Are Migraines Making You Miserable?

Migraines are more than really bad headaches. In addition to throbbing head pain, migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, dizziness and sudden mood changes. They can cause agonizing pain that leaves you huddled in a dark room with a cold cloth on your forehead for hours or even days.

Are you tired of unpredictable migraines derailing all your plans? Let’s take a look at what triggers migraines and key lifestyle changes and supplements that can help.

Who is at Higher Risk of Migraines?

Genetics play a big role in who gets migraines. According to research, migraine tendencies are hereditary – but your genes only speak to your risk of getting migraines. Lifestyle and environmental factors can determine which gene expressions are turned on and off.
So even if migraines run in your family, you may never typically experience one. But if you go through a period (and who doesn’t?) of high stress, bad food choices and too little sleep, a migraine may strike out of the blue.

Women Are More Likely Than Men To Get Migraines

Women are three times as likely than men to get migraines. Changes in estrogen levels are a key migraine trigger factor, so the fluctuation of a monthly cycle, the onset of menopause, or a hormonal imbalance that is difficult to predict can all lead to issues. It’s not surprising men are at a much lower migraine risk.

Common Migraine Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Migraines truly demonstrate the importance of personalized medicine. What triggers a migraine for one person, has no effect on another. Individual triggers are important to identify, but it’s usually a combination of triggers that bring on a migraine. Migraine-sensitive individuals have a ‘migraine threshold’ that can be met by numerous combinations and permutations of triggers. Once that threshold is crossed, the migraine is on its way.

Let’s take a look at some key triggers- see if any of these ring a bell!

Hormonal Changes

Changes in estrogen levels are key migraine triggers. Key life events that feature estrogen such as your period, pregnancy and menopause are all times when migraines are more likely to strike.

Low Estrogen

Low estrogen levels often go hand in hand with low serotonin levels, which can further contribute to a migraine by encouraging release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). Not to mention the wild mood swings.

Stress Related Hormone Fluctuations

Stress interplays with our hormone pathways as well, creating the imbalance that triggers the migraine. Have you noticed that you get migraines more often after a difficult day? You’re not alone!

Foods and Beverages

Migraine food triggers are as individual as people. Food Sensitivity Testing can identify your personal food triggers, so you can avoid them. Here are the biggest migraine offenders:

● Alcohol (especially red wine), coffee
● Processed foods
● Gluten
● Dairy
● Sugar
● Aged cheese
● Additives like MSG, nitrates or aspartame

Sensory and Toxin Overload

Avoid situations that involve bright lights, loud sounds and exposure to chemical smells. Paint, perfume and cleaning products are the worst triggers, as they contain hormone-disrupting environmental toxins.

Check Your Personal Care Products

Avoid chemical-laden personal care products and cleaners, and opt for more natural choices. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource for toxin-free living. Their Guide to Healthy Cleaning rates more than 2,500 cleaning products and their Skin-Deep Cosmetics Database rates over 87,000 products for toxicity risk. Don’t forget about sunscreen! Their 2020 Guide to Sunscreens is now out, featuring the safest sunscreens for sports, children, and moisturizers with SPF.

Weather Changes

You may notice you get migraines when it’s very humid, or on rainy days. Barometric pressure is the most common weather trigger, but you might also be reacting to changes in humidity, temperature, wind and sun conditions.

Limit Your Migraine Triggers At Any One Time

You can’t control the weather, but you can control how many triggers you’re exposed to at the same time if you know the weather is about to change. Some weather apps include ‘migraine forecasts’. Barometric pressure can change hours or even days before we actually see a storm. So, if a migraine strikes on a clear, sunny day, chances are a storm is brewing. Consider yourself an early-warning storm system!

Daily Routine Changes

Our bodies function best with a consistent food and sleep routine. Skipping lunch to finish that work project? Staying up late to do laundry? Skimping on your water intake?

Too much disruption to your ideal routine and migraines could result. Try to keep at least one routine consistent, and not change too much at a time. Add alarms to your phone to keep sleep and meals on track. Your body will thank you by not going in migraine mode!

Medications

When a migraine hits, you’ll do almost anything to make the pain stop. Pain medications are a common solution, but over time they can make your migraines appear more often, cause more pain, and last longer. The same goes for medications for other migraine symptoms like nausea and vertigo, and high blood pressure meds.

