Headaches are certainly among the most frequent and perplexing of problems seen by physicians. Headache is the ninth most common cause of physician visits. Migraine affects about 20% of the adult population, with more women affected than men. One hundred and twenty children with migraines had an average onset of 5 to 15 years with about equal sex ratio under the age of nine. Family history was positive in 79%. Eye symptoms occurred in 43%. People with migraine often have a family history of “sick headaches,” or a history of digestive upsets, travel sickness, asthma, eczema, or hay fever.
The symptoms of migraine include headaches that last from three hours to three days, with an average of about 12-18 hours. They usually occur no more often than one per week, and one or two per month is a about average. The onset of pain is usually gradual and on one side, but may switch sides or involve the entire head. The pain is throbbing and moderate to severe. There are often symptoms which precede the attack by several hours or days manifested generally by emotional or mental disturbances, digestive upsets, and fluid imbalances. Neurologic manifestations may occur of a visual nature such as rainbows around lights, streaks or pings of light, but may also include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and other neurologic features.
What Causes the Pain?
Migraine can be most easily explained as an allergy, the pain being caused by the release of chemical substances in the brain and other tissues following an allergic reaction. Foods responsible for the antigen:antibody reactions account for the presence in the tissues of the body of chemicals that cause the headache — noradrenaline, histamine, and other substances capable of irritating blood vessels.
A migraine headache may be caused by foods to whichone is allergic, but then precipitated by different triggering agents. As an example: the cause of a migraine may be cheese or perfume allergy, whereas the trigger may be an emotional upset. Other triggers may be various foods in addition to the cause (see below) such as chocolate or apples. Tyramine-containing foods such as cheese and wine may either cause or act as triggers for recurrent headaches. Sometimes a food will trigger a migraine within a few hours, but the next time the food is taken a headache is not developed at all. The person then wrongly thinks that food is not involved after all. It takes most people about two months to learn how to get the maximum benefit from a migraine-preventive diet.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), tension, depression, alcohol, tobacco, birth control pills, vasodilator drugs, salt, food additives, water retention, menstruation, wind exposure, and sun exposure are other triggering agents. There may also be multiple aggravating factors which may neither cause nor trigger an attack but make it worse once it occurs. The aggravating factors include poor air, constipation, chilling, noise, etc.
Of 263 patients, 30% of the patients with migraines reported an exposure to the sun as an trigger, whereas only 17% of patients with non-migraine headaches and 7% of patients with muscle contraction headaches observed this relationship. Probably these persons dilate their blood vessels too much in response to the sunshine. Sun exposure is a more frequent triggering factor in migraine than diet. Pain-sensitive structures outside the head that may be involved with migraines include the skin, scalp, fascia, muscles and arteries. Also, the lining of the sinuses, mouth, pharynx, and nose are all pain sensitive. Headache of any type is derived from one or more stretched blood vessels. In migraine, an artery, most commonly the superficial temporal artery, becomes constricted at first, then the same segment of the artery becomes widely dilated, and overstretched. The pressure of the blood carried in the artery increases the pain, whereas compression of the artery with the hands on the side of the head over the dilated segment will cause relief of pain. The control of blood vessel tone is through the autonomic nervous system. Thus many natural treatments are directed at the nervous system and blood vessels.
Foods implicated as causes of migraines in one survey were dairy products (especially cheese), citrus fruits, avocados, alcoholic drinks, plums, raspberries, fatty or fried foods, onions, tea and coffee, meat (especially pork), and sea food. In another survey the commonest foods causing migraines were wheat (78%), oranges (65%), eggs (45%), tea and coffee (40% each), chocolate and milk (37%), beef (35%), and corn, cane sugar, and yeast (33% each). When an average of 10 common foods were avoided there was a dramatic fall in the number of headaches per month, 85% of patients becoming headache free. The 25% of migraine patients also having high blood pressure became normal in blood pressure.
