By Dr. Paul Deglmann
Edited by Meghan Feir Walker
In America alone, 15 percent of the population suffers from migraines. Out of those American migraine patients, 75 percent of them are women.
Whether chronically or episodically, are you suffering from the pain of migraines? In this article, we will go through what a migraine is, the most common causes of migraines, understanding and alleviating migraines, and the supplement we most often recommend for migraine sufferers.
What is a migraine and what are the symptoms?
Migraines cause severe headaches and are associated with other common symptoms. Some of the most common characteristics of a migraine include:
- Headache/throbbing sensation that affects one or both sides of the head or face
- Often the pain is centered around the orbit of one eye
Along with the headache, some other common symptoms include:
- Light or sound sensitivity
- Visual changes/disturbances, also called auras (such as zig-zag lines or flashing lights)
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Mood changes
There are two main categories of migraines based on frequency:
Episodic: Migraines occurring less than 15 times per month.
Chronic: Migraines occurring more than 15 times per month for 3 or more consecutive months.
How do you know if it’s a migraine?
According to the American Migraine Foundation, you can tell if you are experiencing a migraine when:
- Your head pain is moderate or severe and often intense. The pain may be hard to endure and may be unbearable.
- The pain may be on one side of the head or both. It could be in the front or in the back. Some patients experience migraine in or around their eyes and behind their cheeks.
- Your head pain causes a throbbing, pounding, or pulsating sensation.
- Your head pain gets worse with physical activity or any movement.
- You experience nausea and/or vomiting
- You are sensitive to light, noise and/or smells.
- Your head pain is severe enough to make you miss school, work or other activities (or it keeps you from being at your best when you do those activities).
- A migraine attack lasts anywhere from four hours to several days.
The different phases of migraines
There are four notable phases of a migraine: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome. Not everyone will experience each one of these phases every time they have a migraine, and certain phases are never experienced by some migraine sufferers. It’s important to learn about these four phases so you can better understand and manage your condition.
The prodrome and aura phases usually occur before the headache develops. Prodrome may precede the migraine by several hours or even days.
Typical prodrome symptoms include:
- Extreme tiredness and yawning
- Irritability or moodiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Food cravings
The prodrome phase can be hard to identify because all of these symptoms could be experienced apart from an oncoming migraine as well. About 75% of migraine sufferers experience prodrome.
Only 20% of migraine sufferers experience aura migraines. An aura migraine typically involves visual disturbances, such as the following:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of vision
- Flashing lights
- Blind spots
- Zig-zag patterns
- Bright spots
While visual changes and disturbances are most common for the aura phase, some people can also experience tingling, numbness and/or trouble speaking.
Most commonly, the aura phase occurs before the head pain of the attack begins and fully resolves in an hour or less.
For some people, early identification of symptoms and treatment will prevent the migraine from getting worse.
The headache phase of a migraine attack usually involves pain on one or both sides of the head and lasts from several hours to three days. It can also cause nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to lights and noises.
The postdrome is the final phase of a migraine attack, and it can leave a migraine sufferer with a “migraine hangover.” This is a common occurrence and 80% of people with migraines experience the effects of this phase.
The symptoms of the postdrome phase can include:
- Body aches
- Trouble concentrating
- Sensitivity to light
What causes migraines?
Not only are migraines incredibly painful, draining, scary, stressful, and disturbing, but they are also huge disrupters to normal daily life. They can cause migraine sufferers to miss out on work, social commitments, other obligations, the simple joy of daily life, and good sleep.
Every person experiencing a migraine wants to know why it happened and what they can do to prevent future occurrences. Unfortunately, most people are left with their questions unanswered.
At our clinic, we can usually credit the cause of people’s migraines to one or more of these four main categories.
The top four migraine triggers for our patients have been caused by nutrition/their immune system/inflammation, dysregulated hormones, neurological problems, and musculoskeletal issues.
No. 1: Nutritional/Immune/Inflammatory
The first trigger category is the most common and most underlooked cause of migraines. This category includes things such as:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Inflammatory triggers
- Food allergies/sensitivities
- Dysbiosis in the gut (imbalance between the good/beneficial microbes and harmful microbes)
- Other microbes such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeast/fungi, tickborne infections (Lyme/co-infections), etc.
