“It’s All In Your Head” - Or Is It? Migraines and Frequent Headaches
Its All In Your Head… Or is it?
Headaches and Migraines. Countless health-related imbalances and dysfunctions feature Headaches as a symptom.
The source can be Vascular, Muscular, Spinal (Structural), or Neurological. They can be sourced in Reproductive System issues, Hormonal Imbalance, Hormonal Fluctuations, Digestive Dysfunction, Metabolic Disorders, Autoimmune Flare-ups, variety of Infections (such as Epstein-Barr Virus, Lyme and Lyme-related Co-Infections), and Respiratory conditions.
Many Prescription and Over-the-Counter medications list Headache as a potential Side-Effect.
Headaches can crop up with poor Lifestyle Habits, Sleep Habits, and Dietary Habits — as well as Sleep Disorders, Food Sensitivities, Food Allergies, Chemical Sensitivities (including those found in foods as preservatives, flavorings, fillers, coloring, thickeners, sweeteners, additives) and Environmental Irritants.
It can become prominent through the developmental phases of Puberty and Menarche (onset of Menstruation), and the transitional phase of Peri-Menopause or Menopause.
It is a malady which cannot be seen by anyone outside of the person suffering.
Migraines, Ocular Migraines, and Cluster Headaches feature debilitating symptoms before onset and after recovery.
A significant limitation I have had with attempting general posts on social media to discuss natural treatment of Headaches and Migraines is the unique nature of each and every Individual’s case — No two people are alike with regard to combinations of causative factors.
Neither is the approach to remedy amongst Headache and Migraine sufferers a simple or cookie-cutter formula.
You can imagine the impossible nature of attempting to discuss natural remedies or make general recommendations on Social Media for something with such depth and complexity of potential causes, hey?
Many Individuals have sought remedy elsewhere over the years — long before they call on me — so we often have oodles of clinical diagnostics for ruling out critical care issues as Brain Aneurysm, Stroke, Tumors, Concussion/Injury, High Blood Pressure, or other Neurological conditions.
It is strongly recommended that you are properly tested for frequent or worsening Headaches/Migraines, prior to natural support — to rule-out these serious conditions.
One “general” recommendation for Self Care:
You may wish to seek soft-tissue bodywork treatments for muscular tension, Neuromuscular trigger point pain patterns, and connective tissue adhesions. Muscles and Connective Tissues can pull the bones out of alignment, placing undue stress or irritation on nerves — some people find a bit of relief with Chiropractic structural adjustments to the neck and spine as entrapped or impinged nerve irritation can contribute to this aspect of chronic pain conditions.
Another “general” recommendation:
I do suggest getting a handle on Threshold Food Sensitivities and Food Allergies contributing to systemic inflammation. Inflammation is a notable factor of countless imbalances, dysfunction, recurring pain, and disease states.
Sensible dietary recommendations are far more efficient when we know what foods can trigger an Individual’s asymptomatic or sub-clinical inflammation -- a potentially insidious source of recurring Headaches and Migraines. You would be surprised by the range of HEALTHY and NATURAL FOODS that can trigger reactivity!
This also helps inform me of plant families (genus + species of plants) of which you may not tolerate daily intake in an Herbal Medicine formulation.
Remember: Medicinal Herbs are plants like any other — many cannot be eaten as a meal, or we use parts of the plants that are not quite edible — yet they are plants all the same.
Of course, the concentration of a plant’s complete medicinal profile is extracted for greater intake than what we can possibly consume and absorb from our meals. In this sense, we build upon the foundation of our meals + snacks — but we harness medicinal activities of various plants through high concentration, WHOLE PLANT extraction.
NOTE: When we speak about Herbal Medicine, this is NOT the isolation of active constituents and concentrating them out of context from the whole plant profile — THAT is not Herbal Medicine.
What do I mean by this, if it is from a plant? Isn't all plant medicine the same?
In an answer: No. It is not the same.
Isolating and “standardizing” an “active ingredient” produces a NUTRACEUTICAL, which becomes more like PHARMACEUTICAL in such approach. It takes a single component of the plant and concentrates it out of context from the naturally-occurring plant composition.
Yes, it is “plant based” but it then loses its innate balancing safety mechanisms, requiring even closer clinical monitoring. In a phrase, it can then generate SIDE EFFECTS.
In my experience, I see Patients taking various supplements with dubious or questionable ingredients which can feature in Headaches and Migraines. Some of it is due to the base ingredients labeled as “inactive ingredients” -- as well as the application of "standardized" plant extracts.
Additionally, we cannot affirm whether these listed ingredients actually exist in the supplement, whether it was sourced from China (as a predominant supply of isolated nutrients and supplement ingredients are brokered through a chain of distributors, from China). We see elevated levels of heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and others) from plants sourced from China and India.
Knowing WHERE ingredients are sourced is critical when you are consuming something EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. -- at high concentrations.
Healthy Ingredients causing problems? It happens. Always circles back to the Individual and their Personal Medical History!
Here’s an Example:
Something as beneficial as Green Tea can be problematic for individuals sensitive to the alkaloid, caffeine — or caffeine in the presence of excessive Estrogen levels.
I’ve seen supplements contain high levels of plant-based sources of PhytoEstrogens, which can trigger Headaches and Fibrocystic Breasts in women from teenagers throughout the menstruating years.
Under The Radar:
"BASE EXCIPIENTS" (also known as "inactive ingredients" or "base ingredients") that bind to the active ingredients/nutrients into a tablet or capsule can also pose problematic attributes.
