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Rude Health looks at how you can cope with headaches and migraines the natural way

If you suffer from headaches the most obvious culprits are dehydration, stress and poor sleep. Common sense steps such as drinking more water and getting enough sleep can help to prevent this becoming a common problem.

For 12-15% of the population migraine can be a real problem. The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, hypersensitivity to light, noise and smells, and a severe, throbbing (usually) one-sided headache. An attack can be ‘triggered’ by a combination of factors including stress, food and alcohol, hormonal changes, an excess or lack of sleep, weather factors, changes of routine, poor posture and flicker from televisions, computer screens and certain types of lighting. Migraine is three times more common in women than men due to the hormonal changes through a woman’s life from puberty to menopause.

Food triggers

For some people headaches and migraines are triggered by food and drinks that contain amino acids such as arginine, tyramine and histamine. These include aged and fermented foods like cheeses; dried and fermented meats such as bacon, pepperoni, salami and ham. Sourdough breads, yeast breads and yeast extracts also contain high levels of tyramine and also fermented foods like vinegar, sauerkraut and alcohol. Tannin-rich foods and drinks like tea, coffee, berries and nuts should be avoided where possible.

The role of stress

Stress may seem normal in our busy lives, but it can lead to real health problems including migraines and headaches because it depletes the body of nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins. Taking a high quality daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can go a long way to redressing the balance.

Natural help

Basil oil –
good for headaches caused by tight muscles caused by tension.

CoQ10 –
thought to help prevent migraines due to its omega-3 content, found in oily fish and wholegrains or as a supplement.

Flaxseed –
rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can be taken as an oil.

Lavender oil –
relaxes your mind and body. Place a drop on your temples or add 2-4 drops to boiling water and inhale.

Magnesium –
aids sleep and muscle tension. Spray straight onto the trouble spot.

Valerian –
good for relaxing stiff muscles. Take as a tincture or in tea.

Discuss your decision with a healthcare practitioner before beginning or stopping any medical or herbal treatment.

Case Confidential: ‘I tried everything to ease my migraine’

“I started having migraines a couple of times a month during puberty and I still suffer from them now,” says Ruth* from Waterford. “Over the years I have been prescribed beta blockers, anti-epileptic drugs and anti-depressants. I was also referred to a neurologist and attended a headache clinic. I decided to come off the drugs when I wanted to get pregnant.

“I tried a number of alternative therapies including reiki, kinesiology, homeopathic and flower remedies, Chinese herbs and acupuncture with varying success.

“I have found yoga to be very helpful for helping me to cope with a busy life, stress and anxiety which I now understand is a trigger for my migraines. When my job involved travelling a lot I found that yoga breathing exercises could be done on the plane and really helped.

“I also saw a nutritional therapist who recommended some vitamins and minerals and gave me advice on overall diet improvements, how to keep my blood sugar levels stable, add in good foods and maintain regular eating. That has helped.

“The other advice I got was to do 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.

“I now have a better awareness of my body and am able to recognise the signs of a migraine much earlier so that I can take steps to alleviate it. My triggers are hormone levels, coffee, travelling, wine and not getting enough sleep. Coping with migraines is all about learning what works for you.”

*Not her real name

The Migraine Association of Ireland runs a helpline 1850 200 378 and website

Click here to read earlier Rude Health Magazine natural health articles.
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