You know it’s coming.
The pain. The mood swings. The bloating. The bloody mess.
You know you can’t avoid it. You’re counting the days.
Your period is on the way.
To top it off, you’re bound to get a migraine, too. It happens every month.
When you’re a woman with migraines, odds are the monthly visit from your “aunt Flo” will bring migraine along for the ride. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky 10% that only get migraines during that time of the month.
Either way, you’re doubly cursed.
What can you do? You’re worried that the only way to prevent menstrual migraines is taking hormones constantly so you don’t even get your period. Is that the solution? What if your body won’t tolerate the extra hormones?
Fluctuating estrogen levels aren’t the only reason your period will bring on migraines. Many changes happen in your body during your menstrual cycle. Any one of these changes could be contributing to your menstrual migraines.
This article should help you understand why you get migraines during your period, and what you can do to prevent them.
Reduced Estrogen and Progesterone
A drop in estrogen ushers in your menstrual cycle. It starts a day or two before the bleeding, and remains for up to 10 days. When you consistently get migraines just before your period starts, reduced estrogen is the most likely suspect.
Progesterone also drops at the same time. Both hormones are involved in preparing the uterus for pregnancy, and aren’t needed while you are menstruating.
Reduced estrogen levels are usually blamed for menstrual migraines because the migraines tend to start right after estrogen levels drop. The shifting balance between estrogen and progesterone is believed to be the trigger.
Estrogen creams and patches can make up for a hormone imbalance, and are frequently used to prevent menstrual migraines. Some women even use contraceptives to stop menstruation for 3 months at a time, or more. While these measures have proven effective for many women, they don’t resolve the underlying hormone imbalance that is thought to be triggering migraines in the first place.
Dietary changes and herbal remedies can correct the hormone imbalance. A low-glycemic diet with lots of vegetables is a good place to start. If you can, include soy products because they contain isoflavones, plant-based estrogens that counteract low estrogen levels.
Vitex is an herb that trains the body to control hormone imbalances. This remedy comes from the fruit of the chasteberry tree, a leafy shrub that grows in temperate climates. Vitex works by regulating the pituitary gland, which controls the balance between estrogen and progesterone. Used as a tea or tincture, it can take up to 3 months to be fully effective in repairing hormone imbalances.
Prostaglandin is a hormone created in the lining of your uterus just before your period starts. When you start menstruating, the shedding lining releases large amounts of prostaglandin into your bloodstream
Prostaglandin causes blood clotting, blood vessel constriction, muscle contractions, and the pain you experience as cramps. It helps your body fully eliminate the uterine lining.
Women with heavy periods and severe cramping produce higher levels of prostaglandin than others. Reducing the amount of prostaglandin will control cramping, and results in a lighter flow.
Prostaglandin is inflammatory, and it is a vasoconstrictor. Since the increased prostaglandin starts soon after estrogen levels drop, it is difficult to separate the effects of one from the other. If you tend to bleed heavily during your period, high levels of prostaglandin could be triggering your menstrual migraines.
Certain foods are useful in controlling prostaglandin levels. Most notable is curcumin in the spice turmeric, which inhibits production of the hormone. Pineapple contains bromelain, which reduces the amount of prostaglandin released into the bloodstream. The polyphenols in green tea have a similar effect. Pomegranate and mangosteen are also known to control prostaglandin levels.
Increasing your intake of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids will reduce the amount of hormone produced in the uterus. Both act as anti-inflammatory agents.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Depending on your flow, you can lose anywhere between 1/4 and 1 cup of blood during your period. The lost blood needs to be replaced, or you will become anemic.
Anemia occurs when your blood cannot transport enough oxygen to your body tissues. You may feel weak, dizzy, or exhausted because your blood isn’t providing the nourishment your body needs. Anemia also causes severe headaches.
There are many different causes of anemia, but for menstruating women, the most common is insufficient iron. If your menstrual migraines tend to occur after you start bleeding, iron deficiency is a likely suspect.
Your body uses iron to manufacture new blood cells. Hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your bloodstream, is built from iron. Low iron levels during menstruation lead to anemia, because new blood cells created with insufficient iron cannot transport oxygen effectively.
Consuming iron-rich foods throughout your menstrual cycle prevents the anemia that can result from blood loss. Eat red meat, beans, and dark leafy greens so you are getting plenty of iron.
An iron supplement may be needed if you can’t get enough iron through your diet. Take vitamin C along with iron supplements to make sure you absorb the iron effectively. Iron supplements can cause constipation; stay hydrated and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables when using them.
How to Prevent Menstrual Migraines
A woman’s menstrual cycle creates radical changes in her body chemistry, and the drop in estrogen is only one of them. Getting familiar with all the changes is the best way to make sure you are getting the right treatment.
Everyone’s migraines are different. The chemistry that triggers your menstrual migraines may not be related to estrogen at all.
Even if your menstrual migraines are caused by estrogen imbalance, you don’t necessarily need hormone therapy to get rid of menstrual migraines. Simple dietary changes and herbal supplements will get your hormones back in balance naturally.
Just like everything migraine, the obvious solution isn’t necessarily the right solution. Natural alternatives will actually improve the way your body functions and create lasting results.
My 5 step method for healing your migraines isn’t easy — it takes time, patience, and careful observation of what is going on in your body. If you are willing to put in the effort, it will drastically reduce your migraines in a matter of weeks!