Preventing Or Reducing Migraines

Did you see any familiar triggers in this list? The tricky thing is that what triggered you last week may not trigger you this week. Here are some tips that may help you prevent your next migraine, or reduce its severity:

Keep A Migraine Diary

Keeping a migraine diary for one to three months will reveal your migraine trigger patterns. With so many potential triggers, it’s vital to know what combination of circumstances will push you over your personal migraine threshold. Apps such as Canadian Migraine Tracker, Migraine Buddy and Migraine Monitor make it easy to track your triggers. Paper diary templates are available too.

Yoga & Relaxation

As stress and migraines are closely linked, any relaxation practice like mediation, Tai Chi or breathing exercises will reduce your migraine risk. Regular yoga practice can help by reducing anxiety and upper body tension, improving circulation and promoting relaxation. A May 2020 study concluded that “Yoga as an add-on therapy in migraine is superior to medical therapy alone.”

A Nutrient Rich Diet

Which nutrients are effective for migraine treatment? Research shows that magnesium (a.k.a. the relaxation mineral) and CoQ10 supplementation can significantly decrease migraine frequency, duration and severity.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine also has much to offer migraine sufferers. Feverfew and ginger are both ancient herbal migraine remedies, and modern clinical research now supports their efficacy. Ginger also makes a delicious after dinner tea to help you relax and digest!

Don’t Let Your Migraines Linger Untreated

The longer migraines disrupt your life, the more likely that additional issues like depression and anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, constipation and chronic pain in other areas of the body may appear.

We can look at genetic testing to see if you’re at higher migraine risk, Food Sensitivity Testing to find your food triggers, and check your hormone levels to get the full picture. Get in touch with us and let’s work together on a personalized treatment plan with nourishing nutrients that will get you out of non-functioning migraine mode, and ready to face all life’s challenges pain-free.

References:
Migraine Canada
American Migraine Foundation
Migraine Research Foundation
Association of Migraine Disorders
Migraine Trust

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D’Onofrio, F., Raimo, S., Spitaleri, D. et al. Usefulness of nutraceuticals in migraine prophylaxis. Neurol Sci 38, 117–120 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10072-017-2901-1

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Are Your Adrenals Fatigued?

Carving out a home workspace, becoming a home-school teacher overnight – pandemic pivoting is tough. If you feel unsettled and exhausted, you’re not alone. But what if you were already feeling tired, stressed and overwhelmed before? Could your adrenal glands be part of the problem? While there is some debate about the term ‘adrenal fatigue’, we can all agree that stress levels are at an all-time high. People are burning out, and the adrenal glands are major players in the stress response.

Symptoms of Adrenal Overload

Does this sound familiar?

You wake up tired. Even after a full 8 hours of sleep.
You can’t concentrate at work, and rely on coffee and sugary treats to get through the day.
You can’t relax with your family in the evenings, feeling irritable, anxious and stressed.
You have trouble getting to sleep, and often wake up sweating during the night.

Wash, rinse, repeat. Whether we call it adrenal fatigue, adrenal dysregulation or increased allostatic load, what do labels matter when your life looks like this?

Let’s get to know your adrenal glands – what’s actually happening during adrenal fatigue and what can you do about it?

Our Bodies are Old School

What’s the key to understanding where our adrenals fit into the stress response? Evolution.

Our bodies are old-school, designed for a world that no longer exists. Back in the prehistoric day, humans were very vulnerable to predators. When we saw a sabre-toothed tiger coming our way, we had to be ready to either fight it off or run away. Immediately. This ‘fight or flight’ response is literally designed to save our lives.

These days there may be fewer predators to run from, but we feel more threatened than ever. And because evolution hasn’t caught up to our modern lifestyle, our body treats physical and ‘emotional’ threats equally. In other words, the same stress response is initiated whether you’re running from a tiger, or reading an unpleasant email.

The Adrenal Glands in Action

So what actually happens in your body when a stressor hits, and how do your adrenal glands respond?

Let’s say you have a big work project due next week, and all is going well. Suddenly an email comes in from your boss – your deadline just got moved up. You now have 3 days to finish a project you thought you had 7 days to complete. Even before you finish reading the email you notice:

Your heart is pounding
Your breathing speeds up
Your muscles are tense

The HPA Axis: What Happens in the Body When Stress Hits

How did this happen in mere seconds? Let’s look at that scenario again.

