Treating Migraine (How To Find The Root Cause)

Personal story

 
I used to struggle with migraine a lot. When I started to take it more seriously I found myself with a huge list of triggers. But the solutions came to me years later when I started studying orthomolecular therapy 3 years ago. I started changing a bunch of things in my lifestyle, diet and supplementing some nutrients and the migraines disappeared as a result. Because of doing all these adjustments simultaneously over the time span of about 1 year I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint exactly what treated/helped my migraines, but I suspect it must have been a combination. 
 
One of my ways of looking at (my own) migraines was (and still is) that it functions as a fuel-gauge. It was signalling when my tank was empty or I was putting too much force out. Even though I didn’t like it, it was my body forcing me to slow down. That’s how I still look at migraines. Most conditions are a way of your body trying to communicate with you. Not to mess around with you. Your body is here FOR you, and not to work AGAINST you. I believe that’s a very important starting point to approach your symptoms and health issues. 
 

So I like to introduce you to look at what your body is struggling with underneath. And dig below the surface to the source of the problem. Because I don’t believe migraines are the problem. 

It’s a symptom. 

 

What is a migraine? 

 
A migraine is a severe headache of which the physiological cause is still not entirely clear. It often results in a disabling and unbearable pain, coming and subsiding in waves. Retreating from lights, noise and movement are often the only options until the migraine episode subsides. 
 

A combination of sensory impulses and triggers ‘confuse’ the brain. This causes blood vessels to diffuse and trigger headaches and visuals (aura’s). Environmental changes, as well as changes in the homeostasis (internal environment) can trigger migraines. A migraine is most often not merely caused by triggers, though. Triggers may bring a migraine to the surface, but underlying conditions and health issues are at the source of the problem. 

If you want to treat migraines it’s important to understand that you can suffer from a variety of underlying issues. The fact that you have a migraine doesn’t mean the underlying issues are the same as someone else’s. This makes it an interesting topic, but sometimes tricky. 

Though, migraine attacks are a very treatable condition. 
 

Triggers of migraines

 
You can use a journal to keep track of what might have triggered your migraine attacks. There’s a lot of individual nuances to migraines, but the general triggers are the following:
 
  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Certain foods: caffeine, sugar, alcohol 
  • Bright lights. This also includes car lights when driving at night. You can wear night vision glasses or orange filter glasses.
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • (Intense) physical activity

Underlying issues 

 

(Chronic) stress 

Stress doesn’t cause any issues or disease by itself, but it can turn the volume up for other diseases. People with migraine often have higher level of cortisol. Which points to more chronic stress. You can recognise chronic stress as a constant, underlying feeling of urgency. The feeling of always being ‘switched on’. The inability to relax. The feeling of restlessness and pressure to be productive and think about stuff. 

Many people don’t event recognise stress as ‘stress’ because they’ve gotten so accustomed to the sensations of it. It’s become their ‘normal’ state of being. But unfortunately, this is the catalyst for many (chronic) conditions on the long-term. Like migraine.

 

Mitochondria dysfunction

The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. The energy factories. Mitochondria dysfunction leads to less production of ATP (energy) molecules in the body. Causing a neural energy crisis. A lack of ATP cells in the nervous system and brain may impair with neural information processing. This is a topic which needs more depth and an article on its own. Don’t overlook the mito’s. Energy really is the source of everything and you rely on your mitochondria to create it!

Mitochondria dysfunction symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Intense morning stiffness 
  • Visual of hearing difficulties 
  • Neurological issues
  • Migraines (duh!)
  • Poor growth 
  • Loss of muscle coordination 
  • Exercise intolerance 

Hormonal imbalances

Also premenstrual migraines belong this category. Especially high levels of oestrogen can trigger migraines. 

People who suffer from premenstrual migraines often have issues with oestrogen detoxification. Resulting in access oestrogen and not enough progesterone. Progesterone works on the GABA (an inhibiting/calming neurotransmitter) receptors of the neurones. So, you could say that progesterone is a woman’s natural valium. It’s an inhibitor, meaning progesterone calms and relaxes the nervous system and brain down, whereas oestrogen has the opposite effect.  

