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General characteristics

General characteristics

A migraine is a type of severe headache associated with episodes of over-reactive sensory mechanisms in the head that result in a set of visual disturbances, pain and other symptoms. They tend to give some symptomatic warning (such as a strange smell or flashing lights) a day or so before and can be so severe as to completely incapacitate a person for a day or more while the migraine runs its course.

The beginning of a migraine corresponds to a pulse of electrical activity which constricts blood vessels in a wave like formation from the back of the head to the front. This wave causes a drop in oxygen levels and often the person experiences a visual 'aura'. During a migraine, some blood vessels in the head dilate giving the head a full and pounding feeling but the cause of all these changes are still uncertain. During the course of a migraine, chemicals are released that produce inflammation and greater sensitivity in the head area. This sensitivity can become so acute that even jewellery, clothes and their own hair ("even my hair hurts" is a common complaint) can exacerbate the pain and cause extreme distress.

Symptoms include severe head pain often in one side at a time, double vision, visual disturbances such as the aura, eye pain, aversion to food, nausea, vomiting, constipation, nasty taste in the mouth, speech difficulties, depression or anxiety, heightened sensitivity to noise and light, dizziness, vertigo, lethargy, cold hands or feet.

It is still not completely understood why a migraine occurs but many factors and 'triggers' are suspected including low calcium or magnesium levels, liver, stomach, bowel or kidney disorder and/or toxic congestion, hormonal changes, food sensitivities, environmental pollutants, stress, food additives (especially monosodium glutamate, MSG), weather changes, strong odours, fluorescent lighting, eye strain, concussion, excess carbohydrate intake and gluten and sugar intolerance.

Healing objectives are to avoid the triggers where possible but ultimately to tone and balance the nervous system to make it less sensitive, ensure good nutrition in the body, ensure the bowels and eliminatory organs are clean and working well and to relieve any symptoms when a migraine occurs.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Food triggers for migraine seem to be very common so try to keep a food diary with exact times and ingredients if you are unsure as to what foods or substances trigger your migraine, that way you can avoid them.

Food additives such as flavour enhancers and artificial sweeteners seem to be common triggers of migraine attacks.

Try a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder (chilli) in a little water every few hours to stop or ease a migraine. It has a remarkable effect on the blood vessels and is well loved by many migraine sufferers.

Try eliminating gluten form your diet to see if this makes a difference. Many migraine sufferers have been found to be gluten intolerant or have coeliac disease.

Eat at least one salad daily containing dark green leaves, grated carrot, black olives, globe artichoke leaves and other bitter leaves such as chicory to help cleanse the liver and prevent migraines.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Skullcap, chamomile, lime flowers, wood betony, thyme and white willow bark tea in equal parts can help to relieve the pain and duration of a migraine and to regulate blood vessels. Use a heaped teaspoon of the mix and take 3 cups daily and as a preventative.

Fresh feverfew leaves, about 3 each day, can be taken to relieve the migraine and as a prophylactic to help to prevent them or 5-10 drops of the tincture daily. Feverfew counteracts the effects of the inflammatory chemicals released during a migraine.

A few drops of the tincture of blue flag in water 3 times daily can help if the liver and digestive organs are involved.

Ginkgo can be taken to help to prevent migraine incidences and reduce the duration of an attack. An adult dose is 1 teaspoon of tincture 3 times daily.

Add a generous pinch of chilli/cayenne powder to herbal teas or tincture doses to help bring speedy relief.

To help gently stimulate the liver, kidney and digestive organs, you could take a mix of dandelion root, gentian root, holy thistle, peppermint, artichoke leaf, barberry and vervain tinctures. Use equal parts of each to make a mix and take a teaspoon of the mix in a little water 3 times daily just before or after meals.

Butterbur is a herb that has been used traditionally to treat headache and migraines.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Many people find speedy relief by taking up to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 8oz of water, either sipped over the day or in one dose.

Try cooling the brainstem by placing a cool cloth on the back of the neck and replacing it when it gets warm.

Try not to rely on conventional headache painkillers (aspirin, codeine, paracetamol etc) as evidence suggests that when used regularly, they can increase the frequency of headaches and migraines, especially when used several times a week.

Consider visiting a chiropractor or osteopath to check your body for spinal misalignment's. Many migraine sufferers have found relief from chiropractic and osteopathic treatments.

Dab some lavender essential oil on your temples and the back of the neck during an attack to help reduce pain.

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