If you are a regular migraine sufferer, you know what a beast they can be. They can affect every aspect of your life—from spending time with family to succeeding at work.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications can bring some relief, but did you know there are natural, drug-free ways to fight—and possibly prevent—those debilitating headaches too?
It doesn’t hurt to consider other natural approaches. Not everyone might have the same triggers but paying attention to your body’s response to certain influences—or lack thereof—and then changing or adjusting those habits might make a difference in the frequency and severity of your migraines.
Here are 5 drug-free ways to combat your migraines head-on:
1. Watch for dietary triggers
What we put into our bodies (good or bad) can definitely have an effect on our health, so it’s safe to assume certain foods and drinks can also have a triggering effect on migraines. Red wine, chocolate, aged cheese, MSG, caffeine and nitrites are almost legendary as consistent triggers for migraines. Interestingly enough, however, there’s actually very little evidence-based guidance on this. Dietary triggers tend to differ person to person, so it’s not practical to eliminate everything.
“A food trigger for one person may not be a trigger for someone else, so following a specific restrictive diet won't work for everyone,” said Holly Yancy, DO, a headache medicine specialist with Banner Brain & Spine. “If you suspect you may have dietary triggers for your migraines, it's a good idea to listen to your body's response to them and keep track of them.
Keeping a food journal, where you write down what you eat and drink each day, can be helpful when finding links between your diet and migraines. Then you can work with your physician or a registered dietitian on an individualized plan for possibly eliminating or minimizing that or other similar foods.
2. Don’t skip meals
When it comes to your diet, it’s also important to eat regular meals. Fasting, skipping meals and even forgetting to eat may also be triggers for the onset of a headache or migraine. Two ways you can fend off migraines are to eat several small meals throughout the day and to avoid large amounts of any foods that are potential triggers.
3. Manage stress
Some degree of stress is needed in life to motivate us to do better and make changes. But at higher levels, stress can also be detrimental and can influence migraines in a few ways.
“One model of the influence of stress on migraines has shown that there are three scenarios in which stress plays an active role: stress followed by a relaxation period, prolonged fatigue and extreme tension,” Dr. Yancy said. “Stress can cause a first migraine in someone who is susceptible to them, it can trigger individual migraine attacks, and it can also lead to a progression of migraines—from an episodic to a more frequent and chronic pattern.”
Just as important as realizing the influence stress can have on migraines, is developing appropriate coping strategies to minimize them. “Biofeedback, relaxation therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective in treating migraines and other types of headaches,” Dr. Yancy said. “Sometimes these methods can be just as effective as medication.”
You can discuss with your doctor or a behavioral health specialist to identify which coping mechanism you best respond to.
Regular exercise can also help you cope with and manage stress, as well as manage conditions that often exist with and can worsen migraines, such as obesity, mood and sleep disorders. It can improve blood flow and help you reduce stress. However, if you get migraines every time you exercise, stop and speak with your doctor.
5. Get enough restful sleep
Getting quality shuteye is one of the keys to preventing migraines. Sometimes migraines are the cause of poor sleep, and other times they are the trigger.
“Some headache disorders, such as cluster or migraine headaches, have been related to specific stages of sleep, such as waking during REM or slow wave sleep,” Dr. Yancy said. “It’s important to discuss your triggers with your doctor so they can find a treatment that helps you avoid them as much as you can and get back to better sleep."
[Read “What’s Up with My Morning Headaches” and “Try These Sleep Tips” for help improving your sleep.]
Suffering from migraines doesn’t mean you have to depend on prescription or over-the-counter medication alone for effective pain relief and preventive care. What you eat and how you treat your body can be effective methods for reducing the frequency of your migraines as well.
“There's no question that our choice of what we put into and how we use our bodies influences migraine patients' quality of life,” Dr. Yancy said. “Paying close attention to how your days are affected by physical activity, what you eat and drink, the difficulties you come up against and how you deal with them will allow you to hone in on what you can control at home and will help your doctor develop a more comprehensive plan for care that's tailored to you.”
If you suffer from severe headaches or migraines, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a Banner Health specialist. They can help identify potential triggers and ways to avoid them.