Archive for the “Migraines” Category

Head and Heart

Head and Heart

Beyond pain: Migraines have been linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk.

by Susan Weiner, Energy Times, February 2011

The French have a saying that translates as “the heart is forever making the head its fool.” For those who endure migraines, the opposite may be true: Migraine sufferers are slightly more prone to heart attacks and other cardiovascular ills than others.

According to the National Headache Foundation (NHF,, 70% of the more than 29 million Americans with migraine are women; fluctuating estrogen levels may be the reason. While the precise cause of migraines is not fully understood, swelling of blood vessels in the brain can trigger throbbing pain in the eye, jaw or face, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea and vomiting. Stress, lack of food or sleep, anxiety, weather changes and certain foods can set off an attack.

Visual disturbances known as aura—such as partial blindness or seeing flashing lights—that may accompany migraine appear to be especially problematic. Among women 45 and older who experience aura, the risk of dying from heart attack, stroke and heart disease is twice that of women without migraine (BMJ 8/24/10 online).

People with migraine were found to be twice as likely to experience heart attack, diabetes or a heart abnormality; aura pushed risk to the highest levels (Neurology 2/23/10).

However, the threat posed by migraines is not as great as that of other risk factors. “Being twice as likely to have a heart attack translates into 4.1% of people with migraine compared with 1.9% of those without, which is not that much of an increase in real numbers,” explains Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Magnesium Miracle (Ballantine;

Most migraine sufferers would tell you that reducing the risk of an attack is a worthy goal of its own. In one NHF survey, nine out of 10 reported not being able to function normally when a migraine strikes.

Life-Altering Headaches

Jodie Pulkinen knows how migraines can disrupt one’s existence. To relieve the pain she has hidden in dark rooms, driven to the emergency room for shots of Demerol and ingested enough ibuprofen to cause liver damage. She’s also struggled with a heart condition marked by chest pain, fatigue, rapid heart rate and palpitations.

In 2004, Pulkinen’s resting heart rate stayed at the very high 220 beats per minute for several hours. Soon after she underwent a mitral valve catheter ablation, a procedure that fixed her heart and unexpectedly lessened her migraines. “I never thought the migraines and the heart condition were connected,” says Pulkinen, 43, a project coordinator for the American Lung Association in Burdett, New York. “After the surgery, I had fewer headaches. If I’d known, I could have done something about my heart a long time ago.”

After the surgery Pulkinen made dietary changes. “I cut out all caffeine,” she says. “No coffee, no soda, no chocolate. I’ve reduced my sugar intake as well.” Migraine sufferers should also avoid an amino acid byproduct called tyramine, found in a number of foods and food additives including MSG, aged cheese, sauerkraut, alcohol and preserved meats. Eating cold foods can trigger migraines, as can skipping meals and becoming dehydrated. In addition, extra body fat has been found to both provoke migraines and increase heart risk.

Taking a magnesium supplement and eating magnesium-rich foods such as green vegetables and whole grains can not only fend off migraines but also help maintain a steady heart rhythm and lower blood pressure. This mineral, which prevents blood vessel spasms and regulates pain receptors, has been shown to help ease migraine (Magnesium Research 6/08). “A deficiency in magnesium will cause migraines and heart disease. Treating with magnesium can treat both,” says Dean.

Relaxing for Relief

Migraines and heart disease run in the family of Andrew Levy, PhD. In addition to taking blood pressure medication that eases migraines, Levy, an English professor at Butler University in Indianapolis and author of A Brain Wider Than The Sky: A Migraine Diary (Simon & Schuster), eats less, exercises more and practices stress reduction. “The fact that doctors have told me about these potential links between heart disease and migraine has actually not been a source of stress for me,” says Levy. “It has helped me to understand my own body better from a holistic standpoint.”

As Levy has discovered, learning how to relax is a key to reducing migraines. In one study, a combination of gentle yoga postures and breathing exercises lessened migraine frequency and pain, and improved mood (Headache 5/07).

Migraine sufferers can also benefit from the herb feverfew, which slows the production of inflammatory compounds and helps maintain proper vessel tone. A combination of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 may reduce migraine frequency and lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to coronary disease and migraines (Pharmacogenetics and Genomics 6/09). CoQ10, a supplement best known for its cardiac benefits, may help reduce migraine frequency.

If your migraines persist, see a practitioner and don’t assume the worst. As Aristotle once wrote, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

When It Isn’t a Migraine

It’s hard to find an adult who hasn’t had a headache at least occasionally. But for some people headaches are, if not a daily occurrence, frequent enough to interfere with their quality of life. Besides migraine, the National Headache Foundation classifies chronic headache into the following categories:

  • Cluster: Described as even more severe than migraines, these headaches occur in groups and with little warning for weeks or months before disappearing for months or years. They tend to strike late at night or in the morning. Most sufferers are men, and both smoking and alcohol use are precipitating factors.
  • Hormone: These headaches can occur as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or accompany the menstrual period itself; some women may experience hormonal headaches as they pass through menopause. Pregnancy usually brings relief from migraines because hormones don’t fluctuate the way they usually do during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Migraines that do occur during pregnancy tend to strike in the first trimester.
  • Rebound: Headaches triggered by the over-use of medications, particularly those that contain caffeine.
  • Sinus: Headaches triggered by infection, inflammation or other problems with the sinuses. Symptoms include a dull ache in the forehead or behind the cheekbones and a sense of sinus fullness.
  • Tension: Most headaches that occur every once in a while fall into this category, but some people experience tension headaches on a chronic basis. More annoying than throbbing, these headaches are often centered in the forehead, temples or back of the head and the neck; some people feel as though a band is being tightened around the head. Chronic tension headache can stem from physical causes—poor posture or lighting, eyestrain, misalignments of the jaws or teeth, spinal problems involving the neck—or emotional ones such as anxiety or depression.

