If headaches were insects, migraines would be slugs: We're sure there's a valid explanation for why they pop up on occasion, but the reason for their existence is anybody's guess.
Unlike ordinary awful headaches, which usually respond to Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen, migraines (which affect one in four women) feel like they last a lifetime and can be downright debilitating. The best advice doctors can give us is to avoid common migraine triggers like loud noises and bright lights, processed foods and stress, and to take supplements like magnesium. All solid tips but new research suggests your migraine may actually be caused by vitamin deficiencies — and nutrient therapy, not traditional pharmaceuticals, may be the best way to treat them.
The research was presented at the 58th Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society in June, where even mild deficiencies in three vitamins were cited as migraine culprits: Vitamin D, riboflavin (B-2) and coenzyme Q10.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, who specializes in treating patients with chronic pain and chronic fatigue, says he started learning about alternative therapies after contracting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia as a medical student and learned, the hard way, that there were no effective medical treatments that truly helped these conditions. As for migraines, Teitelbaum says the American diet and attitudes toward sun exposure may be contributing to these terrible headaches.
"Unfortunately, the American diet has lost about half of its vitamins and other noncaloric nutrients because of food processing," Teitelbaum says. "This is why we are seeing people be both obese and malnourished at the same time for the first time in human history! In addition, vitamin D deficiency is rampant because of the misguided advice to avoid sunshine. Sunshine is critical for health, and research is suggesting that the advice to avoid sunshine may be contributing to tens of thousands of deaths. The proper advice is to 'avoid sunburn' — not sunshine!"
If you're taking supplements to decrease migraines, Teitelbaum advises making sure that your multivitamin has at least 75 mg of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), 1000 units of vitamin D and 200 mg of magnesium.
The three vitamins play an important role in optimizing a key control center called the hypothalamus, Teitelbaum says. This control center regulates autonomic function, blood vessel relaxation and contraction — a key player in migraines. "Riboflavin (vitamin B2), coenzyme Q10, and magnesium do this by optimizing energy production," Teitelbaum says. Melatonin is another supplement said to help. Teitelbaum admits it is not clear how the melatonin works, but says that it has been shown to help support autonomic function in other conditions as well.
Not all migraine solutions can be solved through dietary changes. The coenzyme Q10 deficiency is usually not a diet problem, but rather one of your body not making enough because of underlying infections or taking cholesterol-lowering medications that block production, Teitelbaum says. In this situation, supplementation is necessary.
"These can all be found in the Energy Revitalization System vitamin powder in one drink a day and at low cost," he says. "Add 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime and 200 mg CoQ10. The CoQ10 needs to be taken with some oil so it can be absorbed. Even a few drops is enough, so taking the coenzyme Q10 while eating a few nuts will do the job or with a meal."
Taking 3-5 milligrams of a non-time release melatonin at bedtime can also work wonders to prevent migraines. In the study, patients were given an immediate release melatonin capsule between 10 and 11 p.m. each night and the results were encouraging. "This is a very safe treatment, so many people take it without consulting their physician," Teitelbaum says. "What is important is that they be sure the headache is coming from migraines and not some other dangerous cause (you don’t want to be treating a brain cancer or aneurysm with melatonin)."
As for magnesium, migraine sufferers will be thrilled to know that this supplement is one more effective migraine treatment you may not have heard about.
Magnesium is critical for both energy production and blood vessel dilation. New research shows that taking magnesium pills will decrease the frequency of migraine headaches over time, though it will not do much for acute migraines, Teitelbaum says. That's where visiting an emergency room or holistic physician to have magnesium administered via an IV comes in.
"The IV magnesium causes the blood vessels in the rest of the body to relax, resulting in the blood vessels in the brain that have stretched coming back down to normal — making the headache go away quickly," Teitelbaum says.
This may sound like a mountain of information, but it's really pretty simple: Get your hands on a multivitamin with the appropriate amounts of vitamins B2, D and magnesium, a non-time release melatonin to take at bedtime, and, when all else fails and your migraine threatens to put you over the edge, rest assured IV magnesium can help.
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