Recently, I was headed to meet a friend for lunch, and she texted me last minute she had a migraine. I turned the car around, went home, grabbed a copy of my Headache Free book, and dropped it off for her. When I checked on her the next day, she was way better than she normally would be 24 hours after the episode. She said she had tried a couple of the quick hacks I recommended in my book and improved so today’s article is dedicated to migraines and the migrenades that cause them! If you’d like to know what my friend did, scroll to the bottom where I outline exactly what worked for her. But keep in mind, there are hundreds of options listed in my book, what Claire took is just what worked for HER, because her head pain was pre-menstrual… it may be that you need to try something else. Just keep that in mind.
A “migrenade” is my term for substances that go off like a grenade in your brain and trigger a migraine. It’s a made-up term that works well and is immediately understood. All the pain-causing cytokines in your body should be considered migrenades, because they are responsible for the pain and inflammation associated with headaches. One of them is NF Kappa B which is discussed below. But first of all, I suggest you minimize or eliminate these most powerful migrenades if you ever want to feel better:
Artificial sweeteners and dyes
Any clothing that requires dry cleaning
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Vegetable oil which contains bromine
Fancy dryer sheets
A perfume that contains synthetic chemicals
By the way, you can make your own dryer sheets by taking some cotton and putting a few drops of your favorite essential oil, and tossing it in the dryer with your clothes. I like lavender mixed with either wild orange or lemon essential oil. The possibilities of using natural essential oils are limitless and this trick won’t harm your endocrine glands.
Now, let’s cover two important nutrients that support your endocrine glandular health*
Iodine is one of the components that helps make thyroid hormone. Low thyroid hormone is one cause for migraines, so iodine or a good thyroid supplement could be helpful at reducing frequency. If you’re interested in a high quality form of iodine that includes both “iodine” and “iodide” CLICK HERE to go to my shop.
This herb comes from a shrub native to India, and it’s also called Indian Ginseng. The extract helps make thyroid hormone and provides antioxidant protection. One of my favorite supplements for thyroid (and adrenal) health is “winter cherry” or ashwagandha, known botanically as Withania somnifera. I often suggest it as an option for people who cannot sleep because it is so sedating. This herb is a strong antioxidant and will protect your DNA.
Earlier, I mentioned NF Kappa B as a natural compound in your body, but one that is associated with migraines. Activation of this substance is also associated with facial pain, autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, attention deficit, diabetes, chronic infections, obesity, and just the mere fact that you’re aging.
NFκβ and How to Reduce Pain Causing Cytokines
Earlier, I mentioned NF Kappa B as a natural compound in your body, but one that is associated with migraines. Almost all migrenades (and pain syndromes) are launched from this bigger missile which is abbreviated as NFκβ.
NFκβ turns on the production of pain-causing chemicals. Persistent NFκβ activation occurs in many other chronic syndromes including facial pain, autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, attention deficit, diabetes, chronic infections, obesity, and just the mere fact that you’re aging.
NFκβ is a biochemical pathway in your body. When you wake this sleeping giant, you end up with tissue and organ damage, as well as something called AGEs (advanced glycation end products) and other pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. NFκβ releases cytokines and long story made very short, you get aches and pains that end in “itis” which means inflammation. Think arthritis, pancreatitis, bursitis, tendonitis, neuritis, and so forth. You can also get every type of headache in the book!
Fortunately, there are natural compounds that slow down this pathway, reducing NFκβ’s torch upon your body. Among the best are probiotics, green tea, alpha lipoic acid, omega 3 fatty acids, curcumin, lipoic acid, resveratrol and others. The popular medication for diabetes “metformin” also happens to dampen down this pathway. When NFκβ has its way with you, it’s basically a hostile take over, and a lot of pain-causing chemicals are unleashed.
Interleukin 1 Beta or IL-1β
IL-1β belongs to the family of Interleukin 1. There are actually 11 in that family so IL-1β has 10 brothers and sisters but they’re not quite as ‘mean’ as IL-1β. Interleukin 1 (generally speaking) is the supreme commander and is one of the most powerful chemicals in the human body as it can control nearly every organ; interleukins are the supreme commanders of the immune system.
