What Causes Migraines and What You Can Do About It

You go to bed each night praying that you won’t wake up with a migraine. As you toss and turn your way through the night, you dream there is a cure. Subconsciously you  know what causes migraines.

In the morning that dream evaporates as your consciousness awakens to the harsh reality – it is going to be another migraine day.

Life would be so much better if you just knew how you would feel from one day to the next. You would give almost anything to get control over migraines, but no-one seems to have any answers.

Why haven’t all the doctors and specialists been able to it figure out? You’ve tried just about everything and still have no control over this disease.

I have some good news and some bad news to share with you. The good news is, doctors have figured out what causes migraines. The bad news – they seem to have forgotten.

In the very first days of medical school, doctors are taught that the cause of all chronic disease is chronic inflammation. They proceed through years of in-depth training to enhance their skills and refine their specialty. They focus on specific diseases, organ systems, and patient groups. They become so highly skilled in their chosen area of practice that they neglect the importance of the basic principle that started their training: chronic inflammation creates chronic disease.

Since migraine is a chronic disease, this principle surely must apply. So let’s get back to basics – if migraine is a chronic disease, and chronic disease is caused by chronic inflammation, can’t we use this information to get control of migraines? Dare we even hope that it could lead to a cure for migraines?

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is not a bad thing. It is part of the body’s natural immune response, and without it, we would surely die.

When you get injured or sick, the body produces inflammation to protect damaged cells and isolate them from healthy cells, to prevent the damage from spreading. Inflammation is the redness you see when you bump your elbow, the swelling in a twisted ankle, the need to sneeze at chemical odors, and the congestion in your sinuses when you have a cold. It is the first line of defense against any invasion into your body.

Inflammation is not only for protecting damaged tissue. It also serves as a trigger for the immune system. It is an emergency flare that sends a signal: “There is damage over here! Send help!” Inflammation sets the immune system into action, and guides it to the exact location where repair is needed.

What Makes Inflammation Chronic?

In normal circumstances, the immune system will repair the damage to body tissues and inflammation subsides automatically. In less fortunate cases, the inflammation does not subside, and becomes chronic. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • The threat cannot be eliminated by the immune system
  • The immune system is not strong enough to repair the damage
  • The damage is persistent and ongoing
  • The immune system gets confused and starts attacking healthy tissue

In all of these situations, the immune system remains activated and inflammation persists. Over time, it evolves into a serious health problem. Inflammation spreads throughout the body, creating further confusion for the immune system. New threats are harder to manage and take longer to repair because of mixed signals.

Migraines and Chronic Inflammation

Researchers have long thought that migraines are caused by acute inflammation inside the brain. Recently, this theory has been challenged by new research that indicates there is a genetic component to the disease.

Integrating the notion of chronic inflammation into our understanding of migraines encompasses both of these explanations, and gives us a bigger picture of what causes migraines.

Many of the currently accepted, moderately effective treatments for migraine are anti-inflammatory agents. The migraine drug sumatriptan (Imitrex) operates by reducing vascular inflammation. Natural remedies such as feverfew and butterbur are anti-inflammatory herbs. Massage, acupuncture, and yoga can be used to control inflammation.

It is known that some people are genetically susceptible to inflammation. In particular, the genes known as IL6 and IL10 control the inflammatory process. Many of the genes being studied for their influence on migraines are related to inflammatory processes and inflammatory disease.

Most importantly, when we come to understand that migraine is the result of chronic inflammation, not just intermittent, acute inflammation, different pieces of the migraine puzzle start to fit together neatly:

  • Migraine triggers appear as threats to the immune system and trigger an immune response, including foods, stress, dehydration, and more;
  • Migraine treatments become less effective over time as the body adapts to its particular effect and the underlying inflammation remains;
  • New migraine triggers crop up as the immune system becomes more sensitive to threats;
  • The longer you have migraines, the longer each migraine lasts;
  • Anti-inflammatories are a temporary fix at best; and
  • Other inflammatory diseases such as fibromyalgia, depression, arthritis, and allergies often occur alongside migraine.

With a broader view that chronic inflammation causes migraines, we now have some tools at our disposal to help get this disease under control.

Healing Migraines

It turns out, many of the treatments for chronic inflammation are the same ideas you’ve heard so many times over the years dealing with migraine: stay hydrated, reduce stress, lose weight, avoid gluten and sugar, get some exercise, sleep well. Basically, if you want to get healthy, just live a healthy lifestyle!

Easier said than done.

There are a few ideas for controlling chronic inflammation that aren’t usually considered for migraine treatment. Mainly, the goal is to minimize toxic exposure to the body. When you are avoiding your triggers, that is basically what you are doing.

In addition, you may also consider:

  • Maintain good oral hygiene: bacteria build-up in your mouth and between the teeth leak directly into your stomach and must be managed by your immune system. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, it is a good time to start!
  • Avoid processed oils: processed vegetable oils such as corn, canola, and safflower oil are high in Omega-6, which is highly inflammatory. Substitute nut- or fruit-based oils including almond, olive, and coconut oil, which are low in Omega-6.
  • Don’t feed the yeast: Candida is a yeast that lives in the digestive tract and feeds on carbohydrates, creating alcohol as a byproduct. The body reacts to Candida as a threat (which it is) and produces inflammation in the digestive system. Starving Candida by avoiding sugar and processed carbohydrates will reduce the inflammatory response.

Some of the best nutritional supplements for treating chronic inflammation are not normally associated with migraines:

  • Vitamin D: the sunshine vitamin supports the immune system. Low levels of vitamin D set up the body for chronic inflammation. Supplements or exposure to the sun (without sunscreen) can build your vitamin D levels and help control inflammation.
  • Sulphorafane: a chemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage. Studies have shown that sulphoraphane controls inflammation by altering the inflammatory response of cells.
  • Zinc: an essential mineral nutrient that can become significantly depleted in people with digestive disorders. Zinc moderates the immune response by deactivating inflammatory proteins inside the cells; with zinc deficiency, inflammation tends to escalate out of control.
  • Probiotics: support the immune system by restoring balance in gut bacteria. When bad bacteria dominate the good bacteria in your digestive system, your immune system is constantly under attack. Probiotics shift the balance so beneficial bacteria can dominate, stealing resources from bad bacteria so they die off.

Recognizing that migraine is a chronic inflammatory disease is a huge step in the right direction. Instead of chasing ghosts, we now have something specific to go after. We can get a handle on what improves migraines and what makes them worse by understanding more about how inflammation works, what causes it, and how it can be controlled.

It may not be the cure you dreamed about, but it reinforces what you already knew about migraines. There is something wrong, and there is something that can be done to fix it.

If you want to learn more about how inflammation fits into your migraine puzzle, sign up for my mailing list. You’ll get a free gift plus a ton of information about this new perspective on migraines.

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