Migraine Self-Care Using Functional Medicine

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Migraine headaches are a debilitating condition affecting millions of people worldwide. These recurrent headaches can cause severe pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and other debilitating symptoms. While conventional medicine offers various treatment options to manage migraines, an alternative approach known as functional medicine has gained recognition for its holistic and personalized approach to addressing the root causes of migraines. Functional medicine focuses on the interconnectedness of various bodily systems and aims to optimize overall health and well-being. Here, we explore the principles of functional medicine and how it can provide effective strategies for managing migraines.

Understanding Migraines

Migraines are complex neurological disorders characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches often accompanied by other symptoms such as visual disturbances, dizziness, and nausea. While the main cause of migraines is not fully understood, various factors such as genetics, hormonal imbalances, environmental triggers, stress, and dietary factors have been identified as potential contributors. Traditional approaches to migraine management typically involve using medications to alleviate symptoms, such as painkillers, triptans, and preventive medications. However, these treatments often provide temporary relief and may have side effects.

Functional Medicine Approach 

Functional medicine takes a different approach to migraines by viewing them as symptoms of underlying imbalances within the body. It seeks to identify and address these imbalances by comprehensively evaluating an individual’s medical history, lifestyle factors, genetic predispositions, and environmental influences. Functional medicine practitioners spend considerable time with their patients to understand the unique aspects of their health and provide personalized treatment plans.

One of the primary goals of functional medicine is to identify triggers or underlying causes of migraines that may be specific to each individual. This may involve analyzing factors such as hormone levels, food sensitivities, gut health, nutrient deficiencies, and stress levels. Functional medicine aims to decrease the number and severity of migraines by addressing these underlying imbalances.

Comprehensive Patient Assessment

Functional medicine practitioners take a complete approach to patient assessment. They understand the patient’s medical history, lifestyle, diet, stress levels, sleep patterns, and environmental exposures. This information helps identify potential triggers and underlying factors contributing to migraines.

Identifying Triggers

Triggers are factors that can initiate or worsen migraines. In comparison, triggers vary from person to person. Some common ones include certain foods (such as processed meats, aged cheeses, artificial sweeteners), hormonal fluctuations, stress, lack of sleep, bright lights, and strong smells. Functional medicine practitioners work closely with patients to identify their unique triggers through careful observation, diary tracking, and elimination diets.

Nutritional Interventions

Diet plays a significant role in migraines. Functional medicine focuses on identifying and eliminating potential dietary triggers. Certain foods can cause inflammation, disrupt hormonal balance, or affect neurotransmitter function, which may contribute to migraines. By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods, healthy fats, and balanced macronutrients, patients can potentially reduce the frequency and intensity of their migraines.

Balancing Hormones

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in women, can trigger migraines. Functional medicine practitioners assess hormonal imbalances and work towards rebalancing them through lifestyle modifications, stress management techniques, and targeted supplements; for women experiencing menstrual migraines, hormone therapy or natural alternatives may be recommended to regulate hormone levels.

Gut Health Optimization

Emerging research suggests a link between gut health and migraines. The gut-brain connection is a complex interplay, and disruptions in gut flora can influence neurological function. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend dietary changes, probiotics, and gut-healing protocols to improve gut health and reduce migraines.

Stress Reduction and Sleep Optimization

Stress and poor sleep quality are common triggers for migraines. Functional medicine emphasizes stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular physical activity. Sleep hygiene practices, including establishing a consistent sleep routine and creating a conducive sleep environment, can also help reduce migraines.

Detoxification Support

Toxins from the environment can accumulate in the body and contribute to migraines. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend targeted detoxification protocols to support the body’s natural detoxification pathways. This may involve dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and supplementation to enhance liver function and eliminate toxins effectively.

Functional medicine recognizes the role of diet and Nutrition in migraine management. Certain foods and additives, such as caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, and artificial sweeteners, have triggered migraines in susceptible individuals. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend an elimination diet to identify specific food triggers and develop a personalized meal plan that supports optimal health and minimizes migraines. They may also suggest dietary supplements to address nutrient deficiencies and promote a healthy inflammatory response.

Stress Management and Sleep 

Stress and poor sleep are known triggers for migraines. Functional medicine emphasizes the importance of stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and mindfulness practices. These techniques can help reduce the impact of stress on the body and promote relaxation.

Additionally, optimizing sleep hygiene is crucial in migraine management. Functional medicine practitioners may evaluate an individual’s sleep patterns and recommend strategies to improve sleep quality and duration. This may include establishing a compatible sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and addressing underlying sleep disorders.