While they may be in very small amounts -- when taken every day -- they are cumulative.
I do see reactivity issues with plant-based fillers including Xanthan Gum, Gellan Gum, Guar Gum, Carageenan, etc.
These are all quite inert in rarely-consumed trace amounts for most people -- but when taken on the regular (daily, in concentration), can contribute to Threshold Food Sensitivities, Headaches, and Migraines.
Reactions are insidious over time -- and difficult to observe cause-and-effect until you clear them out of daily use for a period of weeks or months.
Many "inactive ingredients" are simply compounds the human body cannot process effectively.
There's No One Like You
Every Individual is as unique as their fingerprints, when it comes to the causes of their Headaches or Migraines.
Many Physicians may test for outright Food Allergies, when there is Digestive Dysfunction (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation).
They will often test for a small group of foods, and typically don’t consider foodstuffs eliciting the more subtle reactivity that builds up systemic (throughout the body) inflammation gradually over time.
Bloodwork Diagnostics are far more accurate than skin patch/scratch testing -- which can create cross-reactivity responses, reducing clarity on precisely what the body cannot tolerate.
Inflammatory markers as IgG reactivity -- through blood testing -- is far more efficient than cumbersome and challenging Elimination Diets which are almost impossible to maintain (unrealistic) whilst managing to improve adequate nutrition.
In light of this, I often recommend Everlywell Comprehensive Food Sensitivity Testing. Here is a special link I offer to my Active Patients, for a bit of a break in pricing: https://www.dpbolvw.net/click-100378302-14037758
Another evaluation that may be helpful: Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Exposures testing panel. This may require a Medical Specialist, however — depending upon your Insurance Carrier.
General Internists may not be able to order comprehensive specialty testing, so you may wish to seek referral to an AutoImmune + Allergy Specialist — or Rheumatology Specialist — who is afforded much greater latitude with regard to diagnostic testing limitations by Insurance Carriers.
You must request the Chemical Sensitivity testing directly — it is not something routine.
Once you have these diagnostics — and we know precisely the indications with which we are working — I can more effectively formulate for these needs in combination with your Symptoms and overall Personal Medical History details.
When you don’t feel well due to frequent Headaches or Migraines, it is a slog to get through a single day — let alone feel confident in reaching your personal potential over time.
From The Herbalist's Desk
For some, it is like a never-ending hangover. For others, it is debilitating. There is often no singular “Ah-ha!” Cause at the source -- it can be a collection of factors contributing to frequent, Chronic Headaches and Migraines.
With Clinical Herbal Medicine Care, Hormonally-triggered Headaches and Migraines will take a minimum of 3-4 months of daily dosing to track frequency trends — as hormones respond gradually over 28-30 day (monthly) cycles.
In some Individuals, it can take up to 6-12 months of support for more long-range remediation. Whilst I’ve seen some Patients completely clear of Headaches in just 2-3 months, when we stop herbal medicines too soon, headaches can return.
Full Disclosure: There are some Individuals who will require some level of ongoing support long-term, to maintain results. Again, this is all related to the Individual’s entire Medical History, genetic predispositions, unavoidable prescription medications, and Chronic Conditions (if any).
Additionally, clearing the body of inflammatory triggers does require a range of time and follow-up. Inflammation takes time to clear from the body, and as said, hormones respond gradually with consistency of care over monthly cycles.
The more you put into your self-care, the more you will get out of it.
Lastly, Lifestyle Habits (including Dietary changes) also take time. Habits must be cultivated with long-range repetition — and we must be flexible to make adjustments as we go along to make them suitably fit our lives.
Dietary changes often require a shift of mindset, scheduling adaptations, and explorations into new foods to replace what we must eliminate — again, requiring a bit of time to sort out.
If measures you have taken thus far have not provided adequate relief of your Headaches or Migraines, then perhaps you are chasing symptoms. Clinical Testing is the first step. Once all of the most critical issues have been ruled-out, we can explore putting the whole puzzle together.
Waiting for “motivation” to strike (or the right moment to feel like the "right time" to get started) to make these changes is a force that will never come — We must actively plan our steps clearly, or it remains a lofty wish.
Okay, I’m going to Nerd-Out here and admit as I write: I’m reminded of a holiday television special from even before I was born — but I grew up with it all the same. It was “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” (Fred Astaire opens and narrates the story, if that helps you recall!).
When encouraging The Winter Warlock to change his ways and beliefs, Kris Kringle sings the song, “Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door…”
Lasting change is often not sudden, nor sweeping — it is the accumulation of many repeated steps in the direction of your ultimate aims.
On that note, give me a jingle on the Clinic Lines.. and we’ll begin to get you up and out of this dreadful cycle of debilitating events! Let’s get it going… a gift of Self-Care.
Tami Bronstein, BSc Phyt (Hons), MNIMH, RH(AHG)
University-qualified Medical Herbalist-Physiologist:
University of Wales/College of Phytotherapy (Cardiff/London, U.K.),
Hofstra University, Exercise Physiology + Psychology (New York), and
Post-Graduate Fellowship alongside Medical Doctors (France) in NeuroEndocrinology + Plant Remediation.
Nutrition is part-and-parcel of Clinical Herbal Medicine + Exercise Physiology education and perspectives.
Nearing 30 years in-practice.
Practice Details (Private/Self-Owned):
The Medical Herbalist Apothecary