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Treat Migraine- Naturally:
by Professor Paul Booton
Migraine is a curse; it saps your energy, your strength, your time. The attacks themselves are miserable, and many people lead quite restricted lives when they know the next migraine might be just around the corner. Not only that, but to get migraine under control often needs a handful of different drugs, most of which have side-effects of one sort or another. One of the crucial roles of the migraine specialist is to make sure that the treatment is not worse than the disease. It would be wonderful if we could treat migraine “naturally” without all those different medications and without their tiresome side-effects. To a certain extent of course this is wishful thinking; just a fantasy that a migraine specific fairy godmother would wave a magic wand over us or blow a handful of fairy dust and it would all just go away. Unfortunately life isn’t usually that straightforward. However there are a number of things which do work naturally to improve migraine and this newsletter article will introduce some of those. For those who are interested I would direct attention to our new fact sheet on herbal and food supplement remedies: www.nationalmigrainecentre.org.uk.
However before we get onto things you might take to relieve migraine, it’s worth going back to basics and remembering the entirely natural lifestyle triggers that you should take care of to manage your migraine. There are potentially quite a number of these, (which again you can find more information about on the relevant fact sheet: www.nationalmigrainecentre.org.uk/migraine-and-headaches/ ) but everybody should take care of the “Big 4”. These are: eat a healthy diet avoiding sugary foods and making sure you have breakfast. The message here is that low blood sugars often trigger migraine, and healthy, regular eating ensures a good healthy blood sugar level in your body. Secondly drink plenty of fluids, of which water from the tap is the outstanding choice! Dehydration frequently triggers migraine. Watch the amount of caffeine you’re drinking, usually as coffee but big tea drinkers should be aware also and avoid sugary drinks for the same reason as avoiding too much sweet stuff in your diet. Get enough sleep and try to go to bed and to get up at the same time every day (even weekends). Too much sleep can be as bad for headaches as too little. Finally, keep yourself fit. Regular exercise makes you more resistant to migraine (although for some people exercise can bring on an attack – if that happens to you, you might want to discuss solutions with your doctor.)
So you do all those things but still you get more migraine than you can live with. What other natural remedies are there? Herbal remedies have been used for many centuries and recent research shows that these are indeed effective for at least some people with migraine. Feverfew was described by Nicholas Culpepper in 1649 as being “effectual for all pains in the head”. Butterbur has a similarly ancient reputation and both have been shown in modern research trials to be modestly effective as migraine preventers. That said, care should be taken with Butterbur as the root from which it is obtained also contains compounds that can damage the liver, and so for safety one should only take preparations of Butterbur where the poisonous substances have been removed.
There are also non-plant remedies which have been shown in modern research to be helpful in migraine.
Magnesium is one of the elements, which is present in every cell of the human body and is essential to the body’s metabolic functions. A healthy diet contains enough for most people, but taking a regular higher dose can help prevent migraine. There are lots of different magnesium preparations available so take care to use one which is suitable for this purpose. The less well absorbed kinds of magnesium can cause diarrhoea.
Riboflavin is one of the large group of B vitamins (vitamin B2). Again it is essential to human health and for most people adequate amounts are found in ordinary daily diet. A regular higher dose has been shown to benefit some people with migraine.
Finally, Coenzyme Q10 may not sound very natural but it is involved in cells of the human body to create energy producing compounds. Again taking a relatively large regular dose of this substance can reduce some people’s migraine by up to 50%.
None of these remedies are magic. Most of the research shows a similar pattern, that somewhere just under 50% of patients benefit from any one of these and that in those that do their headaches are cut by up to 50%. Moreover to be effective they need to be taken for at least 3 months, so patience is required. Like conventional drugs they can have side-effects which vary from the mildly amusing (vitaminB2 gives you fluorescent urine) to the unpleasant (feverfew can produce a withdrawal reaction a bit like stopping an antidepressant drug). However, by and large the side-effects are less than with conventional drugs and the benefits potentially similar. All this has to come with a caveat that the research which has been done on these has involved relatively few patients and there is not much of it, so we are rather less certain about these than we are with the conventional drugs available to us. None of these are available on prescription but they can be bought over-the-counter in some chemists and health food shops.
If you decide to try any of these do remember to tell your doctor you’re doing so, as some can interfere with other medications. So good luck if you try any of these and do let us know how you get on.
