Migraine...The Weekender Headache
Migraines have plagued humanity for many a millennia and have been ascribed to many causes from evil spirits to brain tumours. The actual mechanisms however, are still to this day a mystery to modern medicine, with recent articles in the Scientific American findings showing tendencies towards hormonal surges, chocolate, red wine being the most common physiological causes and the release after a period of stress the most reported external trigger. Many people report how the flashing of lights can trigger an attack however recent studies of brain imaging has shown that this indeed may be due to the effects of repeated migraines on the brain.
Other changes in the brain are beginning to come to light as there seems to be thickening of the visual cortex, and white areas around the areas of the brain in the hypothalamus
that deal with primal instincts such as cold, sleep, hunger and exercise being thickened and thus more sensitive. This shows that according to this latest science, the current model of just treating symptoms with drugs is not optimal as there are definite structural changes in the brain after repeated attacks. However we are cautioned against treating migraine like other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer as there is no effects on memory or cognition, but there is an increased sensitivity to sound, light and other stimulus in the brain, and therefore we should be looking closer at a cause.
Chinese Medicine’s approach to Migraine is based on understanding the causes behind the patters we see in migraine. Stress over a long period of time stagnate Qi, especially in the Liver that governs the eyes and sensitivity to hormones (and hormone-influencing foods such as chocolate) which builds up and creates an internal heat. When the pressure is released, for instance on the weekend or after an event, the pressure valve opens so-to-speak and up rushes this pent up heat causing the visual disturbances, nausea or vomiting and pounding headache. Silent migraines can be just as deleterious to the body and mind as the full blown ones. These can manifest as numbness on one of the body and tingling and gastro-intestinal symptoms. This can be frightening as the symptoms are stroke-like. Interestingly in Chinese Medicine, the cause is similar in that the upward rushing of wind and heat, but with the added problems of blood stasis.
Treatment for these symptoms are best as preventative but can treat the pain and discomfort as well. Avoiding known triggers, such as certain foods, and exercising regularly is vital to release pent up frustration and give your body release of stress. Relaxation techniques are also very important too. Acupuncture is brilliant at treating and preventing, as is herbal medicine that works on calming the liver and clearing wind and heat. Meditation and calming processes such as yoga or Tai Chi assists in taking the body out of ‘fight flight’ stress modes and allows the body to re-set each day. Lavender and peppermint essential oils applied to your temples can help relieve symptoms too.
Until next time, Stay well Dr Angela Palmer. Chinese Medicine