Migraine headaches can stop your life dead in its tracks for hours or sometimes days. Current medications, for the most part, are from a class called triptans. These drugs are selective serotonin receptor agonists, meaning they stimulate different serotonin receptors to keep cerebral arteries restricted and abort an early migraine headache. Dilation of these arteries is thought to be a major component of migraine pain. Recently several non-drug approaches have emerged to help sufferers take their lives back.
Chiropractor Phillip Meyers with La Gianna Chiropractic Health Spa has been treating patients with migraines for years. One thing he checks for is how the nervous system is doing. “Particularly in this economy, many people are very stressed out,” he says. “Their mechanisms for relaxation are shut down and they are too often in fight-or-flight response mode. Some of them spend a lot of time having migraines or other hyperimmune responses.” Meyers finds that whether responding to a bad diet or stress, his migraine patients have nervous networks that are chronically inflamed, which creates hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to tissues. His goal is to correct that before it impacts neurotransmitters.
Meyers explains that migraines may have different forms. “Sometimes they are the result of cranial pressure on surface nerves and receptors, and I can correct that with cranial adjustment,” he says. “Patients also can develop vertigo-type migraines, which tell me there is an imbalance between the cerebellum and cortex. We use a cold laser treatment to restore that. Certain foods can trigger migraines. When one of my patients goes off her nutrition protocol, she gets migraines. She has a weakness for sodas with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, both of which can create inflammation.”
He also counsels patients to avoid MSG and recommends a diet rich in vegetable juices, berries, and high in magnesium, zinc and antioxidants. Migraines that usually occur during certain points of the menstrual cycle can be combated with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and by avoiding trans fats. One product he recommends is a fish oil supplement with no fishy taste called Udo’s Oil, available at Whole Foods. Patients also find considerable relief from migraines through the use of SCIO, a biofeedback system that detects stress and helps reduce it.
Dr. Rajiv Yadava, a specialist in neuromuscular medicine, says most people come to him with their migraines after finding other therapies ineffective. Migraine headaches can be extremely debilitating with their pounding pain, nausea and vomiting, visual auras, even numbness and weakness. “As an osteopathic physician, I’m trained to look at the body as a whole, not just as an aching head,” Yadava says. “I take a history and go through medications they are taking, and how they work. I also look at other health issues they may have, past surgeries and medical history, and the timeline of when migraines began in relation to other things happening in their lives.”
Therapy, says Yadava, may include osteopathic manipulation, trigger injections, and some counseling to relax the whole nervous system. Patients report not only a reduction in number and severity of migraines, but an improvement in other health issues, such as sinus problems and irritable bowel symptoms. “Therapy’s goal is to reduce migraines so patients can reduce the amount of medication they are taking,” he says. “Muscle tension is a big trigger, as is blood vessel dilation and drainage.” Patients report significant easing of symptoms from the first of three monthly treatments. Headaches become farther apart and less intense.
For some people, migraines have simple triggers, but for others, they are much more complex. William Collins, a clinical psychologist and director of the Migraine Relief Institute (MRI), says that as a rule, the more severe the migraine, the more complex the triggers. The people who come to him tend to have more severe headaches that cause them to lose work and miss out on family activities.
Collins assesses what happens to the brain when it becomes overloaded with stimuli, which can include changes in barometric pressure, smells, light, food, noise, stress and fatigue. “The brain is bombarded with triggers,” he says. “We take in information through our senses, and then the brain has to coordinate it. People with migraines aren’t able to integrate all their sensory inputs. Our quantitative EEG (electroencephalogram) maps brain waves and helps us determine how to stabilize the brain against this onslaught.”
He helps the brain learn to integrate all these inputs without having a migraine. The process is called neurosensory reintegration and usually involves two sessions a week for five weeks. “Approximately 80 percent of my migraine patients have a cessation of migraines, and the other 20 percent see a significant reduction in the number and severity of their headaches,” Collins reports.