I wanted to share a case study today of a real-life client of mine from last year, as it demonstrates a point I often make about Naturopathy: when we address the causes of one condition, we often clear up other issues at the same time.
Mandy (not her real name but she has provided permission to share her case here) was 37 when she came to see me about her worsening migraine attacks. She told me that she previously used to get a migraine once a month – just before her period – but now she was getting 3 or 4 migraines a month.
She thought this had starting happening a year ago after a particularly stressful event. She had tried different medications and painkillers from her GP – which helped for a while – but then the regular migraines would re-occur. She had also seen a neurologist and had been referred for an MRI, but no abnormality in the brain was found. The next step was to go on a preventative medication, but she was concerned about the side effects, and so came to see me.
Mandy had other health concerns as well. She was experiencing PMS which hadn’t been an issue before and noticed that she was anxious about things that wouldn’t usually bother her. Since having her second child two years ago, she had been overweight, and was finding it difficult to find the motivation and energy to eat well and exercise. Mandy reported recurring thrush and sometimes said her lower abdomen felt uncomfortably bloated at the end of the day.
Mandy was having difficulty sleeping and was tired all day. She felt “so stressed, overwhelmed and like she was close to having a breakdown”.
She had tried avoiding citrus, coffee and chocolate, because she had heard they caused migraine – and also tried to go gluten-free for a couple of weeks but didn’t notice a difference in her migraines. Mandy had also experimented with a magnesium she purchased from the chemist but hadn’t noticed a difference. She was concerned about sugar cravings and did not know how to eat less sugar because she craved it so much, particularly after meals.
Based on Mandy’s presentation, and following food intolerance testing, microbiome testing and hormonal profiling, I started her on a customised food plan which I created to be easy to follow and also could be simply adapted for family meals. For the first week we started by making gradual changes to make the transition easier. This program involved avoiding all refined carbohydrates, while eating lean protein, plenty of vegetables and high quality fats to fuel her brain and body.
As her migraine seemed to be driven by stress and hormones, I also prescribed an individual treatment protocol consisting of herbal and nutritional supplements for:
- Nervous exhaustion
- Hormonal support
- Plus a liver and digestive microbiome support for the thrush and bloating
I replaced her ineffective off-the-shelf magnesium supplement with one that was better absorbed and indicated for migraine. Finally, I suggested some daily habits she could implement for migraine prevention and stress management.
Mandy returned for appointments every 2 to 3 weeks for 3 months.
After four weeks, Mandy reported that her anxiety was considerably lower. She felt that her energy and mood had improved. She reported a headache around her period, but it was no where near as severe as previous migraines. The bloating had not occurred again either.
By week 6, Mandy was sleeping better, and had not had another migraine. She had lost a little weight, and her clothes were fitting better. She commented on how much more energy she had, and that she felt more able to cope when stressful events happened. She was enjoying work more and had more energy for her family.
At week 12, she had not had a significant migraine attack. At times she had thought she might be getting one – particularly if it had been a big week at work - but had used some of the strategies I had provided to help manage a potential migraine. She had lost 6 kilograms and reported that she felt “so much happier in my own skin”. The PMS was not noticeable anymore – her last period had arrived without any moodiness, bloating or migraine.
Mandy said that she was enjoying her food plan now, and felt that her family was healthier as well, as she was cooking more nutritious foods. She was enjoying experimenting with clean food recipes. She no longer craved sugar as much as before either.
Mandy was such a pleasure to work with, as she was so committed and dedicated to following her treatment. She committed to her follow up appointments.
It’s a cliché – but the results really speak for themselves in this case. And it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help people turn their health around. *happy dance*
If you have been thinking of seeing a naturopath, but not sure if I can help, then feel free to book in for a free 10 minute chat.
One of the questions I am asked most as a naturopath, who also lives with migraine, is what I do personally to keep my own migraine attacks at bay.
I’ve lived with migraine for 30 years now, and I’m grateful to have been able to manage them to the point where they rarely affect my day-to-day life – something which feels like a miracle as I approach the “danger time” for migraine - approaching menopause.
So here are the things I do personally to prevent migraine attacks. I don’t get it right every day as sometimes my life can be a bit of a hot mess (which happens when you work full time, run a business and have a small child!).
But honestly, these little adjustments I make to my routine mean that I can spend more time doing all the things I love, and less time struggling with a nasty migraine attack.
And there you go – those are the things I include daily to keep the migraine attacks away.
I don’t always get it right, some days stress, work, travelling or just being super busy means I have to take shortcuts sometimes (like a takeaway dinner) but I find that if I take care of myself 90% of the time, my body can handle 10% of indulgence.
If you would like a little help to investigate what YOUR migraine prevention routine could look like, then feel free to book in for an appointment. My treatment plans are perfectly designed for people with migraine, and I’d love to help you.
You know how it gets when you are in the middle of a migraine attack and you can barely lift your head from the pillow or open your eyes? Well, at the point in time, all you can really do is lay low, try some drug free strategies and just get yourself through to the other side of the attack.
But what about when you feel OK again? What can you do then to reduce the frequency and severity of future migraines?
All too often, the focus when it comes to managing migraine is to consider just 2 or 3 things. Often, these are medication, avoiding food and drink triggers and perhaps some musculoskeletal therapy – perhaps chiro, massage or physio.
But, there is so much more we can consider. This is where I often introduce my Migraine Circle of Self-Care to clients.
