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The Inflammation and Migraine Connection

By Josie Carin
from The Migraine Naturopath

What is migraine?

Migraine is one of the most common neurological disorders and a leading cause of disability worldwide. It is thought to affect more than 10% of people globally and occurs highest in those aged 30-39 years.

In Australia, 14.9% of women patients seen in general practice are diagnosed with migraine.

It’s important to know that a migraine attack is not just a bad headache. Migraine is a neurological disorder with episodic migraine attacks that can last from a few hours to a few days or more.

Signs And Symptoms of Migraine and Migraine Attacks

How one experiences a migraine attack differs from person to person, and sometimes from episode to episode.

Headaches are one of the most noticeable symptoms. They often begin as a dull ache and grow into throbbing pain. The pain usually gets worse during physical activity and can shift from one side of the head to the other, be in the front of the head, or feel like it’s affecting the entire head.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and smells
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Cravings
  • Nausea and vomiting, upset stomach, and belly pain
  • Loss of appetite or extreme hunger, food cravings
  • Feeling very warm or cold
  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision or droopy eyes
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling great the day before a migraine
  • Feeling terrible, anxious or depressed the day before a migraine
  • Feeling “washed out” the day after a migraine
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Mood swings
  • Yawning more than usual

It is also possible to experience a migraine attack without a headache (known as ‘silent migraine’). In children, migraine can be experienced through mainly abdominal symptoms, rather than head pain.

Is inflammation and migraine connected?

Scientific studies have established a strong connection between inflammation in the brain and the occurrence of migraine attacks. And this makes a lot of sense, as inflammation can trigger the activation of pain pathways, resulting in migraine attack symptoms. We also know that individuals with migraine have higher baseline levels of inflammatory markers compared to those without the condition. What’s more, these inflammatory markers further increase during a migraine attack.

How to reduce systemic inflammation

As a naturopath, here are some of the ways I may support people with migraine to naturally dampen down inflammation, with the aim to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

Diet: Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can have a very positive impact to reduce migraine attacks. Avoid or minimise foods that are known to contribute to inflammation, such as refined sugars, trans fats, processed meats, and excessive alcohol. I also like to encourage specific anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, fish and blueberries.

Natural medicines: Certain supplements may help reduce inflammation. These include omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil), curcumin (a compound in turmeric), ginger, Boswellia, quercetin, green tea and resveratrol. Of course, consulting with your naturopath or another qualified healthcare professional is always recommended before trying these for yourself.

Lifestyle modifications: Stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and regular exercise can help reduce inflammation. Gentle and moderate physical activity promotes circulation and supports the body’s natural healing processes.

Sleep and rest: Adequate sleep is crucial for the body to repair and regenerate. Prioritise quality sleep by establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practising good sleep hygiene.

Identifying and addressing food sensitivities: Some individuals may experience inflammation due to specific food sensitivities. A naturopath may recommend an elimination diet or testing to identify and eliminate trigger foods.

Gut health: The gut plays a significant role in inflammation. A naturopathic approach may involve improving gut health through gut healing nutrients, along with probiotics and prebiotics to address digestive issues.

Environmental factors: Reducing exposure to environmental toxins, such as pollutants, chemicals, and allergens, can help minimise inflammation. This may involve using natural cleaning products, filtering air and water, and minimising exposure to allergens.

Individualised approach: Each person with migraine is different, and underlying factors can vary. Like other naturopaths, I take a holistic approach to consider the unique health history, symptoms, and underlying causes of inflammation to develop a personalised treatment plan.

More about the author

Josie Carin 2022
Josie Carin
– The Migraine Naturopath

Josie Carin holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Complementary Medicine) and an Advanced Diploma in Naturopathy. She practices in the Coffs Harbour area, on the mid north coast of New South Wales, and offers online consultations to Australian residents. Josie has a special interest in migraine and women’s health.