What do Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Elvis Presley have in common? They both suffered from migraines – a condition that according to the charity Migraine Action Association affects six million people in the UK alone.
A migraine may be triggered by a number of factors, including stress, food additives (such as the artificial sweetener aspartame), loud noises and flashing lights, chocolate, red wine, pickled food, cheese, the birth control pill and even sudden changes in temperature or the weather.
The frequency and length of an attack can differ greatly from one sufferer to the next, lasting anywhere between a few hours, days and, in severe cases, even weeks. Contrary to popular belief a blinding headache is only one symptom of a migraine attack, as it can also cause nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, limb numbness and speech impairment.
Worse still, not only are sufferers forced to cope with debilitating symptoms like these but they are also placed at higher risk of a migrainous stroke, which as the name suggests is a stroke that follows a severe migraine attack. Migrainous strokes account for almost one in three cases of stroke in people under the age of 45, and 25 per cent of all strokes are in fact linked to migraines.
Five ways to help banish migraines for good
As already mentioned, many foods are strongly implicated in precipitating an attack. For this reason you may find it beneficial to consult a nutritionist to help identify and correct any food sensitivities that could be triggering your attacks. In addition, the following natural measures can help prevent as well as reduce the severity of migraines:
1. A low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet: Many migraine sufferers report experiencing an attack shortly after eating too much sugary food. In addition to sweets and sugar, refined carbohydrates also cause your blood sugar levels to quickly rise. This interferes with the normal actions of various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which are implicated in causing migraines and can prolong the length of an attack.
The good news is that by consuming more ‘healthy’ fats in your diet – such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, and oily fish like mackerel, sardines and halibut – your levels of omega 3 fatty acids that are present in these foods are given a much-needed boost. Omega 3s possess excellent anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing the inflammation of the nerves and arteries in the brain, thereby greatly lessening the severity of a migraine attack.
2. Butterbur (Petasites hybridus): This is an extremely popular herbal remedy in Germany, where it is widely used as a preventative for migraines. Fortunately the rest of Europe now finally seems to be catching on to its remarkable range of actions in this area – research has shown that it not only helps prevent attacks but can also ease migraine pain.
It works by inhibiting toxic chemicals called leukotrienes, which are released during the inflammatory process. It has also been found to help regulate the degree of widening that takes place in the arteries of the brain. The recommended dosage is one 50mg standardised butterbur extract capsule taken twice a day with meals.
3. B Vitamins are also beneficial for warding off migraines: In particular, vitamins B2, B3 and B6 help prevent vasoconstriction (narrowing of the arteries) and also inhibit blood platelet clumping which can occur during an attack. To benefit take a vitamin B complex supplement once a day.
4. Magnesium: Migraines have been linked to a deficiency in this mineral. Magnesium is important because it takes part in the transmission of chemical messages from the brain to the arteries and helps control the degree of arterial dilatation (widening). Several hospitals in Canada and Germany now use magnesium supplements as a standard treatment for migraines, although it is also effective as a preventative. The dose is 200mg of magnesium citrate capsules taken twice a day.
5. Feverfew (Tanacetym parthenium): Researchers working at the Department of Neurology, University of Essen, in Germany, studied the effects of feverfew on a group of 147 migraine sufferers. At the end of the four-week study, the researchers found that the patients taking feverfew experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of their migraines compared to those in the placebo group. Not only that but pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light were also significantly reduced following treatment with feverfew.
Another study found that feverfew can reduce migraine frequency in up to two thirds of cases. The recommended dosage is one 125mg feverfew capsule taken once a day.
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