 
Classic PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms are mood swings, bloating, tummy pain, headaches, irritability, anxiety, tiredness, trouble sleeping, greasy hair, spotted skin, (specific) food cravings, breast tenderness and fatigue. These symptoms are often overlooked and classified as ‘normal’, yet not all of these symptoms naturally occur in optimal (hormonal) health. In this case it’s very important to improve methylation detoxification, which I will dig into at the treatment section. 
 

Histamine

Histamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter, meaning it activates and excites the nervous system. Access amounts can cause a neural overdrive. I’m not sure whether that’s an actual medical term, but it makes sense. Too much histamine switches the body and brain ON. This isn’t very helpful and can cause problems in the role of migraines. 
 

When you have SIBO (an access of bacteria in the small intestines) or a gut microbiome with a high amount of histamine-producing bacteria you’ll most likely have access histamine levels. This triggers and activates the brain and the neurological system. It’s also very taxing on the liver. If the liver has to deal with clearing up oestrogen and histamine, you’ll see problems arise. Everything is in relation to each other.  

Access histamine or histamine intolerance symptoms:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Hives
  • Nasal congestion or sinus issues
  • Vomiting 
  • Nausea 
  • Digestive issues
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Skin irritation

Microbiome dysbiosis 

The gut is connected to the brain through the gut-brain axis. It’s very important to understand the importance of the gut when it comes to mental health and wellbeing! Migraines caused by the gut are called abdominal migraines. This could be caused by SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), an access of certain (histamine producing) bacteria, or a leaky gut syndrome. 

Serotonine may have an important role in migraines. 95% of serotonine is produced in the gut. This makes gut health even more important. 

Frequent discomfort, bloating, gassing, constipation, diarrhea, heart burn could be signs that your gut might have an imbalance

Food sensitivities and additives

Sensitivities to certain foods can be a huge trigger. Some common ones are gluten, lactose and sugar. But most people aren’t aware of their food sensitivities. Also certain food additives can be very triggering. Things such as MSM/E621 (sometimes disguised under ‘flavour enhancer’), aspartame, tyramine-rich foods, sulphites and some others.
 

High levels or mercury

High levels of mercury are found in larger and longer lived fish such as tuna, cod, king mackerel, etc. 
 

Poor sleep

A poor circadian rhythm is very stressful and taxing on the body, and especially the brain (recovery). Getting good rest is one of the bigger pillars of good health and often overlooked. High quality sleep and deep relaxation are crucial for processing of impulses, emotions, thoughts and rebalancing homeostasis.  

Nutrient deficiencies

B2, B6 and co-enzyme Q10 and magnesium are important nutrient deficiencies to look at. 

Magnesium is a crucial nutrient that people are often low in. A high level/dose of magnesium functions as a calcium-blocker, which is used in conventional medicine to treat migraines. You could say that magnesium — apart from the importants of this nutrient — is a natural calcium-blocker in this case.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency are muscle

  • Muscle spasms
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depressive emotions
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to relax
  • Hormone imbalances
  • High blood pressure/hypertension
  • Low vitamin D levels (magnesium is needed for vit D production) and more. 

Treating migraine 

 

Circadian rhythm 

I use the 3-2-1 rule to improve circadian rhythm. 3 hours before bed no more food. 2 hours before bed no more work. 1 hour before bed no more blue light. Blue-light is huge. Stay away from blue-light at least 1 hours before bed will make the biggest difference. This will improve melatonine (sleep hormone) production. Trust me, and thank me later when you’ve committed to not sleeping with your phone or screens for a week and noticing how much your life has improved. You’re very welcome! 
 
In the morning you’ll want tog et sunlight (or bright light if it’s the only option) in the morning and get active. At least go for a walk. This stimulates serotonine, dopamine and cortisol production. A great cocktail to start your mornings with.
 

More in depth article on this soon, but this will be a good start! 

Stop smoking

Smoking narrows the blood vessels and improves the change of migraine attacks. 
 

Avoid alcohol 

A no-brainer. Wanna mess with you neuro-circuits (brain cell network)? Then double down on your drinking game! 

Avoid processed foods 

The best way to avoid triggering additives and foods is to eat real food. I’d always focus on proteins as they are significant building blocks for enzymes, hormones, muscle tissue, etc. All stuff your body really needs! 
 
Whether you choose vegan, carnivore, keto, etc. I don’t really care. I have my opinions, but do what works for you! Just keep this in mind: if your ancestors would see the stuff you use to cook with, would they recognise it? My opinion is that at least 80% of your ingredients should be recognisable. That’s a good baseline. 
 

