Common Types of Headache and How to Treat Them Naturally, Part 3: Migraine Headaches
Most sufferers of migraines will tell you that they are serious business.
In aura migraines, sufferers are struck with alterations to consciousness that serve as a “warning” of the impending migraine: an odd smell in the air, swirling colors, bright lights, confusing thought patterns. Auras can occur a few seconds to a couple hours in advance. They usually but not always subside once the actual migraine hits.
Migraines affect more boys than girls, but more women than men. They also run in families, suggesting a hereditary component.
Interventions Some People Find Helpful
Vitamin B12: B12 deficiency is more common than many people think and may play a significant role in migraine vulnerability.
Folate: In women migraine sufferers, increasing dietary folate reduces the severity of the attacks. Higher doses may be better; for example, in one study 1 mg folate was ineffective, while 2 mg seemed to help prevent migraines.
Riboflavin: Riboflavin (aka vitamin B2) deficiency is common among migraine sufferers, and researchers have spent a considerable amount of time exploring its supplementation for migraine prevention. A 2004 study found that giving riboflavin supplementation reduced migraine frequency and resulted in lower use of anti-migraine medications. Riboflavin supplementation also decreased migraines in kids and teens in one study. All in all, it appears safe and effective for adults, and perhaps worth a shot in kids.
Since we the sort of leitmotif of Root Resolution Health is “Test, don’t guess,” we would argue that B vitamin supplementation, whether B12-folate, riboflavin, some mix of the three, or even other key B vitamins (6 and 3), is probably most likely to help people who have low levels or genetic mutations that increase their biochemical need for these nutrients.
Tests like Genova Diagnostics’ NutrEval, and to a lesser extent, the organic acids urine tests of companies like Great Plains Laboratories, Doctors Data and again Genova Diagnostics (not to mention a blood test from your doctor), will show you if you are A-okay, borderline deficient or even full-on running a deficit. It’s worth knowing especially if you suffer from migraines (or any other neurologic complaint for that matter).
Magnesium: The evidence is quite clear in 2016. Magnesium matters for (many) migraine sufferers.
Migraine patients have lower magnesium levels than controls. Same goes for red blood cell magnesium levels. In juveniles, magnesium levels actually drop after a migraine.
Low magnesium levels are a significant and independent predictor of one’s migraine risk. In the “acute attack phase,” a migraine patient’s odds of having a migraine go up by 35 times if magnesium levels drop below recommended bottom limits. In migraine patients not in the acute phase, their odds go up by 6.5 times if magnesium levels are low.
Oral magnesium trials are mixed, but there’s some effect. Magnesium appears to be effective as migraine prophylaxis—as a preventive measure. You probably can’t take magnesium once a migraine hits and expect an effect. In that same study, L-carnitine and L-carnitine combined with magnesium also worked better than placebo. Magnesium citrate (600 mg/day, spaced out in twice daily dosing of 300 mg) was very helpful for non-aura migraines and may be a better choice than magnesium oxide, the type used in most other migraine studies.
Magnesium levels are tricky to test for. Intracellular levels, inside red blood cells, used to be the gold standard, but many functional medicine practitioners now prefer to look at actual tissue levels– done via a quick and easy cheek swab, just like the PCR Covid test we have come to know. Most of the U.S. population is believed to be deficient in magnesium due to industrial farming and our food production system generally, so if you cannot test for Mg, you might just try supplementing– with the right form at the right dose– to see if it helps. Even though it can take a month or more to fully replenish magnesium stores within all the cells and tissues of the body, results are usually noticeable rather quickly.
The cheek swab test for magnesium is from a company called Exa, and you can read about it here.
Red meat: Red meat is the best source of both L-carnitine, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. Throw some sauteéd spinach in there and you’ve got a big dose of L-carnitine, riboflavin, and magnesium. Make it beef heart and you’ll get some CoQ10 as well. Make it liver and you’ve got yourself some folate.
Triggers: Every migraine sufferer I know has a food, smell, or chemical compound that triggers them. For some, it’s Chinese food. For others, it’s red wine, or aged cheeses, dairy in general, gluten, fast food, or even red meat. According to Chris Kresser, the most common triggers are foods containing histamine, tyramine, or arginine. They’re not all foods and drinks, either. They can be common household chemicals and perfumes. Some people report EMFs as a trigger. Even particularly powerful emotions, stressful situations, and other non-corporeal phenomena can be triggers for some people.
Supplementation: A recent study gave a proprietary magnesium, riboflavin, and CoQ10 supplement to migraine sufferers. The supplement was a great success, reducing symptom severity and duration. But again, it would have been more interesting (and more useful) to have tested these nutrient levels in people before the intervention. One would expect, obviously, the greatest benefit in those who were low or sub-optimal to begin with!