Functional medicine offers a promising approach to managing migraines by addressing the underlying imbalances and triggers contributing to these debilitating headaches. By focusing on an individual’s unique physiology, genetics, and lifestyle factors, functional medicine practitioners aim to provide personalized treatment plans that promote long-term relief from migraines. While conventional medicine is vital in managing migraines, functional medicine offers a complementary approach that empowers individuals to take a vital role in their health and well-being. If you suffer from migraines, considering functional medicine as part of your treatment strategy may provide new insights and opportunities for relief.

Here we discuss this with Dr. Meg Mill, a functional medicine doctor, to get her thoughts on this topic.

NourishDoc: Hello, everyone. While headaches and migraines for the last couple of years. I bet all of us have experienced that. Well, that’s what we will talk about today with Doctor Mill. Doctor Mill is a functional medicine doctor, and she is joining me, specializing in migraines and headaches. Thank you so much for joining me, Dr. Mill.

Dr. Mill: Thank you for having me.

Conventional vs. Functional Medicine Approach

NourishDoc: All right, Migraines and Headaches. Are we just ignoring, right? This is one of those things. So, I have a small headache, and we never take it seriously. But it can be a serious ailment, especially migraines. So, we want to understand the conventional and functional medical approaches.

Dr. Mill: Yes, well, so, I think the typical conventional medicine approach generally for headaches and migraines is treated with medication, and so, many times when we treat it with the medication, we’re putting in some ways in this situation, we can be putting a band-aid on the pain. So, we’re looking at just treating the pain for the headache or migraine.

However, when you’re taking these medications for long terms, they often have other side effects, particularly if you’re going to grab an Advil over-the-counter or something that can be then giving you other problems like with your gut health and everything like that and we’re just kind of, like I said, putting a band-aid on covering up the pain.

So, in the Functional Medicine Approach, we want to flip it upside down and say that the headaches and migraines are a symptom, and what are they a symptom of? So, we will look at the body as a whole and understand why you would have headaches.

Sometimes that can come from other things in your body, such as the foods you’re eating that you’re reacting to, such as gut health, food sensitivities or hormones, or stress. So, we’re looking at balancing your body, finding the triggers, balancing your body, and fixing the headaches from within so that you no longer get the headaches and have to take the medication.

Tests in Functional Medicine Approach

NourishDoc: Okay, so that’s great. I love Functional medicine, and it’s getting to the root cause. You could talk about the diagnosis. Well, I know functional medicine comes with much testing. The tool is testing, getting into a route or understanding the root cause, and then fixing it. What are some of the tests that you would recommend or do?

Dr. Mill: One of them is some different tests you can do to see. So, one of the things we’re going to look at is food sensitivities because there we do know that you can food sensitivities come with symptoms other than just an upset, sometimes we think of food sensitivity as something that’s going to make us have an upset stomach, but they can cause head, different reactions in our whole body.

So, we’re going to do, we can do food sensitivity tests and pull out those foods that you’re reacting to, and so that’s calming your immune system down, so sometimes people, we want to avoid those foods for like 90 days while we’re treating the headaches. Then, we reintroduce one food at a time every three days and see how your body reacts.

Another test that is good for people specifically with those cyclical migraines so, you hear some women particularly having cyclical migraines at ovulation and then, right before their period and with those women, I would do a hormone test for them and look at all of their hormones because many times we’ll find that that can be a dominant estrogen type, situation or something like that.

So, then, we work at rebalancing the hormones. So, we look at everything that’s going on with that unique person and what we need to do to rebalance them to clear the headaches.

Nutritional Deficiencies Self-Care

NourishDoc: So, the other thing is to have you observed or any, is there any research or data that talks about common nutritional deficiencies with people who have headaches and migraines?

Dr. Mill: The common nutritional deficiency is that we often see magnesium. So, there is a high correlation between people who have low magnesium levels and get chronic headaches. So, that’s one of the first things that you can do.

You can add foods with magnesium into your diet, and that could be pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, or cashews; there are different foods; just looking, you can do a Google search and find foods with that are high levels of magnesium and see if you can do that to boost those levels.

So, other different things like B vitamins. So, as we have specifically, riboflavin is another nutritional deficit. So, taking a B complex because then you’re helping with methylation can be helpful and can get some of those nutrients to build up. We want to ensure you’re getting enough energy in your cells.

Food Triggers To Avoid

NourishDoc: What were some of the triggers? Like, I’ve just read the research on chocolate or some of the things that people with headaches or migraines do. If you eat chocolate, then it triggers, and you should talk about food triggers people should avoid.

