By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
Migraine is really just a type of headache, but it has taken on a separate identity because of the severity and disability often associated with it. First of all, we don’t really know what causes migraine headaches. There are theories about the interaction of environmental factors, genetics and brain chemistry, but the plain fact is that we don’t really know what causes them. The headache itself is characterized by some, or all, of the following:
- A severe throbbing or pulsing sensation. This pain is usually on one side of the head, but can be on both.
- Nausea and vomiting, as well as extreme sensitivity to light and sound can also be present.
- There is often an “aura” which can include both visual and auditory disturbances like flashes of light, blind spots and even tingling and numbness in an arm, a leg, or one side of the face.
- Migraines can last anywhere from hours to days.
What we do know is that there are a number of factors that can contribute to, or trigger, migraines. Sleep difficulties, stress, a change of weather associated with a decrease in the barometric pressure, certain types of alcoholic beverages, and even foods such as aged cheeses and wine can all trigger migraine headaches. In addition, many clinicians, including myself, have observed that hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle can trigger migraines.
When looking at the landscape portrayed above it can seem quite daunting when one is trying to identify the causes and effectively treat someone who is suffering with migraine headaches. Fortunately, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce your susceptibility to migraine. Nutrition is incredibly important because what you eat impacts your hormones and the inflammatory response in your body, both directly and indirectly. For example, if you have food sensitivities that are unidentified and yet you eat those foods all the time, it will create undue stress on your liver, and doing so can impact the timing and distribution of female hormones during the menstrual cycle. Such imbalances can and do trigger migraine headaches. In addition, as previously mentioned, certain foods are known triggers for migraine. Many of these foods contain what are known as “vasoactive amines”. These chemicals will influence blood vessels in the brain and can also trigger migraines. Red wine, yellow cheese and some processed foods fall into this category.
The brain has a stereotypical response to stress of any sort. That response is known as the “stress response” or the “fight/flight response”. Any stress, whether mental, chemical, or physical will activate this response and in doing so may trigger mechanisms that cause migraine headaches. The good news is that anything which reduces the stress response can prevent and sometimes alleviate migraine headaches. Getting good and restful sleep, doing moderate exercise, identifying and eliminating food sensitivities, and taking actions to minimize and ameliorate the impact of mental stress will all help prevent migraine headaches.
Chiropractic care can also be very effective, especially when combined with other natural and holistic approaches. Misalignments in your spine and other parts of your body send negative body messaging to your brain. 95% of this messaging is not consciously perceived. This negative messaging – it’s called “nociception” – stimulates the stress response. When a chiropractor accurately identifies and adjusts misalignments, particularly in your spine, this barrage of negative messaging stops and your brain chemistry normalizes. What I am saying is that chiropractic care can be a very effective preventive strategy for migraine sufferers. In addition, when a person is experiencing a migraine, chiropractic intervention can shorten the duration and intensity of the headache.
Migraines are not a simple problem, but if approached with common sense and a holistic viewpoint, they can often be prevented and effectively treated.
Dr. Tim Fargo is an Edina Chiropractor who practices in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and has done so for the past 38 years. He is the clinic director of Chiropractic Health and Wellness and the founder of ScoliTech™, a company devoted to the care of patients with scoliosis and other spinal disorders. He enjoys caring for people of all ages, but specializes in the treatment of scoliosis and postural imbalances. In addition, he has had extensive experience in treating hundreds of elite and professional athletes, including 15 years spent as the chiropractor for the Minnesota Vikings. He is a passionate educator who actively mentors chiropractic students and has delivered literally hundreds of lectures to the community on various wellness-related topics.