Move regularly 

For the average person a good exercise routine would include the following:

  • At least 8.000 steps daily.
  • 2 to 3 times weight or strength training weekly, for both men and woman. 
  • Interval training such a sprints to get your heartbeat up high are great! (think of this as strengthening your heart and cardiovascular system) 
Ideally you’d move before a meal, because exercise improves insuline sensitivity = bueno!
 

Hydrate properly
Proper hydration includes not only drinking water, it also includes salts (electrolytes). The main ones are sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. These are important to absorb liquids into the bloodstream and into the cells. 

Electrolytes are found in fruit, vegetables and unrefined salt. 
 

Active stress management 

Especially chronic stress is a dangerous silent killer. I know there’s a lot of fuzz and talk about it, but that’s for good reason! 

Meditation or mindfulness practises, long walks in nature, exercise, deep sleep, cuddling with partner, social life, are some ways to calm the nervous system down. 

Hormonal health 

Sugar, stress, lack of exercise, unhealthy microbiome, environmental toxins, processed food, overweight and access dairy consumption increase oestrogen levels. Do the opposite of these and you’ll be doing your body a huge favour. Avoid chemical products as much as you can, called EDC’s (endocrine disrupting chemicals): pesticides, cosmetics, artificial body products (shampoo, deodorant, etc), plastic bottles and food storage containers, detergents, flame retardants, just to name a few. 
 

Detoxification of oestrogen 

Methylation is an important process that’s responsible for hormone detoxification. Not only because it clears up access oestrogen, but also because it lowers histamine, which in turn has an influence on oestrogen as well. 
 
For good methylation methyldonors are needed, these are chemical molecules such as methionine, B-vitamines, folate, choline and betaine.
Methyldonors are found in beets, organic dark leafy greens, cruciferious vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel spouts, cabbage, rocket), liver, beans and legumes, shiitake, organic berries.
 
Supplementing creatine monohydrate significantly reduces the demand for methyl donors in the muscles, up to 50%, and freeing up methyl-groups for methylation.
 
Supplementing MSM and magnesium are a great way to improve methylation also.
 
Prolonged fasting also turns out to improve methylation.
 

Histamine

Try a low-histamine diet. There’s a downside to this though. This isn’t the best long-term solution as you’ll have to leave a lot of great foods out. So I’d say this is a short term-intervention.
 
Improving liver detoxification (and methylation) and gut health are the long-term solutions to deal with histamine sensitivity. 
 
Quercetine, vitamine C, a good probiotic (like S. Boulardii, which doesn’t need prebiotic) and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) can help lowering histamine. 
 

Improve gut health 

Frequent discomfort, bloating, gassing, constipation, diarrhea, heart burn could be signs that your gut might have an imbalance.
 
Here’s some tips to support your gut:
  • Chew well and eat slow
  • Don’t drink water during your meal (this dilutes digestive enzymes)
  • De-stress. (Chronic) stress and digesting don’t, at all, go well together.
  • Eat less raw vegetables, they are hard to digest
  • Stay hydrated
  • Check for intolerances (especially gluten and dairy) 
  • Eat real foods and vary your diet.
  • Eat more fermented foods (it’s higher in histamine, so if you’re histamine sensitive beware of this)
  • Eat sufficient proteins (to improve the gut lining)
  • Improve bowel function by consuming sufficient amounts of fiber from cooked or steamed vegetables and fruit
  • Eat more organic! Pesticides are horrible.

You can always do a stool test to look into the specific needs of your gut. A good general probiotic would do as well. I would recommend S. Boulardii in this case, because it helps with oestrogen and histamine as well. In the case of migraine it’s 3 birds in 1 throw. On top of that S. Boulardii doesn’t interfere with SIBO’s, because you won’t need prebiotics (the food for probiotics)

Improve mitochondrial health

Mitochondria are the energy (ATP) production factories found in muscle cells. Well-functioning and trained muscles are important for these little factories, as well as oxygen. To oxygenise your body you’d prefer nose breathing over mouth breathing. There’s a huge field of research about the benefits of nose breathing versus the sickening mouth breathing.
 
