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Pain | August 7, 2017 | Author: Naturopath



Migraines are more than just your ordinary headache. Most sufferers experience a severe throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. A migraine is caused by a spasm of the blood vessels leading to the brain. It is also associated with fluctuating hormone levels, stress, food allergy/intolerances and serotonin abnormalities. Migraines can be experienced infrequently or as often as two to three times a week. They usually last from four to seventy-two hours.

What are the symptoms?

migrainesA migraine tends to have different symptoms to other types of headaches. Some migraines are associated with auras – an early symptom that can occur before you experience a migraine. Most people associate migraine aura with visual disturbances which include dots, flashing lights, blind spots and a vibrating visual field. However, an aura typically presents as a visual arc of scintillating, shinning spots or shapes which begin in a small area of your visual field and extends to the sides.

Some of the symptoms of migraines include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to sound, light, smell and touch
  • Visual disturbances, such as an aura
  • Numbness in the face, arm or legs
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Severe throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head and/or neck

Migraine triggers

Triggers are specific factors which increase the risk of having a migraine attack.  Although they do not cause a migraine, they are thought to activate the process in susceptible people. Sometimes it can be a combination of factors that trigger a migraine which include:

  • Diet: Skipping meals, fasting or sensitivity to certain foods.
  • Medications: Overuse of certain medications or skipped doses of usual medications.
  • Sleep: Oversleeping or too little sleep.
  • Hormonal fluctuations: Changes during the menstrual cycle usually before a period, during ovulation or peri-menopause. Hormone replacement therapy and the pill have also been implicated.
  • Environmental: Excessive light, heat, noise, air pollution and even high altitudes.
  • Emotional causes: Periods of high stress, excitement or fatigue.
  • Relaxation: Migraines related to periods of stress and overwork followed by relaxation on a holiday or weekend.
  • Physical: overexertion, injuries, or visual triggers from eyestrain and computer work.

migraine compressManagement techniques

During an acute attack complete rest and minimisation of light, noise and odour seems to be the consensus.

A cold compress can be applied to the forehead and eyes for pain relief and to help reduce blood flow.

Lavender and peppermint oil can be applied to the temples as well as magnesium oil on the neck and shoulders. 

Finding the triggers

Identifying the factors which contribute to the development of a migraine can be helpful for a lot of people. Keeping a migraine diary by writing down what you ate, how you felt, how much sleep you've had, what you did that day etc. can help draw connections and narrow down factors.

Dietary factors

Nutritional deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies, particularly in magnesium is common in sufferers of migraine headaches.  Studies conducted on migraines have found this mineral to work as a prophylactic by reducing the occurrence of migraines in the first place. When combined with coenzyme Q10 and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and supplemented for 3 months in migraine sufferers they experienced a decline in the number of days per month they experienced a migraine, plus a decrease in intensity. A recent 2017 study has found omega-3 and curcumin from turmeric yielded similar results by reducing attack frequency. These nutrients are now considered a new promising approach in migraine management.

Chemicals in Foods

migraines and chocolateMany foods and chemicals have been identified as common migraine triggers. This includes aspartame (an artificial sweetener), alcohol (especially red wine), citrus, MSG, sulphites, tartrazine, fried/fatty foods, caffeine and dairy products. Foods high in amines, nitrates and histamine have also been implemented in promoting the development of a migraine. Nitrates are typically found in tinned meats, delicatessen meats, bacon and hot dogs.

Foods that contain amines include chocolate, beer, wine, cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, yeast extract and fermented foods. One study found that when 40g of chocolate was ingested, 41% of the chocolate group experienced a migraine compared to 0% in the placebo group.

Food allergies

Individual food allergy and intolerance has been identified as a common trigger of migraines. Elimination/challenge diets have shown to have been shown to decrease migraines by 30-93%. The person eliminates offending foods for 2 weeks and then re-introduces one at a time noting any negative effects. If any offending foods are identified they can then be removed from the diet. Ig G testing against a wide-range of foods can also be performed through a health care provider. One study found that when these foods were identified and eliminated from the diet the frequency of migraine attacks significantly reduced.

Manage stress and get enough sleep

Sleeping too much or too little can trigger an attack. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and avoid day naps.

migraine stress reliefStress can cause changes in sleeping habits and contribute to muscle tension. It’s important to factor in time each day for stress reduction techniques which can involve regular aerobic exercise, meditation, yoga, reading, acupuncture or spending time outdoors.

Massage can help relieve stress and chronic neck and shoulder tension if these are contributing factors.


Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) has a long history of use for the treatment of migraines which is now backed up by evidence in modern research. When combined with salix alba, commonly known as white willow, the results are even more impressive. The combination seemed to help normalise serotonin abnormalities thought to provoke a migraine attack. After 6 weeks attack frequency was reduced by 61.7% at 12 weeks, with 70% of patients having a reduction by at least 50%. Attack duration was also significantly decreased, along with an improvement in general health, physical performance, memory and anxiety.

Feverfew, magnesium, vitamin B2, coenzyme Q10, omega-3 and curcumin can all be taken to help prevent migraines but have not been shown to be effective for acute symptoms. Allow up to 3 months for best results, however, improvement can be experienced in as little as 6 weeks.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia

Goadsby PJ, et al. Pathophysiology of migraine: a disorder of sensory processing. Physiol Rev. 2017 Apr;97(2):553-622

Alpay K, et al. Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: a clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Cephalalgia. 2010 Jul;30(7):829-37

Shrivastava R, Pechadre JC, John GW. Tanacetum parthenium and salix alba (Mig-RL) combination in migraine prophylaxis: a prospective, open-label study. Clin Drug Investig. 2006;26(5):287-96

Gaul C, et al. Improvement of migraine symptoms with a proprietary supplement containing riboflavin, magnesium and Q10: a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicentre trial. J Headache Pain. 2015;16:516

Abdolahi M, et al. The synergistic effects of ω-3 fatty acids and nano-curcumin supplementation on tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α gene expression and serum level in migraine patients. Immunogenics. 2017 Jun;69(6):371-378

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