If you suffer from frequent migraines, believe me, I feel your pain.
I know the throbbing, paralyzing agony that takes over when a migraine sets in. For nearly 20 years, I struggled with migraines until it got to the point that I got them literally every day.
In fact, in 2010, I had a migraine that lasted an entire year.
By then, I was taking three different medications just for migraines, would wear sunglasses even indoors to help with light sensitivity, and had cut out countless “trigger” foods.
All this and still no relief. It wasn’t until I worked with a functional health coach and got the proper testing, that I found the root of the problem and was able to say “goodbye” to migraines for good.
Understanding the cause of my migraines was key to eliminating them.
Most likely, you will need testing done to find the root cause of your migraines. But just so you have an idea of what the underlying problem could mean, here are the most common reasons women experience chronic migraines.
Identifying the Source of Migraines In Women
Women are up to three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. So while there are a variety of triggers that can affect both genders, we’ll focus on the leading causes of migraines found in women.
While migraines aren’t entirely understood, we know that changes in blood flow and the size of blood vessels can contribute to migraine pain.
Hormones, specifically estrogen and serotonin, play a significant role in circulatory changes.
In some cases, specific groups of brain cells become overly active and trigger serotonin to narrow the blood vessels, thus contributing to migraine pain.
Changes in estrogen also play a major role in migraines. When estrogen quickly rises or falls, blood vessels in the brain begin to contract, leading to throbbing pain.
Additionally, it’s been suggested that a quick decline of estrogen can make your scalp and facial nerves more sensitive to pain.
This is one reason why women are more prone to migraines. Our hormones are never stagnant. They fluctuate as part of our natural monthly cycle, during and after pregnancy, and again as we get closer to menopause.
Hormone Fluctuations During Ovulation and Menstruation
Estrogen naturally drops off twice during the menstrual cycle. The first time just after ovulation and then again just before our period starts.
Many times this is called a menstrual-related migraine and is caused by the sudden decrease of estrogen.
Many women find relief from their hormone-related migraines during pregnancy as hormones continue to rise. However, it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience migraines during the first trimester.
After giving birth, women are again prone to migraines because it triggers a sudden drop in estrogen levels.
Perimenopause and Menopause
During the years leading up to menopause, estrogen rises and falls unevenly. Unlike before, when you could track your cycle and plan for changes in your hormone levels, perimenopause can be unpredictable.
Once periods stop entirely and women reach menopause, many finally find relief from their migraines. Unfortunately for others, their symptoms get worse.
Birth control pills cause hormone levels to rise and fall. For most women on birth control pills, migraines set in the last week of the cycle when the pills don’t have any hormones. That sudden drop in estrogen leads to a migraine.
Additionally, remember that the “estrogen” and “progesterone” (progestin) found in hormonal birth control are synthetic. They shut down our natural hormones and take over.
Since the “estrogen” in birth control can be up to four times the amount that our bodies would typically have, the synthetic progestin isn’t always strong enough to balance it out. This is especially a problem for women who are already prone to migraines.
Of course, this depends on the specific birth control formula, and keep in mind that each woman reacts differently to synthetic hormones.
Overcoming Hormone-Related Migraines
If the sudden rise and fall of estrogen is the cause of your migraines, then you have to pinpoint what’s causing such a dramatic shift in your hormones.
In many cases, stopping the use of hormonal contraceptives can help regulate the hormones to their natural balance and eliminate migraines.
For others, it’s essential to work to balance the subtle shifts in your hormone levels throughout the month. Diet, exercise, stress levels, and other lifestyle factors can play a huge role.
Proper testing can determine the exact cause and changes you’ll need to make to feel better.
Just as having too much of one hormone and not enough of another can trigger a migraine, so can having too much or too little of a mineral.
The most common imbalance of minerals I see in my practice is too much copper and too little zinc and magnesium.
We need microscopic amounts of organic copper to create red blood cells. It is easy to obtain since it’s in most natural foods.
Interestingly, for copper to be used correctly by our bodies, it must be balanced with zinc, a mineral most of us are deficient in.
If you have more copper than your body needs and not enough zinc to balance it out, you can experience copper toxicity, a common cause of migraine headaches.
