Friday, December 26, 2008

Migraine Headaches and the "Deadly C's"

Many people suffer all their lives with migraine headaches. Migraines can last for hours or even days. Often affecting only one side of the head and face, migraines almost always cause severe pain, although men who have migraine may have milder pain and greater visual disturbance. Before 1990, most doctors accepted the idea that migraine is caused by a dilation, or swelling, of blood vessels serving one side of the brain. Then in the 1990’s, medical theory began to describe migraine as a “slow seizure,” and the theory currently in vogue is that migraine results from imbalances of the neuroreceptors dopamine and serotonin.

The most recent thinking on the cause of migraine is that it involves an overload of the locus ceruleus, the “switchboard” of the brain. The locus ceruleus anchors nerve fibers that generate the chemical serotonin. When the production of serotonin along these fibers gets out of sync with the brain’s needs, various processes that “gate” the sensation of pain cease to function. As the imbalance spreads through the cerebral cortex, the permeability of the outer layers of the brain to blood is also altered, and a throbbing headache typically ensues.

Doctors usually treat migraine with prescription drugs that can also be used to treat other neurological conditions, such as prochlorperazine, sumatriptan and ergotamine.

But what are the contributing factors of migraine that doctors never tell you about? Although the vascular explanation of migraine has fallen out of favor, vascular dilation is at least a factor in the migraine that can be controlled in ways that relieve pain. So, what can cause vascular dilation?

An allergic reaction, usually to a “C” food: cabbage, cane sugar, candied fruits, cantaloupe, capers, caramel, carrots, casein, cassava, cashews, cauliflower, cheese, chestnuts, chicken, chocolate, citrus, coffee, corn, cow’s milk, or crustaceans. Other common triggers include red wine and foods containing nitrites, such as bacon, ham, lox. smoked salmon and any cured meat with a “red” tint.

Musculoskeletal triggers, such as trauma to the neck or head. This is more characteristic of recurrent throbbing migraine attacks on one side of the head without significant visual disturbance.

Hormones, such as the Pill and estrogen replacement therapy.

Stress, insomnia, changes in diet, and binge drinking.

The best thing you can do to avoid migraines is to avoid these triggers. And if you can’t always avoid these triggers, you can eat foods that reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

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