* AMENDMENT (dated 08/06/2016)- please note that the below information regarding receiving this device at the National Migraine Centre is no longer correct. For more information please call 020 7251 3322.
gammaCore a non-drug alternative treatment for headache
Some of our patients enquire about other options besides medication to treat their migraine. gammaCore is a non-invasive device developed by the US based healthcare company electroCore and is available as an option for managing severe headache conditions.
gammaCore is a device that is held on the neck over the vagus nerve and delivers an electrical signal that activates fibres in the vagus nerve bundle. This stimulation can help to reduce the over delivery of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is sometimes believed to be implicated in a variety of headache disorders.
Recent studies have suggested this device can improve quality of life in cluster headache (the picture is currently less clear in migraine) and reduce the use of traditional rescue medications, such as oxygen or sumatriptan. A clinical trial of the gammaCore device has shown reductions in the number of cluster headache attacks and a greater reduction in the number of attacks the longer they used the device. The open label trial was randomized and had some positive findings. The study involved 30 patients between the ages of 18 and 65, all who suffered from migraine without aura and suffered between 5 and 9 attacks per month. 96 attacks were treated by a single dose of the gammaCore therapy. Out of these 96 attacks, 43 were resolved completely within 30 minutes, 42 attacks did not show any benefit within the first two hours and 11 attacks only showed a moderate relief of pain. During this study no adverse events were recorded.
The device is free for a trial period and this can be organised through the National Migraine Centre. For further information please call reception on 020 7251 3322 to book an appointment with one of our doctors who can discuss this treatment with you and other non-drug alternatives that they believe are best suited to your needs.
The cost of migraine to YOU!
Thank you for contributing to this survey- the results are in!
We previously asked for your help in conducting a study on migraine and the cost in medication and the impact it has on work and your social life. We were amazed with the response having 1060 people fill out the survey. We are extremely grateful to all of those that took part and thought you might be interested to see the results: https://www.nationalmigrainecentre.org.uk/migraine-and-headaches/the-cost-of-migraine-to-you/.
Turn your summer family fun into donations!
Did you know that by shopping online you can raise money for us at no extra cost to you? Next time you buy the following, do it through easyfundraising.org.uk/migraineclinic:
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Q&A with Dr Bal Athwal
Welcome to our latest addition to the newsletter where Dr Bal Athwal, a leading consultant in migraine, who supports the National Migraine Centre, will be answering your queries to help all of those who are suffering. This will be ongoing so if you do have any queries you think would help others then please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can IgG antibody testing for migraine be beneficial?
A: There is little evidence outside a very few studies that elimination diets help migraine. Migraine is not generally considered to be an allergic phenomenon. There are dietary influences, with the major effect seeming to be the regularity of food and fluid intake.
It is possible that this research is illuminating a migraine mechanism that has received little attention, and if so should be replicable with further studies. My own view is that there is no evidence at this point to recommend using elimination diets or similar in treatment. I do advocate attention to diet in terms of dietary quality as do the majority of my colleagues.
Billy’s story: Abdominal migraine went undiagnosed
Billy tells how his symptoms went undiagnosed for a long period of time prior to coming to the National Migraine Centre. When he finally did, he was able to speak with someone who identified that he was suffering with Abdominal Migraines and was provided with several treatment options. Billy goes on to explain the improvements he saw as a result.
Watch Billy’s story on abdominal migraine.
Do you have any unwanted items that you could donate to the Centre so we can raise funds to help other migraine sufferers? This could be anything from a box of chocolates to a piece of jewellery or even a holiday home that could be rented out to raise money. Anything that you can spare would help us greatly in achieving our mission, to provide treatment to all sufferers of migraine and headache.
Support Our Team
Lauren Shirazi, our administrator, will be running the Morrisons Great Newham 10k on Sunday 19th July for the Centre. Visit her Virgin Money Giving page here and help us to carry on helping others like you.
Use Virgin Money to donate
For those of our supporters who are kind enough to give regularly or who have participated in fundraising events to raise money for us we wanted to make you aware of Virgin Money Giving. Virgin Money Giving is a great way to raise funds for us as more of the money you raise goes direct to the Charity and it automatically includes gift aid on donations where applicable, which adds to your already generous contribution (other well known brands such as JustGiving and PayPal). Please consider donating through our Virgin Money Giving Page.