The Health Index
People who suffer from migraines regularly experience severe headaches, often accompanied by other symptoms such as light sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, or visual disturbances. The pain usually affects only one side of the head. It is often described as pulsating, hammering, or drilling, getting worse during physical exertion.
A severe migraine can severely limit a person’s quality of life. A single migraine attack can last between 4 and 72 hours. For some people, the attacks become so frequent over time that, when chronic, they eventually merge almost without a break.
At home and at work, the illness becomes a burden because people who have migraines are completely unavailable on migraine days. In the worst case, this can ruin a person’s career, relationship and future plans. Your doctor can prescribe appropriate medication to alleviate the pain during an attack and to reduce the incidence of migraine attacks. But that is not all: people who suffer migraines have options to considerably influence the severity and frequency of the attacks through diet and lifestyle changes.
What are the causes?
What causes a migraine is not yet fully understood. One hypothesis says that temporarily increased blood flow to certain blood vessels in the brain causes the pain, either in itself or because it triggers painful low-grade inflammation in the walls of the blood vessels. Imbalanced neurotransmitters (hormones) may be responsible for the changes in blood flow. Hypersensitivity towards the brain’s processing of stimuli also seems to play a role: if stress exceeds the brain's ability to cope, an attack occurs.
It is likely that there is a genetic predisposition. The triggers for migraine attacks are varied: bright light or loud noise, but also weather conditions, temperature changes, hormonal fluctuations, fatigue or stress can promote migraine attacks. Certain foods also contain irritants - for example histamines, preservatives, and the flavour enhancer glutamate often have adverse effects.
What are the symptoms?
A migraine attack can start days before the headache phase. Signs of an approaching attack can be mood swings, nervousness, sporadic euphoria, loss of appetite, ravenous appetite, or an increased sensitivity to cold. In 20 per cent of those affected, the so-called aura phase then occurs, with vision problems, visual field defects, speech impairments, changes in perception, or sensory disturbances in the arms or legs.
This phase usually starts less than an hour before the headache. The duration of an attack can vary from a few hours to three days. In extreme cases, the symptoms can last beyond 72 hours.
How can a nutrition practitioner help?
There is no miracle cure for migraines, nor is there a single nutritional concept that works equally well for all migraine patients. However, it has been proven that dietary and lifestyle changes can help relieve migraines. Your nutrition practitioner knows the typical ‘trigger foods’.
They will evaluate your food diary, looking for the common culprits. A nutrition practitioner has access to a range of tests to assess your digestive health, microbiota and food sensitivities. They will ask questions about your overall health and health history, diet, lifestyle and exercise habits and develop a customised plan that works for you.