The Circle looks at various groups of strategies we manage to give ourselves the best chance of reducing the frequency and severity of migraine.
And it's a great place to start to build your toolkit to prevent migraine attacks in the future.
The toolkit you use to manage your migraine condition will vary from someone else living with migraine – and this is where I can help guide you towards what will be most likely to help YOU.
For example, we might look at food intolerance testing to help identify foods to avoid, or we might look at your hormonal health or nutritional status for clues on supplements that might be best for you.
You can start using the Migraine Circle of Self-Care right now to identify perhaps 1 or 2 things in each area that you would like to consider trying for your own migraine management toolkit.
And of course, reach out and book an appointment if you need any support in this area.
Migraine is not just your run of the mill headache; it can have a severe impact on your daily life. If you suffer from migraine headaches, then you know how tough this can be. Maybe you’ve tried medication or other treatments but still aren’t getting relief. Thankfully, there is still hope! New research has revealed that yoga can be an effective complementary treatment option for migraine. Yoga is a natural health treatment practice that taps into the nervous system, shifting your mind and body into “rest or digest” mode, thereby providing a deeper level of relaxation and relief from migraine headaches.
The Science Behind Yoga for Migraine
Yoga practice is not just a standard form of exercise; yoga targets the mind, body, and soul all at once, promoting greater overall relaxation. The primary way that yoga affects migraine is through the nervous system and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a major cranial nerve that connects your digestive system to the brain and controls the switch in your nervous system from rest or digest mode (parasympathetic nervous system) to flight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system). Yoga acts on this nerve by improving vagal tone and encourages a shift into rest or digest mode, helping you to relax your body, relieve any tension, and ultimately provide relief from migraine.
There is also solid scientific research confirming the beneficial effects of yoga on migraine. A recent research study published in May 2020 found that migraine patients who underwent a 3-month yoga program had a significant reduction in headache frequency, headache intensity, and the need for medication. A study in 2014 also found similar results, in which participants had a substantial improvement in vagal tone, reduced fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) activity, and general improvement in migraine symptoms.
5 Simple Yoga Practices to Provide Relief from Migraine
When practicing yoga for migraine relief, it is crucial to focus on calming practices rather than fast-paced exercises. Yoga styles, such as Restorative Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Yin Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, can be particularly beneficial for migraine headaches because they promote greater relaxation. Focusing on breathing exercises and meditation in your yoga practice can also further stimulate the vagus nerve and encourage relaxation, especially when you make your exhalations longer than your inhalations. If you are interested in more tailored relief, you can also reach out to a trained yoga therapist who can more effectively guide you on treatment options. To help get you started, see below for the top 5 yoga poses for migraine relief:
Yoga is a highly effective natural health treatment option that can provide significant relief from migraine headaches. So, if you suffer from migraine, try to give this holistic practice a try and see if it works for you. If you are interested in more tailored advice for gaining relief from migraine, then make sure to reach out to me for a private consultation. As a naturopath, I specialise in migraine treatment and can help you find the best natural treatment option to get your health back on track.
Managing sleep is a vital, yet complicated, aspect of migraine treatment which is often overlooked.
Too little sleep can trigger a migraine attack. Too much sleep can also trigger a migraine attack. Sometimes a sleep (particularly in the early stages of an attack) can treat a migraine. Getting good quality restful sleep can help prevent migraines. Yet migraine sufferers often have difficulty obtaining good quality restful sleep.
Yep! It sure is complicated.
Let’s unpack a few things here.
Firstly, people living with migraine (according to the American Migraine Foundation), are between 2 and 8 times more likely to experience sleep disorders, compared with the general public.
This insomnia can stem from conditions which are often associated with migraine – such as anxiety and depression, stress, pain, teeth grinding and sleep apnoea.
And yet - and this is really not fair - not getting enough sleep can increase the number of migraine attacks, creating a cycle of sleep problems – which leads to more migraines – which leads to more sleep problems.
This is why addressing those factors which impact on sleep is often a priority in the natural treatment of migraine.
Too much sleep – such as sleeping late on holidays and weekends, or afternoon naps - can also trigger a migraine.
So, the key is to work on balance and consistency when it comes to sleep:
• Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time every day – even on weekends. The best number of hours varies from person to person – but aim for 7-8 hours. If you are a young person, you may need more sleep than this. If aged 50 or older, you may need less sleep.
• Create a calming bedtime routine. Avoid technology at least one to two hours before going to bed, try a warm shower or warm bath with Epsom salts, diffuse lavender oil, turn down the lights.
• Avoid naps. If you have a migraine attack and or need extra sleep that day, try aiming for an earlier bed time in the evening instead of an afternoon nap.
• Keep the bedroom for sleep. Don’t watch TV, scroll, talk or text on your phone, study or eat in the bedroom. Keep clutter out of the bedroom and use natural bed materials. Consider an air purifier or Himalayan salt lamp.
• Try a sound machine or sound app – I like Sleep Stream.
• If you find yourself awake during the night, don’t watch the clock – it will make you anxious and more frustrated if you can’t sleep. Get up for a little bit, have something to eat (often migraine sufferers get low blood sugar during the night), try a guided meditation or deep slow breathing.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
• Spend some time outside during the day in natural light. Morning sun on your face is particularly good for helping to regulate sleep patterns. If you can exercise gently in the sunlight in the morning, even better.
As a naturopath, I also often prescribe specific sleep supplements to help establish a sound sleep routine, or improve the quality of sleep.