Dr. Angela Palmer
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 and 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 have 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’s as there are 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 patterns we see in migraines. Stress over a long period of time stagnates Qi, especially in the Liver. The Liver is vital for regulating blood, emotions, blood sugar levels as well as detoxes your body from all chemicals…ones we eat, drink and as well as our own hormones etc. It also governs the eyes and sensitivity to hormones (and hormone-influencing foods such as chocolate in some people) and creates an internal heat. When the pressure is released, for instance on the weekend or after a stressful event, this pent-up heat and emotions causes the visual disturbances, nausea or vomiting and pounding headache. If the migraine is more hormone related it will tend to occur when there is a build-up of hormones, that are not being broken down by the liver resulting in excess in the blood.
Silent migraines can be just as deleterious to the body and mind as the full blown ones. These can manifest as numbness on one side of the body and tingling and gastro-intestinal symptoms and visual disturbance. This can be frightening as the symptoms are stroke-like, so medical attention to rule this out is essential.
Treatment migraines are best done by your health care professional and acupuncture and herbs have been shown in clinical trials to be very effective. Avoiding known triggers, such as chocolate, fatty foods or very spicy foods and exercising regularly is vital to release pent up frustration and 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,
Dr Angela Palmer. Chinese Medicine