Conventional Wisdom on Migraines

The Conventional Wisdom: Migraines are caused by various triggers.

All contemporary knowledge about migraines points to chemical reactions in the brain causing blood vessels to constrict and then expand creating a sudden blood flow as the process which creates the headaches associated with migraines. Therefore the key to avoiding migraines is limiting exposure to triggers.

An enormous list of triggers has been accumulated through research into migraines. Among the most common triggers to be aware of: Stress, aroma, menstruation, sleep pattern disturbances, climate change, and diet. Its very important know triggers your migraine so you can determine whether to avoid it or not. The Conventional Wisdom: You can kiss your migraines goodbye after menopause.

Estrogen Levels

The onset of migraines has been linked the start of menstruation and sixty percent of women will suffer a worsening of their coincident with their monthly periods. The link between menopause and migraines has to do with the cycling of estrogen levels; controlling estrogen levels is the best way to improve headaches in women.

Menopause does create changes in migraines, but it can hardly be concluded that they put a stop to them. Two-thirds of women with migraine will experience an improve in their migraines after natural menopause. On the other hand, only one-third can expect an improvement hysterectomy or surgical menopause, and two-thirds will actually experience a worsening.

The Conventional Wisdom: Quit smoking and your troubles evaporate like smoke itself.

Nicotine modifies the quantity of pain-signaling chemicals in the nervous system. These are chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, norephinephrine, and dopamine. Smokers generally are at a greater risk for headaches and this risk is related to the amount of nicotine consumed.

The more nicotine a smoker takes into his system, the greater his frequency of headaches and the more severe those headaches will be. Quitting smoking helps one’s overall health, with the added benefit of reducing headaches.

The Conventional Wisdom: You are what you eat, at least as far as migraines are concerned.

Restrictive diets are a common prescription for those suffering headaches. There are so many different foods associated with triggering migraines that each diet must be individualized. Generally speaking, however, these diets will likely include avoiding foods that contain tyramine (aged cheeses, alcohol, sour cream), phenylethylamine (chocolate), nitrates (hot dogs), and dopamine (broad beanpods).

Studies evaluating single foods are mixed at best. For instance, there have been several studies into the effect of aspartame (Nutrasweet) on headaches with no conclusive evidence for either side of the issues.

Chocolate is another commonly reported headache trigger food. Several studies have been done on this link. One study tested over sixty females who were chronic migraine sufferers. The testing used chocolate bars and chocolate-flavored carob bars for control. To ensure there were no psychological effects from women who believed that chocolate caused headaches, the samples were even flavored with mint.

The result showed that even those women who did believe that there is a connection between chocolate and migraines did not experience when they didn’t know if they were eating chocolate or carob. Cheating on the diet and eating other restricted foods like peanut butter, colas, or pizza along with chocolate did not result in increased headache activity either.

Most studies have concluded that foods can trigger headaches, but there is a growing resistance to this idea. One reason for the misconception, these studies conclude, is that mood and behavior changes that preface a migraine attack often include food cravings, thereby creating a false association between eating the food and getting a headache.

According to these scientists, its not the food that triggers the headache. Instead, the food craving is merely a sign that the headache process has begun. In addition, sweet craving typically occurs in response to stress, fasting, and menstruation. Again, the true trigger may be the stress, fasting or hormonal changes, with chocolate (or other craved foods) a reaction to the trigger rather than acting as a trigger itself.

If you believe foods may trigger your headache, expect to get a headache within 12 hours of eating the food item. Elimination of certain individual foods may be helpful for a minority of headache sufferers, but restricting a wide variety of foods on a long-term basis often merely increases your stress and can lead to a headache.

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