Independent health store advice on migraines

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health food store can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This month we speak to nutritional therapist Joanne Hill, the owner of the Amaranth health stores in Cheshire and Manchester

A migraine is a type of headache which can be moderate or severe and normally occurs in one side of the head. The headache pain can be accompanied by an aura, nausea, dizziness or increased sensitivity to light or sound. Migraines are more common in women than men and whilst the exact cause is unknown, migraines are thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Common triggers include:

  • Hormone fluctuations. Some women see an increase in migraines at the onset of menopause or with their cycle
  • Stress, tiredness or lack of sleep
  • Food allergies
  • Certain foods, drinks or alcohol

Migraine sufferers often report an association between certain food and drinks and the onset of a migraine. The foods most commonly mentioned are chocolate, caffeine, red wine, beer, cheese and food additives such as aspartame. Whilst there is limited research evidence to support this, many of my clients have reported these as triggers. It appears that there are specific components of these foods that contribute to migraines. Here are some examples:

Tyramine

Tyramine is a vasoactive amine, which means that it has the ability to increase blood pressure and this may trigger changes in the constriction and dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Tyramine is commonly found in certain cheeses (cheddar and aged cheese), smoked fish, aged and cured meats such as pastrami and fermented food and drinks such as beer or sauerkraut.

Caffeine

Caffeine can be both a help and a trigger for migraines. Small amounts and occasional use of caffeine have been found to be helpful for headache symptoms, but it can also elevate substances in the brain that increase in migraine attacks. A dependency on caffeine and subsequent withdrawal may also trigger migraines.

Food additives

Food additives such as aspartame break down into other components in the body and may inhibit neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. Food additives are common in processed foods, sugars and soft drinks, particularly diet drinks.

In my experience, dietary changes can make a big difference to migraine sufferers. I have seen clients reduce from multiple migraines per week to just one or two a month with some fairly simple diet changes and nutritional support. Of course we can’t promise these results in everyone but I do believe that a healthy balanced diet with the specific inclusion and exclusion of certain foods alongside lifestyle support does make a difference. My recommendations are to:

  • Choose fresh food where possible. Fresh foods tend to contain fewer ingredients and additives, so it is easy to see what you are actually eating. This should reduce food related triggers and mean that it is easier to identify problem foods for you. Keeping a food diary will also help you track what you have eaten and try to find a pattern.
  • Avoid foods that are commonly known to be triggers. A diet free from cheese, coffee, red wine, chocolate, beer, smoked fish, processed meats and fermented foods is recommended. If this seems too challenging my recommendation is that you give it a go for two weeks initially. If you see an improvement, introduce a small amount of your favourite of these foods and see if you notice a change in the severity or frequency of attacks. You may find that you can tolerate a moderate amount, but do not overload with too many of these foods.
  • Keep blood sugar levels balanced. There may be a link in low blood sugar levels and the onset of a migraine. Blood sugar levels can be balanced by eating every three to four hours and choosing foods rich in protein such as eggs, chicken, beans, pulses and essential fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Carbohydrates should be from vegetables, whole fruit and wholegrains rather than white, refined or sugary foods
  • Enjoy foods rich in minerals such as magnesium and potassium. A vitamin and mineral-rich diet will help to provide the nutrients the body needs as the building blocks for essential brain chemicals. Green leafy vegetables, bananas, beans, nuts and seeds are rich in minerals.
  • Certain vitamins, minerals and herbs have shown promising results with migraines, but it is always recommended that you consult with your GP or a registered practitioner before taking them.

Supplements that may be recommended include:

1. Magnesium – This binds to receptors in the brain that are involved in migraines. Studies have shown migraine sufferers to have a higher incidence of magnesium deficiency.

2. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) – This has neuroprotective properties and is believed to be of benefit to neurological disorders including migraines. One study found that, at a dosage of 400mg per day, the frequency of migraines was significantly reduced.

3. Feverfew – This herb has shown promising results in the reduction of migraine frequency when taken regularly over two to three months.

In addition to these it is important to look for clues to the trigger of the migraines in the individual and this indicate other vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements. If there are hormonal triggers for example, herbs used for hormone balancing, such as agnus castus or shatavari may help. If stress is a trigger, adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha or rhodiola help to balance the stress response.

At my clinic we have seen particular success with acupuncture and Bowen therapy for migraines. A registered practitioner can explain more about these treatments and how they may help.

Stress management is essential to any migraine relief programme. Chronic stress causes tension and the release of chemicals which may lead to headaches and migraines.

I recommend that anyone suffering with migraines plans at least one hour of non-technology-related downtime activity five days a week. This may include yoga, meditation, a walk alone or with a friend, reading a book, a reflexology session, a long bath or another hobby.

Sleep is also essential. A lack of sleep and excessive sleepiness are well-known migraine triggers. If you struggle with sleep, an evening routine is essential. Technology and blue light from screens should be avoided a couple of hours before bed. Instead, enjoy a warm bath with magnesium salts and lavender. Caffeine should be avoided after midday and a relaxing herbal tea or herbal latte can soothe and prepare for a deep sleep.

Amaranth

The two Amaranth health stores are based in Cheshire and Manchester. The first store, in Cheshire, was founded by nutritional therapist Joanne Hill in 2012.

Joanne had a background in retail management and a passion for natural health and nutrition and so when the opportunity came to open a boutique-style health store she jumped at the chance.

Amaranth now has a team of 14, including nutritional therapists and complementary therapists. Amaranth has been awarded the accolades of Natural Products Independent Retailer of the Year 2015, Natural Beauty Retailer of the Year 2016 and 2018 and Highly Commended Best High Street Retailer in the International Beauty Awards 2018.

For more information visit www.amaranth-wellbeing.com or call 0161 439 9856.

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