This cytokine is elevated in many different pain conditions including migraines and clusters. Reducing IL-1β protects bone and cartilage in people who deal with rheumatoid arthritis. To become headache free, it will help to reduce IL-1β cytokines. This chemical makes your COX enzyme work more furiously and that causes more pain compounds such as prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) as well as MMPs, to be discussed shortly. Remember to think of pain as a cascade of cytokines and chemicals in the body. There is not just one, it’s more of a domino effect. Cytokines always travel together.
What reduces IL-1β? Astaxanthin, alpha lipoic acid, Quercetin, curcumin, DHA (a part of fish oil)
Interleukin 17 or IL-17
Although it is rarely discussed because the research is still fairly new, IL-17 is one of THE most damaging inflammatory pain chemicals I can think of. The old thinking was that we had two arms in the immune system, Th1 and Th2 for (T helper cells), but now we know there are T17 cells. It is these cells, the T17 cells which pump out Interleukin 17, and it causes a massive, harmful tissue reaction in the body! You don’t want IL-17 hanging around in excess because it harms your brain. It’s often associated with neurological problems and serious conditions including multiple myeloma, Lyme disease that causes neurological symptoms, such as headaches and pain all over your body), Guillain-Barré Syndrome, as well as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and autism. As far as pain syndromes IL-17 is elevated in rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
What reduces IL-17? Curcumin, green tea (EGCG), Lactobacillus Plantarum, dexamethasone (and other prescription steroid drugs), Scutellaria baicalensis (Skullcap root), and licorice.
Let me try to summarize my best-selling book here for you, right now.
To be headache FREE, you’ll have to do this:
Find the cause
1. Find the Cause. To do that, you need to track your history including every detail about triggers, age of onset, severity, type of headache(s), and so on. It may highlight the underlying pathology. After taking a history, you will need to detect all the imbalances. Every biochemical pathway in your body has to stay in balance. When serotonin, dopamine or norepinephrine become imbalanced headaches occur. When estrogen and progesterone become imbalanced, headaches occur. When thyroid and probiotic status alter, headaches occur, when infections overrun your immune system, headaches occur. The imbalances must be addressed. Imbalances may occur in the neurological, hormonal, neurotransmitters, lifestyle, structure, environment, and genetics. Clinical tests will be needed to paint the picture for your doctor. It’s expensive to do all the tests needed to uncover imbalances so just do 1 or 2 at a time, little by little you take baby steps forward.
2. Reduce toxins. The toxins that come to mind include Household chemicals, dry cleaning chemicals, artificial ingredients in food (like sweeteners), artificial colors noted by “FD & C,” unnecessary vitamins and supplements (many inferior brands contains unnatural fillers and dyes), junk food, trans fats, mold, heavy metals and cadmium (from cigarette smoke).
3. Eliminate triggers. What triggers you, does not trigger everyone. For example, when I smell the perfume I sneeze right after, but others get a painful migraine that lasts days. Stress management is huge when it comes to headache frequency. If you have a stressful relationship, you may find yourself medicating yourself or drinking and smoking just to numb the pain and make the person you live with more tolerable. Stress and lifestyle factors are giant triggers that you may not have thought about because this has just become your life.
Many foods contain artificial sweeteners, MSG, or other chemicals that are a “migrenade” trigger that is pervasive in the food industry. They go by alias names, so there could be a migrenade lurking in your meals without you evening knowing it. This is a dirty little secret they don’t want you to know about. For example, up until the amount of the artificial sweetener reaches a certain threshold, the food manufacturer doesn’t have to disclose its presence on the label.
You’ll also need to avoid foods that contain histamine because these spark a headache too. Such foods and beverages include wine, beer, chocolate, and cold cuts for example.
4. Energize mitochondria. In order to ultimately feel your best and live headache free you’ll have to energize your mitochondria, these are the powerhouses that are inside each and every cell of your body. We have 10 million-billion mitochondria, and they help us produce ATP, your energy molecule. Emerging research shows that mitochondrial dysfunction causes headache pain, so supporting mito health becomes key to getting well.