A higher energy production also creates free radicals (toxic substances) which, in turn, need to be cleaned up by the body. This is why antioxidants are so important! Glutathione (the mother antioxidant) is the most responsible antioxidant to improve mitochondria disfunction. The only bioavailable form of glutathione is S-acetyl Glutathione, which can be supplemented. But it’s expensive. A great alternative is NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) which is synthesised by the body into glutathione.
 
Nutrients needed for a good functioning mitochondria system are B vitamines, magnesium, Co-enzyme Q10, alfa lipoicacid and carnitine.
 
Improving mitochondria dysfunction:
  • Avoid toxins and highly processed foods (because it damages the fragile mitochondria)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Resolve pathogen load (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites)
  • Eat foods to support glutathione: avocado, almonds, turmeric, milk thistle, okra, asparagus and broccoli
  • De-stressing
  • Increase vitamine C intake
  • Sleep & regular (moderate) exercise
  • Strength training
  • Supplementing nutrient deficiencies and/or Glutathione or NAC
 

Supplements

 

I would go with magnesium as the most important one. Also known as the anti-stress mineral. Magnesium in sufficient amounts also works as a beta-blocker, used in conventional medicine against migraines. Beta-blockers help keeping blood-pressure low and widen blood vessels. Co-enzyme Q10 and Omega 3 may also function as natural beta-blockers. 

  • Magnesium (-taurate) — combine with B6 (in the P-5-P form) to improve hormonal health
  • Omega-3 (learn everything you need to know about omega-3 here) — stabilise platelets, ‘natural beta-blocker’ and improves muscle spasms
  • B12, b6, folic acid (called b11 EU & AUS or b9 in USA) — improve homocysteine levels and nervous system function. 
  • Co-enzyme Q10 — improves mitochondria function, anti-oxidant protector and ‘natural beta-blocker’. 
  • B2 — may improve the duration and intensity of migraines
  • Dong Quai (Angelica Sinensis) — may improve hormonal migraines. 

Testing

 
The following list may be helpful and worth testing for: 
 
  • Food sensitivities 
  • Leaky gut (hyper permeability)
  • Microbiom
  • Magnesium intracellular (RBC)
  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Organic acids
  • Hormones (cortisol and/or oestrogen) 

Steps to Self-healing

 
It can sometimes feel a bit like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. I’d recommend to try some of the most common ones. This is the ‘low hanging fruit’ as I like to call it. 
 
  • Supplement magnesium (-taurate is a high bioavailable form of magnesium). During a mentrual period you may supplement higher amounts of magnesium. Stay away from magnesium-oxide. You won’t absorb much of it. It’s cheap garbage
  • Eliminate potential foods you’re sensitive to. The most common ones being: gluten, dairy and/or eggs
  • Consume foods high in anti-oxidants
  • Limit coffee and alcohol 
  • Stop smoking 
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Actively manage and detoxify stress
  • Eliminate (environmental) toxins and products 
  • Cold plunges and cold showers (improves stress resilience and cardiovascular health) 
The interventions in this article may help to prevent and ease the severeness of migraines in the future. 
 

Experiment by yourself in a safe and gentle way. 

And remember, you can book a consult (with a free intake call) with me so I can help you and you can support me with writing more of these extended articles. 

Good luck!
Stay healthy, be brave, be yourself. 
 
Renzo
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What I share and write about only goes as far as I’ve expended my own mind, body and soul. You need to think about what is right and holds true for ya’self. I’m merely sharing what I’m seeing and experiencing through the lens of my eyes, shaped by my lessons, studies and experiences, along with the research and studies of professionals in the particular field. I’m here to share but have no means of taking others’ credit or claiming to provide you with ‘the truth’. 

Oh, and there will be some grammatical slips here and there. So here’s my apologies in advantage (that was a joke), but as long as I’m getting the point across I’m pretty stoked. 

I’m always open and interested to hear your perspective, even — or especially — if my content is not in alignment with yours. But more importantly, I’m here to reach out a hand — you can find me here, or you can visit the FAQ Page

*This article is written for entertaining, educational and informational purposes only and not for medical advice. Always check in with your doctor for medical advice. You know the deal. And don’t forget to do your own research and stay critical! 

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Renzo Kaashoek
About Renzo

We’re hiding behind fancy websites and a bunch of words and filters. I’d love to introduce myself with some stories to make the chaos on your screen a little more personal. Feel free to reach out and ask or say what you’ve got going on. See ya’ in the mailbox, on the road or, in da barrel.. 

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