Within seconds of opening the email, your brain identified it as a threat and sent the ‘get ready to fight or flee’ instructions to the hypothalamus gland.

The hypothalamus sent the super urgent messages directly to the adrenal glands – that’s why you became a heart-pounding anxious mess in seconds.

The hypothalamus also sent less urgent messages to the pituitary gland, which in turn relayed it to the adrenal glands.

These three glands form a stress-response team you may have heard of: the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.

The Role Of The Adrenals

What messages did the adrenal glands receive?

– Produce hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol amongst others)
– Release them into the bloodstream to get to the muscles and organs that can take action.

The Body’s Response to Adrenal Hormones

And what actions do these target muscles and organs take when they get their hormonal instructions from the adrenals?

– Increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar
– Dilate pupils
– Expand lung airways
– Redirect blood to the heart, limbs and organs

Makes sense, right? This lightning fast process gives us the immediate energy, oxygen and blood flow needed to fight or flee, and more peripheral vision to see threats.

We Are Over-Taxing The System

Here’s the thing: this system is built for infrequent, physical emergencies. Now we mostly use it for frequent, emotional emergencies. Or put another way: stress. What happens when stress is the rule rather than the exception and your adrenals are working overtime?

What Goes Up Must Come Down

When we keep asking the adrenals to produce and secrete their hormones repeatedly over long periods of time, the result is predictable: things start to break down. If we feel threatened or unsafe more often than not, the system that was designed to help us starts working against us.

Does Modern Stress Ever Go Away?

Herein lies the modern-day problem: when does the threat pass? Or does it pass? Many of us are living under nearly constant low-grade stress. The signs your body is looking for to dial things back may never truly arrive, so the adrenals are working much more than they were designed to.

This leads to exhaustion, weight gain, brain fog, digestive issues, low sex drive and a suite of other unpleasant adrenal fatigue symptoms.

Time To Step Out Of Fight Or Flight Mode

So what can you do to help your body get out of the flight or fight cycle and get back on track?

Find Your Threat Triggers

The best way to help your adrenals help you, is to figure out what you’re threatened by. This is a deceptively simple question, but an important one. We may think that we’re only threatened by truly life or death situations, but our physical reality says something quite different.

Keep a Stress Diary

Try this simple practice: observe yourself for a week to see when you exhibit the immediate stress response, and note these incidents in your journal (or the Notes app on your phone).
Because this complex response happens before you even think about it, it’s a very accurate indicator of what stresses you out. Do you get stressed when talking finances with your significant other? Getting a snarky email from a colleague? Talking to your child’s teacher?

It may not be an action – it’s just as likely to be a fearful thought. How many fearful thoughts do you have in a day? An hour? While reading this article?

Learn What Triggers You & Dial It Back

When you really watch yourself, you may be shocked to see just how many times a day you’re unknowingly putting yourself into fight or flight mode. The goal is to learn which situations trigger you, identify the stress response, and learn to dial it back once you recognise it happening.

Supporting Your Adrenals With Nutrition

If stress tends to get the better of you, what you eat can help. Focus on eating a diet full of vegetables and healthy fats, and low in stimulants like sugar and caffeine.

Supplements That Support The Adrenals
Certain natural supplements may help as well, such as:

Turmeric

Curcumin, the active element in Turmeric, is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but has also been researched for its ability to support mood and depression.

Licorice Root

Licorice has been studied for its role in helping to regulate cortisol and improve energy levels. It’s important to note that licorice can increase blood pressure, so it should not be taken if yours is already high or you take blood pressure medication.

Vitamin D

Often taken for its role in supporting a healthy immune system, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to the overproduction of cortisol.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb which has been shown to lower cortisol levels when taken twice a day. Make sure that the tea, tincture or capsule you chose specifies Rosea, as other types of Rhodiola may not have the same research backing.

Get to The Root Cause

These mindfulness-based strategies can help you bring your stress response back into balance – but the reasons why you are feeling reactive may run deeper. Remember all those hormones that the adrenal glands work so hard to produce?

A naturopathic doctor specializing in hormonal balance can run the right lab tests to check your hormone levels, and work with you to create a personalized adrenal fatigue treatment plan that will move you from a habitual stress response to a more relaxed frame of mind. We can also help you understand how to support your adrenal glands with the nutrients they need to promote your body’s ability to handle stress.

Time to get calm, strong, and capable of handling whatever problems your day, or the world, brings!

References:
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