12 Scientifically-Backed Hacks for Ending Migraines

Nothing is worse than that moment when you feel that slight throbbing in your temple and you know within moments it is going to blow up into a pounding migraine. The next few hours of your day are shot, and possibly the rest of the evening.

Depending on the severity of your migraines and how long they tend to last, it may mean the rest of your week as well.

12 Scientifically-Backed Hacks for Ending Migraines

As a long-time migraine sufferer, I have learned a lot about how to treat migraines. For a long time for me, I didn’t get migraines, I simply had a migraine which went on … and on … and on. So I am pretty much an expert now in how you can tackle them.

What Characterizes Migraines?

Before you start treating yourself for a migraine, it is a good idea to take a moment to be sure you actually have them. What a lot of people think are migraines are actually tension headaches or other types of headaches.

How can you recognize a migraine? While there is some variation, most migraines are typified by the following symptoms:

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  • Pain may be located anywhere, but will often be on just one side of the head or face.
  • The pain has an intense throbbing character.
  • It is common for the pain to localize either in the temples or over or near an eye or ear.
  • Pain is sometimes (not always) accompanied by other symptoms. A migraine can make you feel nauseous, and in the worst cases, can even induce vomiting. You might also feel sensitive to light or loud noises. Vision anomalies like flashing lights, haloes, and even vision loss may also be present.
  • It is possible to experience the vision and nausea symptoms without feeling any pain at all in your head.

While there are some divergences from the above, you can contrast the symptoms I just described with those of a tension headache.

Usually a tension headache feels like tightness or pressure. While the pain can be intense, it is less likely to have a throbbing quality, and is more “dull” in nature. Commonly it is felt around the sides of the head, back of the scalp, and/or forehead, but it may be present anywhere in the head or face.

Note that you can experience a tension headache and a migraine at the same time. Sometimes one can trigger the other or vice versa.

What Causes Migraines?

Scientists still are not totally sure what causes migraines, but it is believed that they may have a genetic component. An imbalance of chemicals in your brain may also lead to migraines, as may excessive inflammation.

Additionally, there are a number of conditions and situations which may trigger migraines. I will be getting into these in detail below.

Your best path for eliminating migraines essentially boils down to trying to figure out the cause of your migraines and identify your triggers.

Of course, if you do not have a guess at this, sometimes just trying to treat your migraines through different techniques can shed some light on what is going on inside your body.

Below, I present you with 12 different methods you can try, backed by scientific evidence.

How to Eliminate Migraines

1. Exercise regularly

When I have a full-blown migraine, the last thing I want to do is get up and go outside on a jog.

Nonetheless, there are multiple studies which demonstrate that exercising may be a very effective treatment for migraines.

Bonus: Download This 7-Day Headache Reset that will show you how to tackle your worst migraine symptoms quickly.

This study reports that for migraine patients who exercised three times a week, “Quality of life increased and significant improvements in migraine status (attack frequency, symptom intensity, and intake of medicine) were seen.”

Another study with impressive results found that a regular exercise program was just as effective as the medication topiramate in reducing the frequency of migraines.

reducing the frequency of migraine study

Topiramate is a drug which can reduce the frequency of migraines by as much as 42%, which suggests that exercise can do likewise.

Why does it work? There are two likely explanations. For starters, exercising may help you lose weight. Obesity has a known correlation with migraines.

Inflammation also plays a role in migraines, and working out can reduce inflammation in your body.

Your best path for eliminating migraines essentially boils down to trying to figure out the cause of your migraines and identify your triggers.

So those are both ways in which a regular exercise routine may help to ease your pain.

There are a couple of things to take note of here:

  • For exercise to help, you need to commit to doing it regularly on an ongoing basis—not sporadically here and there.
  • Exercise has an overall beneficial effect, providing you with long-term prevention. This does not mean it will necessarily help you at the moment you are doing it. Some people do report an improvement in their symptoms working out with an active migraine. Others report no change, and still others (I am a good example) report a worsening of their pain.

As always, the key is to experiment and figure out what works for you. Stick with your new exercise routine for at least a few weeks before you try to judge the results. It may take that long to start seeing improvements.

Key Points: Exercising can be a great help in reducing the severity and frequency of migraines, and may even in some cases be as effective as medication. But for this method to work, you need to commit to doing it regularly.

Keep Reading: Exertion Headache Prevention Tips 

2. Meditate

Stress makes migraines worse, and may also spawn tension headaches. How can you mitigate stress? One systematic way to do it is to try meditating.

Multiple studies have shown that meditation and biofeedback may be helpful in combating migraines:

  • This study found no beneficial effect for migraine severity or frequency, but did find that meditation may help to reduce the duration of headaches.
  • Another small study found that participants reported a 33% decrease in pain and a 43% decrease in emotional tension after meditating.
  • In this study, it was found that “even short-term spiritual-based relaxation therapy was highly effective in causing earlier relief in chronic tension headache.” This is important in combating migraines if you suffer from both types of head pain. Remember, one can easily trigger the other.
  • This study on biofeedback found that it could be an effective treatment for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks and for improving perceived self-efficacy.

