I had my first migraine when I was 7 years old, and I'll always remember that day. The light started to hurt my eyes, and it wasn’t long before I thought my head was going to explode. I remember lying on the couch writhing in pain, screaming. My poor aunt and uncle had no idea what to do. With the help of ice pops and an ice pack, it eventually passed. As I got older, they became more and more frequent. In my teens, they would often last for a week at a time—I missed a lot of school. Migraines medications and preventives either didn’t work or caused me to have intolerable symptoms like night terrors and extreme anxiety. I began having cycles of manic depression. When I had migraines I was depressed, in bed in a dark room with my friend: the ice pack.
When I was 19 years old I was put on Effexor for depression. It worked but also turned me into a zombie. But at that point, I didn’t care—anything to stop the pain. I had five years with very few migraines, and the ones I did have were tolerable and short-lived. Then, the Effexor stopped working and the migraines were back, worse than ever, and to make matters worse, I couldn’t get off the Effexor, as the withdrawal was terrible.
The return of my migraines (and a subsequent lupus diagnosis) sent me searching for natural answers, as I was only getting worse with conventional medicine. In 2012, I ended up quitting work, moving home with my parents, and beginning a quest to find the root cause of my illnesses. And I found answers! I have been migraine-free for over four years and lupus free for three. I became certified as a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and started Motivated 2 Heal to help others heal their bodies naturally.
Now, I want to share with you what I found to be the three most common root causes of migraines. For some people, it is just one that is causing their migraines, but more often thanr not it is a combination.
Root Cause 1: Neurotransmitter imbalance.
Neurotransmitters—like the well-known serotonin, dopamine, and GABA—are your brain's chemical messengers. And neurotransmitter imbalance was one of the root causes of my migraines. I had very low serotonin and my dopamine was high, which is a recipe for aggression, migraines, depression, heart palpitations and arrhythmias, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts. Effexor is an SSRI, which stands for serotonin re-uptake inhibitor and works by preventing what little serotonin I had from breaking down. Dopamine acts on the receptors in the heart, which was interesting because I had been in the hospital a few times for a heart arrhythmia and doctors wanted me to be on a beta blocker. Beta blockers block dopamine receptors.
On my quest to go off Effexor I discovered amino acid therapy. Amino acids are what neurotransmitters are made from. I used 5 HTP, the precursor to serotonin to bring my levels up. Serotonin and dopamine use the same enzymes to be created and broken down, so when serotonin goes up, dopamine goes down. Bingo! It took time to get everything in balance, but the depression lifted, the migraines disappeared, and the heart palpitations were gone. Different people have different imbalances, and this is a great place to start to identify yours.
Root Cause 2: Hormone imbalance.
Many women experience cyclical migraines. Every month, during specific times in their cycle they develop a migraine. This is due to an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone. Both lows and highs of either can cause problems, though the most common imbalance will be low progesterone before menstruation begins, which is often the culprit behind PMS. But before you go and grab some progesterone cream, I would highly suggest running a Dutch test to confirm. It's very important to see how your body is breaking down and metabolizing your hormones. When taking bioidentical hormones, you need to make sure you are not estrogen or testosterone dominant and find out if you are safely metabolizing both. Unsafe metabolites can increase your risk of cancer and other diseases.
Root Cause 3: Liver phase imbalance.
Do you get a migraine when you smell perfume or eat certain foods? If yes, this may help you. The liver has two phases of detoxification: phase one and phase two (I know, not the most original names). Phase one readies toxins for phase two, and when toxins go through phase one, many become more toxic than their original forms. If phase two is not able to keep up with phase one—because it is out of resources—all those toxins have nowhere to go and spill over into the body. This causes multiple food and chemical sensitives. By slowing down phase one temporarily, while working on the rebuilding phase, we can put a halt to many of these sensitives. I used to be extremely sensitive to scents. They would cause an instant migraine. Now I can walk through the perfume and detergent aisles without a problem—all because I worked on my liver.
Everyone is different. In my search to heal and in working with many clients with migraines I have found these to be the three most common root causes and a great place to start when trying to heal migraines naturally. If you've balanced your brain using amino acids, balanced your sex hormones, and repaired your phase two liver detox pathways without successfully eliminating migraines, I would consider researching gut pathogens, histamine intolerance, mold, Lyme, and co-infections like Epstein-Barr virus.