How to address the root cause of Migraines naturally
There are different types of migraines and we are going to discuss the physiology of migraines and how to effectively work with migraines vs describing the symptoms and medical interventions of each migraine.
When you’re dealing with migraines or having them treated, you must understand the cause, and the causes are actually relatively simple. The main cause of migraines is Neurological Dysfunction and triggers. The 3 main triggers are Dietary, Musculoskeletal and/or Hormonal. To work with migraines effectively, you must address both the neurological dysfunction and the triggers at the same time.
Likely, the reason you have probably been unsuccessful with migraine treatment is because your practitioner hasn’t been trained to work with both the cause and triggers. With this precise combination of therapies customized to your brain and body, you could be out of pain relatively quickly. In some cases we have patient feel relief after the first visit, others are more challenging and this is why we employ intensive programs to get to the best results for our patients experiencing migraines.
The Main Cause: Neurological Dysfunction
There are multiple neurological parts of the brain involved in migraines and we are going to talk about the brainstem, the limbic system, and autonomics.
The brainstem and limbic system house all of the neurons that receive information about our environment. They determine if it’s a friend or a foe, meaning it tells us if we can “Rest and Digest” or if it’s a “Fight or Flight” scenario.
- Parasympathetic = Rest and Digest
- Sympathetic = Fight or Flight
These are a push-pull system which means they oppose each other, meaning if the Sympathetic system is active, or your brain perceives a stressful or dangerous situation, then it’s going to turn ON the Fight or Flight system, which turns OFF the Rest and Digest system. This system releases Adrenaline and Cortisol, which are both stress hormones and neurotransmitters.
Most commonly our migraine patients are in sympathetic mode, meaning their body feels it’s constantly under attack. If the sympathetic mode is dominant, then it’s going to decrease blood flow to the brain and the gut, which is one of the main triggers of migraines.
If there’s decrease blood flow/sympathetic dominance occurring, your gut will suffer, and your brain will suffer (read up on the brain-gut axis here). If you have decreased blood flow to your gut, you will decrease your digestive enzymes, your motility, your ability to protect yourself from pathogens in food, and your own good bacteria will suffer, creating massive inflammation. The inflammation that occurs from sympathetic dominance goes everywhere. It goes to muscles, joints, gut, and brain, and the result of this systemic inflammation is often one of the contributors to migraines.
Dietary Triggers: Leaky Gut and Food Sensitivities
The above scenario is often the catalyst of developing/allowing the following triggers. Dietary triggers occur because of the breakdown of the digestive system aka vagal system (see brain-gut axis). This causes leaky gut. Leaky gut essentially is what happens when the gut barrier opens up and allows large food proteins through, these cause an immune reaction (inflammation) and that inflammation flares up the brain, causing a stress response which causes a sympathetic response, which constricts the blood vessels in the head (and gut) and creates that throbbing headache, constricts the vessels to your sensory system (causes numbness and tingling), or creates dizziness or speech problems by constricting blood flow to your vestibular system or cerebellum (read up on the cerebellum here).
Hormonal Triggers: Cortisol, Melatonin, Insulin, Vitamin D
Often our migraine patients have high stress, blood sugar issues, sleep issues, and some immune system issues where they react to foods or have skin issues. Controlling your hormones is imperative to controlling your hormones, and we always start with stress and blood sugar control. When you’re stressed, your body releases a corticosteroid from the adrenal glands called Cortisol. Cortisols main job is to raise blood sugar levels in the event of danger, injury, or a stressful event in case you need available blood sugar for your muscles to run away. The problem is, when Cortisol is chronically elevated, it creates multiple bad scenarios.
1- it decreases Insulin (which can create insulin resistance) – link
2- it decreases Melatonin
Melatonin is our sleep hormone and it is derived from Serotonin, which is our feel good neurotransmitter. We need proper blood sugar levels to bring the precursors of Serotonin into the brain, and we need proper methylation pathways as well as iron to synthesize all our our neurotransmitters and hormones. So if our cortisol levels are high, we won’t be able to sleep and if we don’t sleep we increase inflammation and breakdown our gut further, promoting more inflammation to the gut and brain, further promoting migraines.
Vitamin D is really a hormone. We don’t call it hormone D, but it is a hormone, not a vitamin. Anyway, Vitamin D is essential to balancing out the immune system. We essentially have 2 branches of the immune system, TH1 system which is what we are born with and does the majority of the attacking of pathogens. The TH2 system is the memory system which changes as we age and are exposed to new intruders, bugs, or food proteins that shouldn’t be in our system. Vitamin D is responsible for calming down both sides of the immune system, meaning it’s used up when your body is actively fighting an infection, or when you’re constantly activating the immune system and causing the body to make antibodies. Antibodies are basically the immune systems way of taking “mugshots” to identify an intruder the next time it comes into the body when it’s not welcome, so it can mount an attack against it.
So in summary, you must run labs assessing these components (is your doctor running these labs?) control your blood sugar levels, stress levels and repair your adrenal glands, make sure there’s no chronic infections causing chronic inflammation that causes a stress response to increase cortisol and drop melatonin.
Muscle tension, poor biomechanics, and whiplash are often involved in migraine pathophysiology. Concussions, car accidents, falls, poor posture (think texting and computer use), improper lifting techniques and even sleeping wrong can cause neck muscles to misfire, spasm, and result in trigger points.
Your upper cervical spine muscles and joints relay a HUGE amount of information to the brain in order to tell you where you are in space, and to help keep your eyes on your target. If this information is faulty in any way, muscle spasm occurs, entraps the occipital nerves (which most medical practitioners will use an Occipital Nerve Block or Botox to deaden) which creates headaches that radiate from the back of the head towards the front of the head. Often times the trapezius muscle can refer pain from the upper part of the shoulder into the same side ear and eye. Often times in acute headache situations we release the trapezius muscle and suboccipital muscles to lower the mechanical pressure to begin relieving the pain of the migraine headache. Having your cervical spine, ribs, thoracic spine and associated musculature are imperative to helping the rehabilitation of your migraines.
In summary of this article on Migraines and how to effectively resolve your migraines, we must address each individuals neurological status, teach them how to manage stress, repair faulty pathways from the limbic systems, vestibular/cerebellar system, and autonomic system in order to have proper neurological function.
If there are any of the 3 main triggers compromising their neurological function, those must be addressed as well. This may result in avoidance of foods like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, grains, dyes, and MSG, while we run comprehensive labs for blood sugar levels, anemia, inflammation, lipids, hormones, cortisol, thyroid and immune system function investigating autoimmunity.
We evaluate for proper cervical spine, thoracic spine, and rib biomechanics and address those as necessary.
Lastly, we utilize low level laser therapy that’s FDA cleared for neck pain to address the musculoskeletal causes of migraine which helps by relaxing the muscles, decreases inflammation, improves blood flow, reduces free radical activity, and ultimately helps in the healing process of migraines.
Make sure you give us a call if this sounds like the approach you’re looking for. Don’t forget to view our Success Stories where many migraine patients have seen amazing results
If you’d like to see more on migraines and headaches, here’s a recent webinar that Dr. Teames gave to both doctors and patients.