A sudden, severe headache can signal the occurrence of a stroke; such headaches are medical emergencies, especially if accompanied by a sudden lack of balance, difficulty speaking and/or weakness on one side of the body. A relatively small number of headaches can stem from other organic causes such a brain tumors or infections, or other serious—but fortunately rare—conditions.

If you suffer from frequent headaches, try keeping a pain diary: when the pain starts, the nature of the pain (throbbing, dull, piercing) and where it occurs, any other symptoms and what you took for relief. If you can see a pattern, trying also keeping a food diary as well—sometimes a simple change in diet can do the trick. Some people find relief through acupuncture, massage and other kinds of bodywork. If your headaches are stress-related, make your you get adequate supplies of vitamin B and both calcium andmagnesium, which are available in combination supplement form; the herb white willow bark may also help.

February 15, 2011 Posted Under: Energy Times, Health & Wellness, Migraines   Read More

The Big Squeeze

The Big Squeeze

The Big Squeeze
Like a hammer pounding the skull or a vise clamped to the cranium, a migraine headache can be among the most excruciating and debilitating pains a person can experience. If you suffer from this malady, here are some ways to minimize your misery.

By Susan Weiner, Energy Times, October 2006

Cyndy Roseman-Puccio didn’t know what a migraine was until she turned 50. Preparing for a cross-country trip to the east coast from her home in Half Moon Bay, California, Roseman-Puccio awoke one morning with a disquieting headache. Thinking it would quickly subside, she and her husband headed to a local restaurant for breakfast, where Roseman-Puccio spent the entire meal throwing up in the restroom. “It was horrible and I was so nauseous,” she recalls. “It felt like a vise was clamped to the sides of my head and someone was tightening it.” From that point on, migraines became a routine part of her life.

Roseman-Puccio later learned that her migraines were brought on by menopause and foods that had abruptly become triggers for the intense head pain. “All of a sudden, chocolate and red wine became my worst enemies,” she says before admitting she still indulges in the occasional fudgey treat. “Hey, I’m not going to stop living because of migraines.”

For more than 29.5 million Americans—mostly women—migraine headaches range from painful to downright debilitating. Talk to anyone who suffers from migraines and they describe dealing with the pounding in their heads with words like “excruciating,” “incapacitating” and “unbearable.” Many spend long days in bed and are forced to miss work; the World Health Organization cites migraines as among the most debilitating of ills, costing employers nearly $13 billion a year in lost productivity and another $1 billion in medical care. Many migraine sufferers are also forced to forgo activities and lose time with family and friends. Others are trapped into devouring a never-ending succession of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which may mask the pain but never get to the root of the cause.

Migraine Madness

If you’ve never experienced a migraine, consider yourself very lucky. The word “migraine” comes from the Greek hemikranion, or pain affecting one side of the head. That definition is mild compared to the reality. Imagine a fierce throbbing in your head that may last up to 72 hours, accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Any sort of exertion—even climbing stairs—aggravates the pain. Additional symptoms can include blurred vision, irritability, depression, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and the inability to concentrate. Some people will complain that their hair “hurts” and the pain may become so intense that even wearing glasses or jewelry becomes unbearable.

Migraines can afflict anyone at any age. But women, due to fluctuations in estrogen levels, are three times more likely to suffer from them than men. Adding insult to malady, the National Migraine Association reports that nearly 60% of women with migraines have never been properly diagnosed.

Where do migraines come from? Current theory suggests that they are triggered from within the brain itself, the pain arising from an interaction between the trigeminal nerve, the one that controls sensation in the face, and blood vessels in the coverings of the brain. While there is currently no definitive test to confirm the diagnosis of migraine, establishing a record of symptoms, other headache characteristics and family history helps to determine if the headaches are, indeed, migraines.

Every sufferer, particularly those uninterested in or unresponsive to powerful prescription medications, poses the same question: Is there a way to head off migraines? Since the symptoms occur as a result of changes in the diameter of blood vessels in the brain, natural remedies are geared toward avoiding common triggers, including certain foods, fragrances and nicotine. Additional migraine catalysts—such as excessive stress, insomnia, nutritional deficiencies and misalignments of the spine and neck—can be effectively treated through alternative techniques. One of the most common reasons people seek remedies such as chiropractic, acupuncture and supplemental therapies is to escape the agony of chronic head pain. These treatments are known to significantly reduce the frequency, duration and severity of migraine symptoms.

