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Natural Relief From PMS Migraines
by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
In part I of Understanding PMS Migraines, we described these troublesome hormonal headaches and some of their possible causes. Whether you have PMS migraines or some other type of menstrual headache, there may be a natural treatment for menstrual migraines that can make a real, positive difference. Beyond that, our natural supplement program has helped women find natural relief from a variety of PMS symptoms, including premenstrual headaches.
In the previous article we looked at the stress–PMS migraine connection. Managing your stress level and learning new ways to respond differently to stressful situations can go a long way toward lowering your "trigger level" for migraines. Here are some other natural treatments for menstrual migraines worth considering.
You've probably heard the old saying, "One man's meat is another man's poison." Well, it applies equally to women as well as to men. In a practical sense, it means that many women react to foods that others can eat without any problem.
You've also probably met, or heard of, people who can't tolerate dairy or wheat or gluten. What you may not have known is that most people have reactions to foods, and these reactions aren't always apparent. They are often to foods we eat daily, or several times per day, so that the symptoms of a food sensitivity often seem as though they are just a normal part of life.
Sometimes, simply finding and eliminating—or at least cutting way back—on the offending food is enough to give dramatic relief from PMS migraines and menstrual headaches. More often, addressing food sensitivities works best when combined with, for instance, better stress management, and using the PMS Comfort natural supplement program to balance hormones.
This is because the food allergen may not cause any symptoms on its own, but will do so when combined with another trigger. In the case of PMS migraines, the additional headache trigger could be a stressful event, a change in the weather, or the drop in estrogen during the luteal phase of the cycle (or any of the other triggers covered in PMS migraines). Anyone with chronic headaches, menstrual migraines, or PMS headaches should examine the possibility that they have food allergies or food sensitivities.
The best way to determine whether you react negatively to specific foods is also the simplest, and least expensive: elimination and reintroduction. Begin by eliminating (for three to four weeks) and then reintroducing (for one day) any food group you suspect might cause your problem.
Some of the most likely offenders also happen to be the foods we eat the most often. In our experience the top three problem foods are gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, and anything containing them—including cereals, bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, and other baked goods); dairy (cow's milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and so on); and refined sugar (in sweets, candies, baked goods, and many other manufactured food items). Other common food allergens include corn, soy, and eggs. Many people have food allergy-like reactions to alcohol, yeast, and caffeine as well. One simple but vexing way to narrow your search for problem foods: the foods you crave are the most likely candidates!
For people with migraines, all tyramine-containing foods, such as aged cheeses, should also be avoided. Many migraines also find they react to alcohol, food additives and colorings, and to cold foods.
Migraines and other headaches can be brought on by what is usually called "low blood sugar" or hypoglycemia, even though the actual feeling of low blood sugar is usually caused by your body's reaction to low blood sugar rather than the hypoglycemia itself. One simple way to determine whether you have a low blood sugar tendency is to ask yourself how you feel if you miss a meal, or if you have to wait longer than usual to eat. People with hypoglycemia tend to feel shaky, irritable, or faint when they get hungry or when they aren't able to eat regularly. Some hypoglycemics will have strong cravings for starches such as rice, potatoes, pasta, breads, and crackers. If any of this sounds familiar, we urge you to try the blood sugar-balancing diet we explain below—we've seen people with PMS migraines and PMS symptoms feel much better as result.
Hypoglycemia can usually be resolved easily with diet alone. The most important factor in regulating your blood sugar is not to skip meals, especially breakfast, and to make sure that breakfast contains some protein (for instance, nuts or eggs or cheese or soy products) and no refined sugar (such as sweets, sugar in coffee, sweet rolls or breads). A little bit of jam or preserves, fruit, or honey in tea, probably wouldn't hurt if you make sure to include the protein. Then, all of your other meals or snacks during the day should also contain some protein. The protein, plus the fat that accompanies most protein-rich foods, stops blood sugar spikes that might occur if you ate only starches (say, from pasta, bread, or fruit.) Meat, nuts, fish, eggs, soy products, and cheese (if you're not sensitive to dairy) are all good sources of protein.
In some people, alcohol, coffee, and tea can aggravate hypoglycemia. If you are trying to get your blood sugar under control, we recommend you try cutting way back on these items, or eliminating them altogether, to see if that helps you to feel better.
These simple measures can help stabilize your blood sugar and prevent migraines—as an added bonus, when your blood sugar is stable, it automatically lowers your stress level! Most women find that eating the blood-sugar balancing diet helps maintain energy level and alertness as well.
One of the nutrients most closely associated with the prevention and treatment of migraine headaches is magnesium. The best food sources of magnesium are soy, tree nuts, whole grains, beans, and vegetables. However, it is important to keep in mind that the mineral content of food comes from the soil in which it's grown. Modern intensive, high-yield agriculture depletes the soil of minerals, and these are usually not replaced by conventional fertilizers. While organically-grown produce and foods may be grown in less-depleted soil, organic food can be hard to find and prohibitively expensive. To make magnesium matters more complex, stress and many factors in modern life tend to deplete the body's magnesium stores.
For all these reasons, we recommend supplemental magnesium for patients with migraines and premenstrual symptoms. It's easy to feel good about the magnesium in PMS Comfort, since in addition to its benefit to menstrual migraines, it is a heart-healthy nutrient and essential to healthy bones and muscles.