
11. Ketogenic Diet
Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to migraines. A ketogenic diet can support mitochondrial health and energy production. Ketone bodies (especially BHB) have also shown to reduce oxidative stress and neuroinflammation which are linked to migraines. A ketogenic diet can also promote GABAnergic activity in the brain, which is linked to decreasing excessive excitability in the nervous system. The ketogenic diet also promotes the gut microbiome and integrity of the intestinal wall. Gut problems have been repeatedly been found in migraine and sometimes they are the only symptom of migraine (so-called abdominal migraine). It’s also well established that there is a link between gut and brain function (called the gut-brain axis).
Read more: Brain benefits of the ketogenic diet
12. Frequent meal times
Fasting protocols, including intermittent fasting, has shown to increase brain growth factors, fat burn, metabolism, and boost the immune system. However, fasting can also be a migraine trigger. Migraines are more common during hypoglycemia (blood sugar below 70 mg/dL), which can happen after skipping a meal or extending a fast. If fasting causes you migraines, you could experiment with the ketogenic diet or a fasting-mimicking diet, in you teach the body to run on fats instead of sugars.