- Toxicity (mold, heavy metals, environmental toxins)
No. 2: Hormonal
This category can be easier to identify because it often follows a cyclical pattern.
Do your migraines appear a few days prior to the start of your cycle, during the first few days of your cycle, etc.? Take note from month to month.
There are several factors that impact hormone dysregulation (which can cause migraines), and these must be considered when trying to discover the root cause(s) of the problem.
No. 3: Neurological
When considering and looking at the pathways and health of the nervous system, consider it the same as you do with muscle strength.
If you haven’t lifted weights or stressed your muscles through daily activity and exercise, you will lose strength, stamina and endurance in the muscles.
The same process can happen with the brain. Sometimes pathways are weak and fatigue quickly, which can trigger migraines and other neurological symptoms depending on where that weakness/vulnerability is occurring.
No. 4: Musculoskeletal
Many of you can probably relate to this category. When your muscles are tight, or something is structurally off in your body, this can easily cause migraines. Migraines can be triggered by issues stemming from the neck, trigger points in certain muscle groups near the head, neck, shoulders, upper back, etc.
Some migraine sufferers really believe chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, myofascial therapies, and other musculoskeletal modalities help with their migraines.
How can you figure out your triggers?
After performing a very thorough review of your history, we highly recommend ordering specific, individualized testing.
For example, if we believe that nutritional deficiencies may be part of your problem, we will order a nutritional deficiencies panel to avoid the guesswork and see what your deficiencies are.
If we deem dietary triggers are probably, we will order food allergy and food sensitivity testing for you.
If we want to look at the gut microbiome, we will order a stool test. If we think toxicity may be part of the picture, we will order the relevant toxin panels.
The main point here is that testing is necessary to identify the problem(s). Test, don’t guess.
What if you don’t have access to good testing?
We suggest meeting with an experienced functional medicine practitioner to figure out what testing is necessary for your individual case.
If you don’t have access to a functional medicine doctor and good testing in your area, or you can’t afford to do the thorough testing, we can look at removing common dietary triggers (grains, dairy, sugar, etc), but this still isn’t a good substitute for accurate testing.
Is there a supplement I can take?
One of the best, most effective supplements we’ve found that is formulated for migraines is called Ultra Riboflavin by NutriRestore.
Ultra Riboflavin contains nutrients such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and CoQ10 that are known to support vascular function and tissue oxygen utilization. These effects are only enhanced when combined with botanicals such as feverfew and butterbur.
Signs and symptoms of riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency include:
- Hair loss
- Sore or burning lips, mouth or tongue
- Light sensitivity
- Burning, itching or tearing eyes
- Loss of visual acuity
- Angular stomatitis
Studies show that riboflavin can help decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches in adults.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is a water-soluble B vitamin and is needed to manufacture cellular energy from food. It helps regenerate glutathione and is required as a cofactor for the enzyme, MTHFR (the major detoxifier).
Studies show that riboflavin may help decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches in adults. Riboflavin also appears to be effective in the prevention of migraine headaches in some adult patients.
Ultra Riboflavin does not contain gluten, dairy and GMOs. This product is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. Patients with blood-clotting disorders should consult with their healthcare professional prior to taking this product.
If you are experiencing frequent migraines, as a reminder, our recommendations are:
- Find a knowledgeable functional medicine doctor.
- Go through thorough, accurate testing. This can help you determine what the cause of your migraines may be, whether they’re driven by nutritional/immune and inflammation problems, dysregulated hormones, tight muscles, neurological problems, or a combination of those common causes.
- Address your diet and eliminate any inflammatory triggers, such as gluten, dairy, grains, and sugar to see if that helps alleviate your migraines.
- Learn more about Ultra Riboflavin from NutriRestore and see if that may be a fitting option for you.
We hope this article is helpful as you learn how to understand and alleviate migraines. To watch Dr. Paul discuss this on video, click here, and remember to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.