Eating too many varieties of foods at one meal is a common cause of headache. The many chemicals from the various foods, even though naturally produced, still make war inside the system. For people with headaches it is wise to take two dishes at a meal of very simple foods such as baked potatoes and string beans along with bread and spread and a raw dish such as sliced tomatoes, lettuce wedges, simple coleslaw, etc., instead of a complex salad.
The Rebound Effect of Medications for Migraines
Migraine headaches can actually be caused by medication given for migraines. Persons who take pain medication on a regular basis can have what is called the rebound effect that happens after the medication for the acute headache begins to wear off. Medications that cause vasoconstriction such as Midrin eventually cause blood vessels to swell out bigger when the drug wears off, requiring higher doses to get the same effect. Caffeine may do the same thing.
Objectives of Treatments
The objectives of natural treatment are twofold: to reduce the number of headaches or to stop them entirely, and to treat the acute attack without the injurious medications usually used. The medications that migraine patients sometimes take often become as troublesome as the symptoms themselves. The patient can learn that he can exert some control over the pain by things done himself, and can therefore gradually reduce or omit medications.
- When the headache is first coming on, take advantage of the blood vessel reflexes to break the constriction-dilation cycle by making changes in the temperature of the body. It is known that a hot shower or bath followed by a cold shower at the onset of pain can bring relief. The exposure to the hot water needs to be long enough to cause reddening of the skin, and the cold should be long enough to bring shivering. Cracked ice in the mouth or throat can sometimes bring tightening up of the overstretched blood vessels and relief of the headache.
- Just at the start of a migraine, put five to ten drops of a cayenne extract in the nostril on the side of the headache. Hold the medicine in the nostril. The headache is usually gone in about 10 minutes. Even after headaches are well established the cayenne extract will work fairly well. In these cases it may need to be used on both sides. Interestingly enough, the pain in the nostrils is not as intense as one would think it could be. The way to make the tincture is a quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in one cup of pure grain alcohol from a liquor store at 80 - 95% concentration, the best solvent range for cayenne. Let is set for a day or two and it is then ready for use. It can be filtered to get rid of the solid portion, or merely allowed to settle and the top portion poured off.
- A quart of ice water poured for one minute on the scalp at the nape of the neck and allowed to flow under the hair to the forehead to drip off the bowed head into a pan or bucket is helpful. Follow this by a second quart of ice water poured for one minute over the soles of the feet. Dry both the scalp and the feet briefly and return to bed.
- Hot foot baths may sometimes be helpful. Make the water so hot it is painful (Do not use for insulin dependant diabetics). Put both feet in the water for 1-2 minutes only. Dry the feet quickly and return to bed.
- A sock wet in one spot with vinegar, the spot positioned over the painful area and the sock pinned around the head has been used as an old-fashioned remedy. It often helps.
- A cold compress to the head with small chips of ice still in the cold towel, or an actual ice pack to the forehead can bring great relief.
- A hot foot bath with a cold compress or ice pack over the painful area can also be helpful.
- Aromatherapy using essential oils of lavendar, sage, peppermint or catnip can also be curative or greatly relieving for many types of headaches including migraines.
- Rebreathing into a paper bag for as many breaths as can be tolerated can stop migraines in many individuals. May be repeated in five minutes as needed.
- A quickly done enema lasting one or two minutes can sometimes be quite helpful. Plain water at about 112 to 114 degrees and quickly expelled can be curative for some persons a few minutes or an hour or so after the enema. The hot water should not be held longer than three minutes as it could make the headache worse. An enema can be given at body temperature also and repeated until the water comes back clear.
- Wrapping a band about two inches wide, such as from that made folding a towel, around the head quite tightly, and putting a dowel in the tied knot and twisting it to increase the pressure from the tight bandage, can give almost immediate relief to some people.
- Pressure on both temples by the heels of the hands can bring immediate relief, sometimes temporary, and sometimes long-lasting. Apply the pressure with about as much force as you can give, and maintain it as long as you can continue holding it, slowly releasing when the pressure can no longer be maintained.
Exercise has been found to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.
The majority of this content is taken from Dr. Agatha Thrash of Uchee Pines Institute, printed with permission by Wildwood Inn Health Retreat.