If you are new to meditation and are not sure how to implement it in your life, I recommend reading up on different styles of meditating. There is no one “right” way to do it; there are many spiritual traditions you can draw from around the globe.

Many of these methods are effective for a great many people. You can also come up with something on your own by combining different techniques and ideas you like and avoiding those which do not garner results for you.

Key Points: Stress plays a role in making migraines worse. Meditation can help you to learn how to relax and let go of your stress, which in turn can reduce your migraine pain.

3. Balance your hormones

If you are a woman experiencing migraines and you find they do not respond to typical anti-migraine medications, there is a chance it may be because they are tied to the fluctuations in your hormone levels.

This may be true during your menstrual cycles, but it may also be relevant if you are going through menopause.

The relationship between headaches and hormones is quite complicated, and scientists still are not entirely sure of all the complicated nuances of how the two interact. It is known that withdrawal from estrogen can lead to migraines.

This often happens right before a period (pre-menstrual migraines), and may also account for part of why migraines are common during menopause.

Going off my personal experience, I can also say that an overabundance of estrogen in proportion to progesterone may also lead to headaches; this may explain the tendency for migraines which hit after a period instead of beforehand.

Keep Reading: Could Your Estrogen or Progesterone Levels Be Causing Your Migraines? 

Basically, if your hormones are out of whack, there is a good chance that it will lead to migraines at some point during your cycle—or as part of your menopause. If that is the case, you need to take steps to balance your hormones in order to find relief from your migraines.

Part of this entails de-stressing. You may also need to check whether you have any underlying nutritional deficiencies or medical conditions which could be contributing to your hormonal imbalances.

You can get your levels tested by a doctor if you are looking for solid confirmation that this is indeed what is going on, but be warned that even this can be challenging. Since your levels fluctuate throughout the month and from one month to the next, it can be hard to get clear information.

What else can you do to regulate your hormones? I recommend that you start taking herbal supplements for balancing them; for me, an herb called Vitex works wonders, but there are other choices out there as well including red clover, soy, motherwort, Dong Quai, and sage leaf, among others.

Vitex works wonders, but red clover, soy, motherwort, Dong Quai, and sage leaf, work well to regulate your hormones.

One thing I do not recommend except as a last resort is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can have a number of long-term adverse consequence for your health.

Key Points: An imbalance in your hormones can cause migraine pain. If you have an underlying imbalance, you will need to treat it to find relief.

4. Enjoy sexual activity

Like exercise, this suggestion may sound counterintuitive—but it is possible that sexual activity could help to reduce your migraine pain.

A research study published in Cephalalgia took a look at the relationship between headaches and sex. While sexual activity can actually cause headaches for some people, the researchers were curious whether it could provide relief for others.

Eight hundred migraine patients and 200 patients with cluster headaches were selected to participate in an anonymous survey. Forty-eight percent of the cluster headache patients responded to the survey along with 38% of the migraine sufferers. According to the data, 60% of the migraine patients experienced improvements in their migraines in response to sexual activity (the remaining 33% said that sex made their headaches worse). Out of those who reported improvements, 70% categorized it as “moderate to complete relief.”

Interestingly enough, 37% of cluster headache patients who reported sexual activity during a headache stated they found relief. Out of those, 91% reported moderate to complete relief. For 50%, the pain worsened.

Also noteworthy was the fact that “the majority of patients with migraine or cluster headaches do not have sexual activity during headache attacks.”

In other words, sexual activity can be a powerful treatment for migraines or cluster headaches in many (but not all) patients, but many patients are simply unaware of the fact.

So while the idea of trying to get your groove on during a migraine attack may seem completely unapproachable, it may be worth a try. You could end up finding fast relief from acute attacks this way.

37% of cluster headache patients who reported sexual activity during a headache stated they found relief. Out of those, 91% reported moderate to complete relief. For 50%, the pain worsened.

Key Points: Sexual activity can provide moderate to complete relief from a migraine attack. While this is not true for everyone (for some it makes the pain worse), it may be very effective.

Continue Reading: Menopause & Sex: How Menopause Affects Sexuality 

5. Release your tension

Do you hold a lot of tension in your shoulders? If so, you may end up referring some of that muscle tension and pain up through your neck into your head. This can lead to tension headaches, which in turn might trigger migraines.

I am speaking from personal experience with this one—I have yet to find direct evidence that says that tension headaches can cause migraines. A migraine can certainly cause a tension headache; the pain of the migraine causes you to tense up, which then causes a tension headache.

How it would go in reverse I’m not sure, though it could easily boil down to stress. I simply know that I regularly start with a tension headache and then wind up with a migraine.