Dr. Mill: Yeah, sure, and so the food triggers; I do like to tell people because whenever I work with people, these lists can be long, and then they think, oh no, what can I eat? So you have to look at not every food; there’s research on many different foods that are triggers but not every food is a trigger for every person. Sometimes it’s really about the threshold.

So, sometimes you can eat a certain food, so salicylates that would have, that would be in some citrus foods. So, you could eat citrus like you could say, ” Okay, I had something with lemon, and I was fine. However, maybe you’re eating citrus food with something that also contains tyramine because the tyramine food groups which we like age meats and cheeses. They also can be a trigger. So, even that combination of foods.

So, some of the combinations, some of the common ones we look for are, like I said, foods with tyramine, foods that have nitrates in them, MSG, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame; we want to be careful of those, salicylates are another one and then foods that have histamines in them too because when we’re sometimes there’s a correlation with people releasing too much histamine and the histamine causing the headaches too.

So, what we want to do is look at the foods that you’re eating and what I recommend, you kind of start; if you’re looking for a place to start, what you can do is print out a blank calendar and then, look at the days that you have headaches and then, write down on that calendar what you’ve eaten that day and maybe the day before because some of the food reactions can be delayed and then, look and see if you have a common thread.

If you evaluate and look into it, you may notice that there’s some food that, like, wow, every time I did, every time I had a headache, I did eat that food. So then we pull those foods out and see, really get to be, once you can choose what could trigger you.

Self-Care With Diet Modifications

NourishDoc: So, it’d be a combination of diet modification to your point; what are the things you modify to a client to help manage their headaches and migraines?

Dr. Mill: Another simple thing you can do is ensure you’re staying hydrated. We don’t think about hydration; we’re only sometimes thinking about having that glass of water, but dehydration is another independent factor. So, we want to make sure that you’re staying hydrated, and we want to make sure also that you’re getting hydrated at a cellular level.

So, we want to make sure you’re drinking throughout the day rather than chugging all your water at one point. Sometimes, we get so thirsty, and by the time we’re thirsty, we’re almost our bodies telling us that we need to drink, and people can chug it and then eliminate the water. So, ensure you have that water throughout the day and drink enough.

We generally want to get about half our body weight in water daily. The other thing that I think people can pay attention to is holding the mirror up is sleep because sleep is another independent risk factor for headaches. So, do you get enough sleep? Are you getting good sleep too? Are you going to bed? Waking up when you start looking at your sleep patterns can be enlightening. We think I’m sleeping finer, but when I work with people, and they realize how they’re sleeping, that can also make a difference.

Other Holistic Therapies For Migraines

NourishDoc: Would you also add meditation, yoga, pranayama, those kinds of things?

Dr. Mill: Yeah. So we did; we worked on it because cortisol is at high-stress levels. So, we work on exercise, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. We need to bring down those cortisol levels and get you more in that parasympathetic nervous system because that triggers another headache.

So, I have them; I use what I call the eat method; when I’m working with my headache patients, I see people for all different reasons, but when I’m specifically working with people for headaches, we work on enlightening, so we enlighten you about, the triggers as we talked about the food and different that you can do toxins and all, all the triggers that you have.

Then we work on aligning, so in the aligned phase, we work on stress. We work on hormones. We work on your circadian rhythm and make sure and get your body back in alignment. Then we work on thriving and making sure that you have any other underlying things, the right nutrients, the right moves, and all of those things to thrive and move on.

By the time you get through those, we work through supplements because it’s more about bringing the nutrients back into balance. However, by the time you get through, it can make a significant difference for people and the headaches. It’s shocking because people think that many people suffering for so many years and have just been so used to just like, I have to live with this and take the medication. So then they’re like, wow, I don’t have headaches anymore, and it’s transformative. It’s great.

NourishDoc: That’s amazing. So much success with just working with the root cause and cleansing your system from the inside out, and that’s what you’re doing and identifying the trigger and replenishing with the ones that will give you energy and nourish you, right? All right. This is a quick 10-minute session that we bring daily. Anything else, Doctor Mill, that you like to add before I wrap up?

Dr. Mill: Yeah, I have a free guide; you can go to Heal Your Headaches.com, and that guide has eight steps too. It’s just eight steps to say goodbye to headaches naturally, and they’re just simple things you can start with. So, if you’re looking for a place to start, that’s good; that’s a good place to start, and see if any of those tips can enlighten you.

NourishDoc: I think that’s great. We are also launching a platform where all the ailments and certificates will be available for less than $10 monthly. So, stay tuned and want to advocate a holistic lifestyle for everyone worldwide, so keep supporting us. With that, have a great evening, everyone; thank you so much.


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