The pounding headaches which are one of the symptoms of migraines are caused by blood vessels in the brain becoming abnormally dilated. This happens when serotonin levels in the body are low. Serotonin is a nerve transmitter which allows nerves to pass on messages to contract or dilate blood vessels. One of the main causes of low serotonin levels is low blood sugar. Interestingly, magnesium, which is the main mineral needed for serotonin production, is also the main mineral needed to detoxify the liver in order that the liver can support the blood sugar.
Essentially migraines and headaches are a low blood sugar problem (see Page 3). It is therefore important for any headache or migraine sufferer to find out what is causing their blood sugar to drop so that they are able to prevent attacks.
Some individuals suffer migraine attacks when they don’t each sufficient food to keep their blood sugar stable. Going too long without eating can have a similar effect. Eating food to which one is intolerant causes a stress on the body, which in turn causes the blood sugar to drop. Chocolate, oranges, red wine, and cheese have often been blamed for migraines but not everyone will have a problem with these foods. They may, however, have a problem with other foods. When sick, tired or under stress, the body will react more strongly than when it is feeling well, so a food which causes migraine one day may not do so if tested another day. Similarly, if the blood sugar is well supported because a good meal has just been consumed, the body may cope with the effects of an allergen. However, if the offending food is eaten on an empty stomach or when the blood sugar is low, its impact will be greater.
Food is not the only stress that can cause the blood sugar to drop. Any stress on the body can cause the blood sugar and therefore the serotonin levels to drop and thus encourage a migraine or headache. Even though food may have been eaten to support the blood sugar, stress is capable of causing it to plummet quite rapidly. Emotional upheavals, anxiety, tension, bright lights, loud noises, travelling, dehydration, high toxin levels, etc, can all be responsible. People react differently to different stresses.
Many people suffer from migraines at the weekend or at the start of a holiday, which seems very unfair. However, if you look at the circumstances, you will see why. These days there is a tendency for individuals to live on their adrenaline (see Chronic Fatigue) especially when at work or when extra busy such as during the run up to a holiday. Adrenaline causes blood sugar to be released from the cells, enabling us to live on our reserve supplies. When we stop being busy, for instance on a Saturday morning, or when the holiday starts, our blood sugar drops because the adrenaline is not flowing. Until we have recovered some energy and our liver can support our blood sugar, we feel the effects of it being too low and suffer from a headache of migraine.
A similar effect can sometimes be caused by people drinking lots of tea and coffee whilst at work. Both these substances kick the adrenal glands into producing blood sugar. Saturday morning arrives and you haven’t had your usual coffee for the day and suddenly a headache starts to develop. Having a lie-in at the weekend or when on holiday can add to the above problem or can cause a headache or migraine in its own right. If you are normally up and having breakfast by 7 to 8am and suddenly it’s 11am and you haven’t eaten, your blood sugar will be very low.
Many women have a migraine headache around the time of their period. What happens during a period is that the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, drop before bleeding can start. This drop in hormone levels causes a drop in blood sugar levels. In many women, this will cause them to feel more hungry, crave sweets, feel tired, irritable, etc – all low blood sugar symptoms; others will develop a headache or migraine.
The menopause is another time when the blood sugar becomes lower and many women who have never had a problem with headaches or migraines may suffer from them in their 40s. The menopause is causing a drop in hormones on a more permanent basis and until the body adjusts to these lower levels, they can cause a problem.
Some drugs have been found to cause migraines. Occasionally it is the drugs used to counteract the headaches or migraines that are the problem. The pill is also a possible factor. All drugs hit the liver as the liver is the main organ of detoxification, but interestingly the liver is also the organ responsible for supporting the blood sugar. The liver and gall bladder meridian runs up each side of the neck vertebrae, over the top of the head and to the temples. Migraine headaches are often felt along one or both of these meridians.
The only other cause of headaches and migraines that I have met in practice and that seems unrelated to blood sugar levels is structural in origin. It could be anything from a bad bite, poor posture, or a body which is out of line through accidental damage. If you feel that this could be your problem, then consult the relevant therapist, such as an osteopath or a dentist.
Headaches and migraines are not a problem which we just have to learn to live with. There is always a reason and sometimes more than one reason for their presence. If we remove the cause then the body does not need to produce a headache or migraine to let us know that something is wrong. Eating as outlined in Cooking Without means that not only is food used to support the blood sugar but also many of the situations and substances which result in low blood sugar are avoided. Migraines and headaches can thus be alleviated whilst work is done improving blood sugar levels on a more permanent basis.