Conventional treatments for migraines, cluster headaches and regular headaches can work well for some people, but for many the side-effects are worse than the symptoms so understanding the 5 root causes of migraine may be very beneficial to help alleviate symptoms in a natural and gentle way.
Pharmaceuticals such as anti-convulsants, Calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, anti-depressants and even Botox injections are regularly prescribed with varying degrees of success, but from a functional medicine perspective, they all completely miss the point: the obsess about the symptoms i.e. the pain in the head! A label does not give any indication of what the root cause of the disease is and can therefore not help you overcome it, so to focus on the label drives you towards suppressing the symptoms instead of overcoming them.
In my clinic I typically see 5 root causes and the treatment for each is very different. My job, therefore, is to be a kind of ‘medical detective’ to look at your health timeline and look at the triggers, antecedents and mitigating factors that are bringing about your condition. I do like to call it a condition rather than a ‘disease’ because conditions can and do change!
Root Cause of Migraine 1: Food Intolerance or Sensitivity
It is possible to have either of these without being aware of it, particularly if it is a sensitivity. Many young migraine sufferers in particular may be functioning very well in all but the ‘migraine department’ because of the body’s ability to adapt and cope. As we get older, however, this is less likely to be the case. In this case, functional medicine treatment would begin with a very detailed intake questionnaire and a food diary and it is likely that we will ask you to map your headaches onto the food diary for a month. Alongside this we can run some lab tests that will indicate any intolerances, sensitivities and even allergies. Another very useful test is a comprehensive gut profile that will show us the state of your microbiome and can also indicate if you have Leaky Gut Syndrome which also commonly leads to migraines. Treatment would typically involve an Elimination Diet that would take at least a month, depending upon your ability to adapt to it and, of course, your family circumstances because of the challenge of eating differently to other members of the family. Many people find this is an extremely beneficial plan, though, that offers benefits other than the relief of migraine symptoms.
Root Cause of Migraine 2: Chemical Triggers
These could be environmental pollutants in the air or water, it could be mould in your house and it can also be triggers in your food such as MSG in processed food, or aspartame in diet coke. Any of these could act as triggers so we would run lab tests such as the comprehensive gut analysis that was just mentioned, or even a heavy metal analysis to see if there are chemicals that your body has ‘stored’ because it was unable to eliminate them.
Root Cause of Migraine 3: Hormone Imbalance
Whilst this can affect both men and women, it is most commonly seen in women and manifests as monthly migraines that are usually linked with the menstrual cycle or with peri-menopause. Most people think that because something is hormone-related, that it is impossible to treat without HRT or some other medication. In fact this is not the case. Our food, stress levels and environment play a huge part in which hormones are triggered and this has a profound effect on our health. The pill or menopause can lead to an imbalance in not just hormone levels but in the ratio of one hormone to another. This is something that we have various tests for , but they are all simple saliva samples that can be done at home. Treatment will be focused round nutrition, supplements, meditation and lifestyle depending upon the rest of your health timeline. We will look at which foods trigger different hormones, which herbs can help our body adapt to periods of high stress and critically how we can lower stress levels once they become too close to the tipping point. This may involve regular meditation and other practices that may be new to people.
Root Cause of Migraine 4: Mineral Deficiency
This is closely linked to high stress levels because cortisol and adrenaline will cause certain minerals to become depleted over time. This leads to a double-whammy because stress hormones also reduce our digestive hormones, so even if we eat food that is rich in the right nutrients, we may have become too depleted to actually extract and utilize the goodness, so we use functional medicine practices to break this cycle.
Root Cause of Migraine 5: Mitochondrial Function
Sometimes we need to look at a cellular level to find out what is causing the migraine. The mitochondria are the energy centres of every cell in our body and just like any motor, they produce ‘exhaust fumes’ as well as the much-needed energy. Using an organic acids test, we can assess the function of the mitochondria and if there is an imbalance we will work on our Mito Diet Plan with you that will help to renew, re-energize and re-vitalize your mitochondria and ease or eliminate your migraines.
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