Manipulating Migraines

When a patient who is plagued by migraines consults with Michael Vorozilchak, DC, a chiropractor in Montour Falls, New York, he offers them a headache diary, a booklet where patients maintain a record of events (noting foods, moods and activities) and actions preceding each migraine. Later, when the diary is reviewed, common triggers are often revealed.

“There are so many different variables that can lead to a migraine that to think you can take a pill to address the problem makes no sense,” says Vorozilchak. “As with any ailment, the key to correcting migraines is correcting the underlying cause.” In addition to environmental triggers, a common cause may be postural stresses, so every patient receives X-rays and a thorough exam, in addition to a detailed investigation into triggers.

Chiropractic treatment, says Vorozilchak, has been healing all kinds of headaches for years, and he believes that chiropractic manipulation should be considered a logical starting point for anyone looking to escape the pain of migraines. “The basis of all chiropractic intervention is to remove the cause,” he says. “Evidence suggests that postural stress and loss of the natural curve in the neck are among the strongest correlates to all headaches, including migraines.”

Some studies confirm that chiropractic care can manage migraine ills. The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics reported that a study of 177 volunteers experiencing migraines for an average of 18 years were relieved of both migraine and neck pain. And, in just 13 weeks, chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (CSMT) on migraine sufferers led to a marked improvement in symptoms, according to the Australasia Chiro and Osteo Journal. Nine additional studies concluded that spinal manipulation is comparable to medications in preventing both migraine and tension headaches.

Soothing Supplements

A simple approach to healing migraine misery may come from essential minerals, vitamins and herbs readily found on health food store shelves. Liz Spree, Wellness Department Assistant at GreenStar Cooperative Market in Ithaca, New York, has studied herbs at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine, and she finds that herbal tinctures such as feverfew, skullcap, valerian, hops and passionflower taken at the first sign of a migraine can work wonders: “I feel that the body utilizes herbal tinctures more quickly and effectively.”

Spree says that the majority of GreenStar’s customers with migraines are older women and she understands their reticence at taking prescription drugs. “Many have become disenchanted with conventional medicine because of the adverse side effects,” she says. “Who can blame them? What’s the point of taking a pill that makes your headache go away but makes you dizzy and nauseous?”

Magnesium, vital to vigorous vascular health, may be just as effective as prescription drugs at treating migraines—minus the side effects. Since evidence suggests that up to 50% of migraine sufferers have lowered levels of ionized magnesium, logic dictates that this essential mineral should ward off migraines. In myriad studies, an infusion of magnesium results in a rapid and sustained relief of symptoms, reports Clinical Neuroscience. Plagued by severe migraine headaches for years until encountering magnesium, Jay S. Cohen, MD, author of The Magnesium Solution for Migraine Headaches (Square One), says the key is finding a magnesium supplement that agrees with your stomach. If yours is sensitive, go with liquid magnesium with added amino acids that can be better absorbed into the body.

Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant made by the body and used by cells to make energy, can also help reduce the frequency of attacks. CoQ10 may boost brain cell energy, thus reducing the incidence of migraines. Further studies show that vitamin B2 and herbs like feverfew and butterbur may also prevent migraines or reduce their severity. Additional supplements, including 5-HTP, SAMe and glucosamine, may also help to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and research is ongoing into their effectiveness.

Needle Relief

Many folks find acupuncture something of a mystery, yet its premise is actually quite simple: Ailments such as migraines are caused by an imbalance in the body’s flow of energy. By stimulating acupuncture points with very thin, disposable needles, the body prompts the nervous system to release endorphins and other natural chemicals that relieve pain. When it comes to migraines, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) maintains that acupuncture can unblock these meridians to relieve symptoms.

“In the treatment of migraine, not only can acupuncture substantially reduce the acute attack, but it can also improve overall health and well-being, including relief of such complaints as frustration, anxiety, fatigue, irritability and insomnia,” says Dr. Lin Zhou, doctor of TCM, licensed acupuncturist and women’s health specialist at Acupuncture and Alternative Medicine of Dallas in Richardson, Texas. “Acupuncture needles stimulate the autonomic nervous system to increase the production of beta-endorphin and natural steroids.”

Acupuncture has been studied as a treatment for migraines for over 20 years, and the National Institutes of Health currently recommends it as a headache treatment. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, those receiving traditional acupuncture saw their headache rates drop by almost half. Among her migraine patients, most of them women, Zhou has witnessed a dramatic decrease or elimination in both migraine frequency and use of medication. In addition to targeting migraine pain, her goal is to treat the person as a whole, encompassing lifestyle and dietary changes: “In my practice, most migraine sufferers are women. Stress, tension, lack of sleep, physical and emotional exhaustion, red wine, caffeine and hormonal imbalance are the most common triggers of migraines.”

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all panacea that conquers migraines. But it is likely that treatments such as dietary supplements, acupuncture and chiropractic can help take the edge off of the ache. The key is to keep trying until you find the right combination that works for you. Don’t let migraine pain rule your life.

October 1, 2006 Posted Under: Energy Times, Health & Wellness, Migraines   Read More