Migraine, often referred to as migraine headache, is a neurological condition that affects more women than men (3:1). The word migraine comes from a French term, which is a derivative of an old Greek term “hemikrania“, meaning “half” and “skull”.
Millions of people suffer from migraine headaches, which are often referred to as migraine attacks. It is important to differentiate migraine attacks from regular headaches and cluster headaches. Migraines have the following main symptoms (lasting 4-72 hours):
- a pulsating headache (usually on one side of the head)
- nausea or vomiting
- increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- headache is preceded by the appearance of an “aura” in 30% of sufferers, which is the unusual sensation of a visual, olfactory or other sensory experience
Migraines are often treated with traditional over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, acetaminophen (paracetamol) or analgesics containing a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine.
How to prevent a migraine attack?
Migraine headaches seem to be triggered by certain factors, which can differ from person to person. These trigger factors include allergies, bright lights or sounds, fluctuating hormone levels, emotional or physical stress, changes in sleep patterns, alcohol, smoking and food ingredients (see next).
What not to eat?
The following food items are considered migraine triggers:
- Gluten: Several studies have found that gluten elimination from the diet can prevent or eliminate a migraine attack in a number of patients. For people who have celiac disease, migraines may be caused by a gluten sensitivity
- MSG: Mono-Sodium Glutamate has often been reported as a migraine trigger
- Tyramine: tyramine is found primarily in fermented food (aged cheeses, smoked meat, beer, wine)
Herbal treatments for migraines
Some migraine sufferers may not want to take painkillers or products containing caffeine (for example if you have high blood pressure). Migraine relief may come from these herbal remedies:
- Lemon balm
- niacin (a B vitamin)
Lay, C.L. and Broner, S.W. (2009). Migraine in women. Neurol. Clin 27: 503–511.
Gabrielli, M., Cremonini, F., Fiore, G. et al. (2003) Association between migraine and Celiac disease: results from a preliminary case-control and therapeutic study. Am J Gastroenterol 98:625-9.