Your cells have a few hundred mitochondria in them. Red blood cells and skin cells have few or no mitochondria, just as an interesting aside. Mitochondria comprise a staggering 10 percent of your body weight! If you weigh 100 pounds, you carry a full 10 pounds of mitochondria and if you’re 200 pounds, you carry 20 pounds of mitochondria! You better hope they work and generate ATP because if they don’t, you will feel tired, short of breath, and sick.
People who are ill often have dead, partial or non-functional mitochondria, and that is the problem that increases risk for migraines.
Here are some basics for improving mito health. Start with your precious adrenal glands. This means try to sleep better. See above for ashwagandha because that can help with adrenal function. Take a DUTCH test to evaluate your cortisol and cortisone levels, as well as your progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen hormone pathways. Detox detox detox!
Consider ways to improve methylation in your body. Consider genetics if you have the time and desire. You may not realize this but your genetic mutations, termed “SNPs” happen to shine a flashlight on lifelong symptoms, including medical conditions, personality traits, pain syndromes, autoimmune disease propensity, ability to fight free radicals and more. You can test your genes for about $100 these days. CLICK HERE for a delicious recipe that is rich in some mitochondria building blocks, such as quercetin, and resveratrol.
Fun fact, did you know that when you char your food at a higher temperature, it causes a glycation molecule to form called “glycotoxins.” I’m imagining myself charring the Brussels sprouts like I love to do, it’s not a smart thing to do all the time. If you cook at a lower temperature and resist the chargrilling, and also use something acidic like lemon juice in the recipe, it will cut down on the number of AGEs that you consume. This is very important to people with diabetes.
Normal aging of the human body can be thought of as a slow cooking process since the same AGEs form in the body quite often. They are frequently formed in your arteries, eyes, cartilage, joints, skin, and so forth. With advanced age, you will have more AGEs, and these compounds trigger migraines.
There are some supplements that support mitochondrial health, especially the B vitamins. If you can find a good methylated B complex, it will support your mito health. This is important to note because not all B vitamins do that, in fact, 99% on the market are sold as cheap precursors. Just a thought for you, please always introduce supplements one at a time to control variables, and always consult with your physician about changes to your medical and vitamin protocol. Nothing in this article is to be considered medical advice, it is strictly educational. Ask your doctor what is right for you.
Here’s what my friend did, and it seemed to help her within 24 hours, she said she was MUCH better than she typically would be after only a day. She said that usually her migraines take her down for 3 to 4 days, but the following helped with the intensity of her head pain. She did the following:
1. She had her husband go to the store and buy her “Activated Charcoal” capsules, which I list on page 168 of Headache Free. She only took one capsule of this one time she said. This charcoal binds toxins immediately from the gut and she was worried about the cheese she ate in the morning with breakfast. Cheese is a known migrenade. If you take this, don’t take any other important supplements or medications within 3 hours or it will be neutralized by the charcoal.
2. After a few hours of the Activated Charcoal, she took some Vitex Agnus Castus (aka Chasteberry) in a liquid extract form in a dropper bottle. She said she took a dropperful twice that day, once at 3:30 pm, once at 9 pm and again in the morning around 6:30 am. Follow your label directions. I list this remedy on a page on page 269 of Headache Free, because it helps raise progesterone which is sometimes low in hormone-driven migraines. By the way, I also sell my book in my own SHOP HERE.
3. She took an Iodine capsule that night at dinner. This is listed on page 270 of my book. She is my friend and buys my brand of this, and had it at home because she is prone to thyroid problems, so she went ahead and took one of those. People with low thyroid are often prone to migraines just FYI.
4. On page 168, her husband saw “Take a warm bath” so he made her do that, even though she wasn’t feeling good at all, very nauseous and rattled in her brain, and they added the Epsom Salts to the bathtub. She told me this was immediately relaxing, and she was happy he encouraged her to do it against her will!
5. I can’t find the page number, but she did the hot water lemon “tea” trick, which is where you make a teapot of hot water and squeeze some lemon into it, and then pour it into your teacup… the point is to sip a mouthful or two every 5 to 10 minutes. It’s just hot lemon-infused water, which is very hydrating, and relaxing and it helps to clean the lymph and detoxify. This is listed as a hack in one of the chapters and is well known among holistic practitioners. Just make sure to flush your body properly, drink, and urinate as needed, and keep drinking until your body feels balanced, hydrated, and fresh.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.