Menstrual MigrainesMenstrual Migraines

By Albert Vaca, L.Ac.

Migraine headaches are a common complaint in our clinic and we have seen many positive results. One type of migraine that we treat successfully is that which is driven by hormones and tied to the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual migraines are the second most common type of headache besides tension-type headaches. Sadly, menstrual migraines affect 60% of women and can occur once a month; three days before their period, the day the period begins, or three days after the end of the period. Interestingly, one in every three women who suffer from menstrual migraines gets them at the end of their periods.

Menstrual migraines are caused by hormonal fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen in particular controls the flow of blood to the brain so that the hormonal drop in estrogen before a woman's period can create a cascade of events that constrict blood flow to the brain. The brain stem may also become hypersensitive and overactive which triggers constricted nerves to create a painful headache.

Painful migraines can include but are not limited to, throbbing headaches, nausea/vomiting, sensitivity to light or smell, or visual auras that can lead to neck tension, fatigue, isolation, and overall stress.

Caffeine, either withdrawal from or consuming it in excess, can be a trigger for a migraine. Prolonged exposure to blue light from electronic devices or bright lights or dysregulated blood sugar levels can make women more susceptible to migraines that commonly occur before/during/after her menstrual period when estrogen is at its lowest level.

A 2017 study conducted by the journal Headache, determined that menstrual headaches, particularly the ones that occur at the tail end of the menstrual cycle are caused by a drop in iron. That is why it may be possible to prevent headaches by consuming a diet of iron-rich foods such as spinach, liver, legumes, and pumpkin seeds. A little red meat near the time of the commencement of the menstrual period can be a helpful preventative measure.

Natural supplementation with magnesium, B vitamins, and Coenzyme Q10 can also be helpful. Researchers have found that moderate exercise three times a week was just as effective at warding off migraines as taking the daily prescription medication. In addition, an adequate amount of sleep can help balance a woman's natural rhythms of bodily healing.

If you suffer from headaches, I hope that you will consider acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as part of your healing. Traditional Chinese medicine modalities can help balance hormones, relieve pain, and ease discomfort and stress. In combination with muscle-relieving tuina massage, TCM can offer you an effective treatment plan that can help keep migraines away.

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