Reduce Migraine Frequency Without Drugs, Here’s How
No matter how often you get migraines, you can decrease their severity and frequency by paying attention to some simple lifestyle habits. That’s the word from a Mayo Clinic doctor, who explains how you can reduce migraine frequency without drugs.
Lifestyle changes can make a difference
If you are among the estimated 18 percent of women or 6 percent of men in the United States who experience a migraine at least once a year, then the suggestions from Dr. Robert Sheeler of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, may provide relief. As migraineurs know, the severe head pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and/or smell can be debilitating for hours or days with each episode.
Migraine is caused or triggered by a variety of factors, including genetics, hormone fluctuations (in women), environment, and lifestyle. Consider the following lifestyle changes to see if they have an impact on the frequency of your migraine attacks.
- Exercise: Physical exertion can trigger migraine in some individuals, but research suggests certain aerobic exercise, such as using a stationary bike, can be beneficial. Dr. Sheeler recommended gentle exercise such as yoga and tai chi can be beneficial.
- Food and beverages: Certain foods and drinks can trigger migraine in some people, and if you are not sure you are among that population, keep a daily diary of what you eat and drink and your headache patterns. This can help identify if specific items are triggering your migraine symptoms. Common food and drink triggers include wine, citrus, chocolate, caffeine, aged cheese, some food additives, salty foods, and processed foods.
- Dehydration: It doesn’t need to be hot and you don’t need to be thirsty to be dehydrated. The human body needs at least 64 ounces of water per day to replace what is lost during normal activities. To ensure you drink enough water throughout the day, begin each day with a glass of purified water and carry water in a reusable stainless steel container with you during the day.
- Stress: Take steps to manage stress on a daily basis, incorporating activities such as yoga, meditation, progressive relaxation, deep breathing, massage, biofeedback, or similar measures into your daily routine. If you address stress before it has a chance to overwhelm you, your chances of minimizing migraine symptoms increases.
- Sleep: Getting adequate sleep has been shown to help reduce the number of migraine attacks in some individuals, while too much sleep (more than 8 hours nightly) may make it worse. The link between sleep and migraine may be changes in the levels of certain proteins involved in chronic pain. Establish and stick to a routine whereby you go to bed and get up at the same time.
Sometimes medications, either over-the-counter (e.g., ibuprofen, acetaminophen) or prescription, are necessary to manage migraine. Medications can be more effective if they are taken as soon as migraine warning signs appear.
Other drug-free migraine treatments
A new study from Italy reported on the effectiveness of acupuncture versus valproic acid in the prevention of migraine. treatment of migraine. Eighty-two patients were assigned to receive either 20 sessions of acupuncture or 600 mg per day of valproic acid.
At the six-month follow-up, patients who had undergone acupuncture treatments had achieved better improvement in pain intensity and the Pain Relief Score than patients who took valproic acid. In addition, acupuncture patients required less use of medication to treat attacks during the study and also experienced no side effects, while adverse events among valproic acid patients were nearly 48 percent.
A number of herbal remedies have been suggested for treatment of migraine as well. A recent report in Headache from a researcher at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center noted that “butterbur and feverfew are the 2 herbal oral preparations best studied, and they seem to have real potential to help many patients with migraine.”
A novel approach is being investigated that involves the use of colored glasses. Researchers have found that customized tinted glasses can normalize brain activity in people with migraine who experience intense visual patterns.
Preventing and managing migraine is a challenge for an estimated 40 million people in the United States and millions more around the world. If you are among them, there are a number of drug-free steps you can take to reduce the frequency and severity of your migraine symptoms.
Facco E et al. Acupuncture versus valproic acid in the prophylaxis of migraine without aura: a prospective controlled study. Minerva Anestesiologica 2013 Jun; 79(6): 634-42
Huang J et al. fMRI evidence that precision ophthalmic tints reduce cortical hyperactivation in migraine. Cephalalgia 2011 May 26
Levin M. Herbal treatment of headache. Headache 2012 Oct; 52 Suppl 2:76-80
Sheeler, R. Lifestyle changes may help reduce how often migraine headaches occur. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.