Your body will attempt to use copper as a substitute for zinc if you don’t have enough. Of course, chemistry doesn’t work that way. You can’t just substitute one compound for another and get the same results.
When your body realizes that, it stores the excess copper in your cells and tissues. As the copper accumulates, it eventually reaches toxic levels, and your body starts to manifest symptoms of chronic illness, including migraines.
Low zinc goes hand in hand with high copper. However, the answer is not always zinc supplementation if you have coppery toxicity.
Supplementing with zinc when copper is already high can actually make you feel much worse. So it’s essential to address each mineral imbalance under the guidance of a professional trained in copper toxicity and only start supplementing once the imbalances are clearly identified.
Unfortunately, there is another risk with insufficient zinc that can lead to migraines. When zinc is low, it can be replaced by cadmium which is chemically similar. This is dangerous because too much cadmium will accumulate in your kidneys and thicken your arteries.
As your arteries thicken, your circulation, primarily in your neck and brain, decreases, and lack of blood leads to migraines.
A similar process can happen if you are deficient in magnesium. In fact, studies show that there is a direct link between low levels of magnesium and migraines.
One study, in particular, demonstrated that taking oral magnesium was effective in treating severe headaches and migraines.
Magnesium is also essential for hormone health, and as we learned, hormone imbalances are linked to migraines as well.
There are several kinds of magnesium out there and not all are easily absorbed by the body. It’s recommended to go for either glycinate or malate. A nice topical form also works well – like magnesium spray or lotion. That way, your gut doesn’t have to process it and it goes straight into the body from the skin.
Balancing Minerals Improves Migraine Symptoms
We absorb minerals from our food, environment, and lifestyle. Even things you might not think about like your water supply, jewelry, vitamins, birth control (specifically the pill and copper IUDs), and cookware overload us with copper and make us deficient in other vital minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
A hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) is a lab that will help you identify mineral imbalances and heavy metal overloads. Only then can you make needed changes in your lifestyle, rebalance the minerals in your body, and eliminate migraines.
Studies show that there is a direct link between gastrointestinal disorders and migraines. Though it’s not entirely understood yet, researchers are finding that disrupted gut microbiota and a lack of probiotics in our diets can significantly increase the risk for migraines.
An unbalanced diet, overuse of antibiotics, hormonal birth control, and NSAIDS (interestingly, the last two are commonly prescribed for migraines) deplete the number of essential bacterias growing in our gut and can even feed bad bacteria.
Gut problems and food sensitivities often go hand in hand. Immune system responses to some foods (usually because of leaky gut) can trigger migraines.
For many women, tracking what they eat and how it corresponds to their migraines can help in avoiding triggers.
Of course, we’re often sensitive to food for a reason, so identifying the cause and treating it is key to overcoming migraines for good.
Stress causes migraines in many ways. It contributes to hormone imbalance, mineral deficiencies, gut health, and more, which can cause migraines.
There are many forms of stress, and it’s crucial to address both inner and outer stress.
For example, environmental stressors include pollution, toxic hygiene products, household cleaners, and mold exposure.
And then there is the day-to-day stress we face, such as a busy schedule, caring for our families, work-related stress, relationship problems, the loss of a loved one, and even moving.
Finally, there is the stress we put on our bodies with our diet and lifestyle. Extreme dieting and exercising can be just as harmful as an overly processed diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
Both put an enormous burden on our bodies and produce additional stress. They create an imbalance in our hormones and undernourished, poorly cared for bodies lacking vital nutrients and minerals.
While not all stress can be eliminated entirely, it’s worth doing a self-analysis to see how we can cut back on stress and manage it better.
You Can Eliminate Migraines for Good
It took time and a lot of deep investigation to get to the bottom of my migraines, but I can say it was well worth the effort. What was once weekly, even daily migraines, eventually became nonexistent.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I suffered from debilitating migraines for 20 years and was on several medications. Now, I take no medications and haven’t had a migraine in many years.
This is possible for you too. You can eliminate your migraines for good too.
Testing your hormone levels, mineral imbalances, and food sensitivities will give you a clear picture of what’s causing your migraines.
These are all labs I offer my clients to help them uncover the root cause of their migraines and not just help them survive, but truly thrive!
Together we can create an easy-to-implement plan to help you regain your life and say goodbye to migraine symptoms forever.