“Migraine is a common and distressing disorder. It is not likely to take life but can destroy the quality of life at what might have been its most rewarding moments”.
These are the words of Professor James Lance in his book Migraine and Other Headaches, and there isn’t a better way to describe the impact of bad migraines. Here in Australia, around three million people live with a migraine that affects their ability to study, play sport, work and even enjoy a social life. But while there’s no completely effective treatment or cure, recent research provides hope for how you can curb your migraine with a holistic approach.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a neurological condition characterised by chronic headaches, sensitivity to light, visual symptoms and nausea. The individual experiences vary, and there are even variations such as vestibular migraines where the main symptom is vertigo.
Eat yourself migraine free
Emerging Australian research has found that a diet high in the B vitamin folate may provide some relief to the one in five Australian women who suffer from migraines. Researchers from Griffith University monitored the diets of 147 Australian women with clinically diagnosed migraine with aura. This is a debilitating form of migraine that can cause visual disturbances such as dizziness and hallucinations. During the six month study, the women simply ate more foods with folic acid (a synthetic form of folate). The results? A 14 percent reduction in migraine severity, which suggests that simple dietary changes including more folate may provide relief.
3 ways to increase folate in your diet
1. Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Asian greens and broccoli
2. Add legumes such as lentils, chick peas and kidney beans to your meals
3. C hoose varieties of breads and breakfast cereals (preferably wholegrain) which are fortified with folic acid
What triggers a migraine?
Anyone with a migraine knows that identifying triggers is easier said than done. Not only do they differ from person to person, but different factors can trigger different attacks in the same person, at different times.
Your diet Missed, delayed or infrequent meals, caffeine withdrawal, certain wines, beers and spirits, chocolate, citrus fruits, aged cheeses and cultured products, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and dehydration.
Your environment Bright or flickering lights, bright sunlight, strong smells, travel, high altitude, weather changes, changes in barometric pressure (likewise, decompression after deep-sea diving), loud sounds, going to the movies, spending too much time in front of a computer.
Your hormones Menstruation, ovulation, contraceptives, pregnancy and menopause.
Your emotions and physical health Lack of sleep or oversleep, illness, back and neck pain, stiff muscles, sudden or vigorous exercise, excitement and stress.
If your migraine or headache is caused by tight muscles in the neck, try the soothing yoga move called Legs Up The Wall. The move gently stretches the muscles in your neck and helps you relax. Simply place your yoga mat close to a wall at home, lean back and extend your legs up the wall with your butt nearly touching the wall and your legs together. Close your eyes, relax your body and pay particular attention to relaxing your jaw. Breathe deeply and slowly, and reconnect with yourself.
Stress is a migraine’s best friend – and your worst enemy. It’s not only a well-known trigger, but it can even prolong the intensity and length of your migraine. However, while we all know it’s not healthy to stress, many of us are so used to enduring high levels of stress that we think it’s completely normal. In these cases, a migraine may actually be a way of telling you that something isn’t quite right.
Tip! Keep a stress diary where you write down what makes you stressed and how your body reacts to that. What happens in your body? Can you recognise these bodily responses, like faster heartbeat or sweating? Once you’ve identified some triggers, write down suggestions for how you
can avoid these situations in the first place. Also think of ways to calm your body during stress – and put these on paper with notes for how they work for you.
5 ways to relax!
1. Identify your warning signs – do you clench your teeth when you get stressed? Tense your shoulders?
2. Find out what – or who – triggers your stress levels.
3. Get a (relaxing) routine! Set aside regular time for exercise and “relax time” like yoga, gardening, listening to music or reading a book to help your body and nervous system settle down and readjust.
4. Spend time with those that matter to you! Have a D&M with friends and make sure to hang out with the people in your life that make you smile.
5. Be kind to yourself! Notice negative self talk and combat unhelpful thinking with calming statements that help you put things into perspective.
Source: the Australian Psychological Society
Top tip for scatterbrains!
Finding it hard to keep track of your migraine notes? Try Headache Australia’s new iManageMigraine! The free App is designed to help you monitor migraine patterns, frequency and symptoms that can be shared directly with your doctor. It’s also full of helpful hints and tips to support you in the management of your migraine.