More than 10 million Americans have migraines creating a burden of mostly unnecessary suffering.
These severe, nearly disabling headaches can occur from once a year to three to four times a week. They can last from hours to days.
Migraines are often associated with…
- an aura
- light sensitivity
- severe throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head.
Migraines are even linked to stroke-like symptoms or paralysis in some cases.
The cost to society is also enormous. Migraine headaches add $13 billion to $17 billion to our healthcare costs each year. These costs include medications, emergency room visits, hospitalization, physician services (primary care and specialty), laboratory and diagnostic services, and managing the side effects of treatment.
Migraines have indirect costs too. Headache is the most frequent pain-related complaint among workers. Focusing specifically on migraine, one study found that the annual cost to employers exceeded $14.5 billion, of which $7.9 billion was due to absenteeism and $5.4 billion to diminished productivity.
So this is a HUGE problem — both to those who suffer and to society as a whole.
Conventional medicine fails to treat migraines effectively
Worse, migraines are hard to treat and very difficult to prevent with conventional approaches. There are a host of preventive drugs — calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and more –which work poorly, if at all, and are accompanied by frequent side effects. Some doctors are now even using Botox to paralyze neck muscles in the hopes of easing migraines.
The problem with migraines is the same one we see so often in medicine: We treat the symptoms, not the cause. We only deal with the effects of something and not the underlying problems.
- The causes: A processed-food diet including aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), nitrates (in deli meats), sulfites (found in wine, dried fruit, and food from salad bars) is to blame. Tyramine-containing foods like chocolate and cheese are also triggers.
- The treatment: Eliminate additives, sweeteners, sulfites, and processed food from your diet. Eat a diet rich in whole foods and phytonutrients.
- The causes: Premenstrual syndrome with bloating, fluid retention, cravings, irritability, breast tenderness, menstrual cramps; use of an oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy; or even just being pre-menopausal, which leads to too much estrogen and not enough progesterone because of changes in ovulation.
- The testing: Blood or saliva hormone testing looks for menopausal changes or too much estrogen.
- The treatment: Eat a whole-foods, low-glycemic-load, high-phytonutrient diet with flax, soy, and cruciferous vegetables. Use herbs such as Vitex, along with magnesium and B6. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Exercise and stress reduction also help.
- The symptoms: Anything that feels tight or crampy like headaches, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, muscle cramps or twitching, and palpitations.
- The testing: Check red blood cell magnesium levels. Even this can be normal in the face of total body deficiency. So based on symptoms, using magnesium should be the first choice.
- The treatment: Magnesium glycinate, citrate, or aspartate in doses that relieve symptoms or until you get loose bowels. If you have kidney disease of any kind, do this only with a doctor’s supervision.
- The symptoms: Fatigue, muscle aching, and brain fog, although sometimes the only symptom can be migraines.
- The testing: Checking urinary organic acids can be helpful to assess the function of the mitochondria and energy production.
- The treatment: Taking 400 mg of riboflavin (B2) twice a day and 100 to 400 mg a day of co-enzyme Q10 can be helpful, as can as other treatments to support the mitochondria.
A combination of approaches is needed to cure migraines
Keep in mind that sometimes a combination of treatments is necessary. Other treatments can be helpful in selected cases, such as herbal therapies (like feverfew and butterbur), acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and osteopathic treatment to fix structural problems.
The bottom line is that this problem — which affects one in five Americans and costs society $24 billion a year — is almost entirely preventable. So get to the bottom of your symptoms — and get ready for migraine relief. It’s the best way to move toward lifelong vibrant health.
Now I’d like to hear from you…
- Do you suffer from migraines?
- What treatments have you tried and how are they working?
- Have you found a connection between the causes I’ve mentioned and your headaches?
- What steps have you taken to address them?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field.
He is the Director the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and was a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and The View, Katie and The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters, Achieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues.
He is the winner of the Linus Pauling Award, The Nantucket Project Award, and was inducted in the Books for Better Life Hall of Fame, and the Christian Book of the Year Award for The Daniel Plan.
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