Migraines – triggers and treatments

Migraines. Intense, painful and sometimes accompanied by visual symptoms, they last from hours up to days and can make mere existence virtually intolerable.

Though we don’t know a lot about the causes of migraines, we do know that their occurrence coincides with a drop in serotonin, which causes the release of neuropeptides. It’s this increase of neuropeptides that results in the inflammation and dilation of cerebral blood vessels, which causes the pain.

Migraine triggers can include stress, bright lights, noise, fatigue, weather changes, over-exercise, sleep problems and diet, to name but a few of the most common.

When treating a patient for migraines, a naturopathic doctor will take a complete medical history to assess general health, rule out other illnesses and then focus on lifestyle and dietary triggers. (Because even we can’t do anything about the weather!)

The number one food trigger is something called tyramine, a naturally occurring product that comes from bacteria present in food. Tyramine is particularly prevalent in fermented or aged foods, such as cheeses, preserved meats, sourdough bread, alcohol (particularly red wine) and bananas. Other possible food triggers include nitrates, sulphites, MSG and arachidonic acids (such as fats in red meat), as well as some forms of caffeine. A blood test can be done to identify any food sensitivities.

Certain herbal and mineral supplements can also help to alleviate the frequency, intensity and duration of migraines. In fact, intravenous (IV) liquid magnesium treatments can actually stop a migraine in its tracks and work toward prevention over time. For patients whose migraines are affected by their menstrual cycle (migraines are more common in women than in men), ensuring a correct hormonal balance can also be helpful.

If migraines have you at your wit’s end, naturopathic medicine can help you regain control.

Dr. Erika Kneeland is a Naturopathic physician and owner of Braidwood Naturopathic Clinic in Courtenay. For appointments, call 250-334-0655 or visit

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