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I love food! Especially Filipino comfort foods which remind me of home. Unfortunately many of our recipes include a generous seasoning of MSG. I will never forget the day a delicious dish of mongo guisado (mung bean soup) landed me with one of the worst headaches of my life. It ended up being my first migraine. That was the first time I became aware of how processed food additives can trigger an aching head. Several years and migraines later, as a chiropractic student, I learned that my late night study sessions would also trigger a migraine. Luckily for me, I had a chiropractic intern that could provide me, at a moment’s notice, with a gentle upper cervical (neck) adjustment to thwart a potential attack.
I also knew I needed to supplement my chiropractic care with other lifestyle changes to manage my chronic migraines. I learned that by understanding the causes and self-managing the triggers, migraine sufferers such as myself can make great strides in the healing process.
In migraine sufferers, there is an increased sensitivity of the trigeminal pain neurons, which irritates the brainstem and instigates the headache. This irritation of nerves in the brainstem causes the “premonitory” symptoms such as nausea, vertigo, or sensitivity to light, sound or smell.
Chiropractors know that there is a neuromechanical linkage between the trigeminal nerve and the upper cervical area. Therefore when chiropractors consider a patient dealing with migraines, they look at the alignment of the upper cervical area, including the temporalmandibular joint (TMJ), to see if chronic subluxation (spinal misalignment) might be a causative factor in the increased sensitivity of this neurological loop. Although this premise is only theoretical; and in fact, the cause for migraines in research circles has yet to be convincingly revealed, several clinical trials indicate that chiropractic may indeed help treat migraines.
Possible triggers of these inflammatory conditions that create the migraine include: emotional stress, food allergen exposure, food additive exposure, alcohol, caffeine, exposures to toxic fumes such as perfume and smoke, rapid hormonal changes, excessive heat exposure, sleeping too much or too little, prescription medicines or rapid blood sugar changes such as waiting too long in between meals or binging on a sugary pastry.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
To help decrease irritation and inflammation and promote healing, identify what your specific triggers might be. Make a food/drink/chemical exposure diary, take stock of your eating frequency and your sleeping habits, and track your menstrual cycle. Visit your chiropractor (who practices an upper cervical approach) regularly to ensure continued alignment of your upper cervical spine.
The most common headache food triggers are wheat, sugar and yeast, beef, corn, oranges, avocado, banana, eggs, tea and coffee, chocolate, milk, red wine, aged cheeses, sardines, foods containing nitrates such as sausage, bacon and deli meats, foods containing artificial colors, and foods containing MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and aspartame.
You can try to self-identify triggers by avoiding the above foods, then adding them back one by one every 3 days to see whether it triggers a headache. Or you can work with your vitalistic health provider to find out your specific food allergies.
Managing an acute attack: Migraine 911
Create new habits
Emotional balance and mindful movement
Work closely with your health provider to support your nutritional supplementation and dosing needs. Some things to consider:
Migraines are a great way for your body to get your attention and to force you to rest and take stock of what’s not working in your life. But as you can see, there are many ways to make changes and get the support that you need from your chiropractor or other vitalistic health practitioner so that you can rebuild your resilience, adjust your thinking, and become better aligned to expressing who you are in this world. Who knew that healing could be so transformative?References:
Murphy, “Upper Cervical Concepts,” American Journal of Clinical Chiropractic, July 2012.
Tuchin, et al. “A randomized controlled trial of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine,” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, February 2000, Vol 23 Issue 2
“Migraine Headache,” accessed Sept 11, 2012 Universitiy of Maryland Medical Center website.
Vasquez A. Chiropractic and Naturopathic Mastery of Common Clinical Disorders. Fort Worth, TX: Integrative and Biological Medicine Research and Consulting, LLC: 2009. Pp. 166-181.
Ni M. Secrets of Self Healing. New York, NY: Avery, 2008. Pp. 408-413.
More on alternative approaches to migraines, see Dr. Mark Hyman on symptoms and treatment.
Yours in health,
Dr. Christine T. Lipat, Niu Health Chiropractic, Your Honolulu Chiropractor