More women suffer from migraine than men. That’s because hormones play a clear role, especially in menstrual migraine. The treatment varies; what works for one woman, may do nothing for the other. Medication can help, but lifestyle changes can also reduce complaints.
The blog of Vrouwenpoli Boxmeer (a Dutch practice for women with all sorts of gynaecological problems which combines regular and alternative treatments) offers 12 tips against menstrual migraine. Most of these tips also help when you suffer from ‘normal’ period pain.
1 Eat a lot of vegetables. Migraine during your menstruation is associated with hormonal fluctuations: the level of oestrogen rises and falls throughout your cycle. The liver plays an important part in getting rid of the waste oestrogens, and does this by means of producing certain enzymes. The production of these enzymes can be encouraged by eating green vegetables. Therefore, try to eat a minimum of 500 grams of vegetables a day. Spread it out over breakfast, lunch and dinner: salads, stir-fried vegetables, steamed vegetables, vegetable soup, vegetable omelette, green smoothies and veggie snacks.
2. Deal with stress the right way. You can’t always prevent stress, but what you can do is alter the way you deal with it. In a stressful situation you produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline (acute stress) causes your liver to break down the oestrogens slower. Cortisol (chronic stress) needs to be broken down by your liver using the same enzymes needed to break down oestrogens. Your liver has to choose and will first break down the cortisol. Mind-body techniques such as yoga and mindfulness are proven an effective way to reduce stress hormones.
3. Get enough sleep. Human beings need at least 8 hours sleep each night. Enough sleep lowers your stress levels.
4. Avoid gluten. Gluten can make your intestines more permeable. If your liver has broken down the hormones, they leave your body, mostly via your bowels. However, if your intestines are too permeable, these hormones are recycled again by the body.
5. Drink enough water. Water and herbal tea are miracle workers. Make sure to drink at least 30ml water for every 2.2lbs of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink at least 2 litres. Every single day. Water detoxes your body by allowing your liver to get rid of waste through your kidneys and urine.
6. Avoid coffee and alcohol. Both coffee and alcohol increase your cortisol levels. Drinking one glass of wine could lead to your cortisol levels being up by 30% the next day.
7. Get enough exercise. Make sure to get some daily exercise, when possible outdoors such as walking or cycling. Exercise also helps to balance your hormones. Endurance sports may raise your cortisol levels, so stick to interval training and athletics.
8. Avoid using too much painkillers. When used too much paracetamol, ibuprofen and other triptans can even cause headaches and migraines. When possible, try an alternative painkiller such as Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium), a medicinal herb which is also available as a supplement.
9. Seek counselling when dealing with stress from your past. A lot of women suffering from menstrual migraine have had traumatic experiences in their childhood. Unsolved emotional issues can cause problems later on in life. There are several possibilities: from psychodynamic therapy and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to hypnotherapy and family constellation therapy.
10. Avoid artificial hormones. These are harder for the body to break down and can make your menstrual migraine worse.
11. Body related therapies that can help you relax are for example foot reflex massage, ayurvedic massage and craniosacral therapy (CST).
12. Supplements can reduce the symptoms. Broccoli sprout extract helps your liver to break down oestrogens, especially when taken in combination with B-vitamins. Magnesium (in the shape of magnesium bisglycinate) could reduce vasospasm, muscle cramps and stress. Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) could also help against migraine.
More info? Check the Dutch website Vrouwenpoliboxmeer.
According to the National Migraine Centre, at least 5 million women in the UK experience hormonal headaches each month. More than half of the women who get migraines notice a link with their periods.