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The True Cost of Migraines

A migraine is a one-sided headache that is often associated with severe throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or an aura. At least 10 percent of Americans suffer from these debilitating headaches. Not only are they a huge burden for the individual, but the cost to employers is high. In the United States, it is estimated that migraines cost employers $24 billion each year.

The problem that doctors see in the treatment of migraines is often the same in what we see globally in medicine: treatments are focused on the symptoms and not the cause. The term migraine is simply a name that we give to a collection of symptoms, but the important take home message is that there may be more than 20 different causes for migraines. Our job as clinicians, along with our patients, is to find the root cause of disease and address each patient individually.

Clinically, there is much we can do for migraine suffers without the use of prophylactic or acute migraine medications that often come with substantial risks and side effects. Through experience, we have found that at least two-thirds of patients who address the cause of their migraines through appropriate dietary and lifestyle recommendations and nutritional supplementation experience significant reduction or cessation of migraine attacks.

The following are common causes, testing and potential treatments for migraines that we use clinically to help migraine suffers. For safety, whenever starting a new medication or over-the-counter supplement, it is important to do so under the supervision of a qualified physician.


Food Sensitivities: This is one of the most common causes of migraines and is often correlated with a collection of vague symptoms, including joint pain, headaches, poor digestion, fatigue, and muscle pain. Blood testing for IgG food antibodies, stool testing or an elimination diet can help migraine to identify potential food sensitivities.


Hormonal Issues: Imbalances in thyroid, adrenal or male/female sex hormones are common migraine triggers. Testing through saliva or blood offer the most accurate evaluation depending on the hormone in question. Other symptoms of hormonal imbalances can include fatigue, decreased libido, irritability, cravings, fluid retention, menstrual irregularity and cramps. Goals of treatment are to balance and promote healthy hormone production with botanicals, lifestyle modifications, whole-foods diet high in phytonutrients, exercise, stress reduction and sometimes with bio-identical hormones.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Along with migraine headaches, this can often associated with fatigue, muscle aches and brain fog and can be tested through urinary organic acids. Treatment can include 400mg riboflavin (B2) twice daily and 100-400mg CoQ10 daily.

Blood Sugar Issues: Abnormal blood sugar regulation is a common cause of migraines due to high or low blood glucose levels. Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), fasting glucose and insulin, and HgA1c all help to fully evaluate blood sugar regulation. Dietary habits, lifestyle, supplements and/or prescription medications are vital to assist in proper blood sugar regulation.

Magnesium Deficiency: This can be tested through RBC magnesium levels, though often it is necessary to supplement even when levels are normal. Symptoms of low magnesium include anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps or twitches, irritability, sensitivity to loud noises, food cravings, and palpitations. Consider supplementing with a highly absorbable form of magnesium such as citrate, glycerinate or aspartate in doses that relieve symptoms or before you experience loose stools. Those patients with kidney disease need to do this under the supervision of a physician.

Chemical Triggers: Dietary intake of highly process foods can contribute to migraines, even hours after consuming, due to chemical triggers. It is important to avoid triggering foods, which include aspartame, MSG, nitrates, sulfites, high sodium foods and tyramine-containing foods such as chocolate and cheese. The goal is to eat a whole foods diet and reduce consumption of processed foods.


Though these are leading causes of migraines, it is sometimes necessary to combine multiple therapies for lasting relief. In certain cases we find that herbal medications, acupuncture, homeopathy, and structural treatments including chiropractic care and massage to be useful.


The impact of migraines is considerable, with least one in 10 Americans suffering unnecessarily and a price tag of roughly $24 billion annually. Migraines are almost completely preventable when the source is identified and removed, allowing individuals to live healthy and migraine-free. FBN



Dr. Ryan Sweeney and Dr. Carrie Norris are both Naturopathic Physicians at Root Natural Health in Flagstaff, Arizona. Root Natural Health is Flagstaff’s newest integrative medical clinic offering Holistic Primary Care, Preventive Medicine, Nutritional Medicine, IV Nutrient Therapy, Herbal Medicine, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Endocrine and Hormone Balancing. For more information on the practitioners at Root Natural Health, visit www.rootnaturalhealth.com or call 928-637-6795.


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