So next time you start feeling a headache coming on (of either variety), ask yourself, “Am I holding a lot of tightness in my muscles right now?”

A good way to check this is to actually try on purpose to tense up your muscles in your back, neck, and shoulders, and then release them. Feel the tension dissipate. Feel the difference between how you feel after you do that, and how you felt before.

It can be very hard to release tension from muscles that are already tight. I find that a heating pad or a hot shower helps, and so does lying down or sitting in a different position which relieves the burden on those muscles.

As a general rule, if you have a tense shoulder, it seems to work best to lie on the other side. If you have tension in the side of your neck though, usually it works better to actually lie on that same side.

If you have a migraine going on simultaneously, I recommend ice or a cold pack directly over the site of the pain. This can deaden the nerves, which in turn may hep you to relax.

Also, if your tense muscles are the result of misalignment in your spine, it is well worth seeing a chiropractor.

Next time you start feeling a headache coming on (of either variety), ask yourself, “Am I holding a lot of tightness in my muscles right now?”

Key Points: Tension headaches and migraines often feed into each other. Learning how to release tension in your muscles can help to reduce your pain.

RELATED: Cold Therapy for Migraines: Does Applying Cold Really Help Reduce Migraine Pain? 

6. Take vitamin D3

Previously I mentioned nutritional deficiencies. One vitamin which a lot of people do not get enough of is vitamin D3.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where multiple doctors have mentioned to me that most people in the region are vitamin D3-deficient. A lack of vitamin D3 can lead to long-term health problems, one of which is chronic inflammation.

As you will recall, increased levels of inflammation are associated with more migraines.

Vitamin D3 may be able to help your migraines through other avenues as well. One common migraine trigger is glutamate toxicity. Vitamin D has a protective effect against it.

Furthermore, when you take vitamin D3, you are giving your body a key nutrient that helps promote the production of serotonin. Reduced levels of serotonin in the trigeminal nerve and cranial vessels may contribute to migraine pain.

So take your vitamin D3, especially if you live in an area where you do not get a lot of sunlight—or work in a job which keeps you out of the sun all day.

Key Points: Vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient which many people are deficient in. Taking more vitamin D may reduce your migraines by reducing inflammation and glutamate toxicity while increasing serotonin production.

7. Go on a ketogenic diet

Another dietary adjustment which may help you to treat your migraines is to switch over to a ketogenic diet. This is a very-low-carb diet where your body ends up burning fat as its primary fuel source instead of carbs.

Ketogenic diets have a wide range of health benefits, one of which may be a reduction in the frequency of migraines.

It is likely that the mechanism of this improvement involves the release of ketones in the body. These ketones block high concentrations of glutamate.

Key Points: Eating a very low carb diet allows you to induce a ketogenic state. Along with its benefits for weight loss and overall health, a ketogenic diet may also reduce migraines.

You Might Also Enjoy: 9 Steps for Instant Relief from Migraines 

8. Stay hydrated and replenish your mineral intake

One very common migraine trigger is dehydration. Dehydration causes glutamate to rise. Drinking water throughout the day can help to prevent this from happening, but you also need to make sure you are getting the minerals you need: magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. In order to absorb calcium properly, you also need to be getting your vitamin D.

So water alone may not be enough. You also need to get your nutrition. Eating more vegetables is a great way to get your minerals; you also can try drinking fresh vegetable juice.

Key Points: In order to prevent migraines, you need to stay hydrated, but this means more than just drinking water. You also need to make sure you are getting the minerals you need. For this, eating vegetables or drinking vegetable juice is a great solution.

9. Make sure you are getting your folate

I mentioned there being a genetic component to migraines; it is believed to involve mutations of the MTHFR gene. These mutations make it harder for your body to convert folate into methylfolate. This in turn is linked to migraines.

If you believe this may play a role in your migraines, one thing you can do is eat more folate. Some foods which are rich in folate include:

  • Beef liver
  • Spinach
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Rice
  • Asparagus
  • Spaghetti
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Avocado
  • Spinach
  • Mustard greens
  • Green peas
  • Kidney beans
  • Bread
  • Peanuts

You can find a longer list here.

Even eating foods which are rich in folate, you may still struggle to get what you need.

This is why you may want to consider supplementing using bioavailable folate in the form of methylfolate. Again, if you have difficulties converting folate from food into methylfolate, taking the direct approach and simply consuming folate in that bioavailable form may be the most efficient way to provide your brain with what it needs to prevent migraines.

Key Points: If you have a mutation of the MTHFR gene, your body may struggle to convert folate into the methylfolate your brain needs. This is associated with migraines. Eating more folate and taking methylfolate supplements can help.

10. Switch to natural foods and eat more omega-3 fatty acids

salmon

Do you eat a lot of processed foods? Processed and fried foods are typically high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can increase inflammation throughout your body. You should stay away from these heavily processed foods and stick with those which help to reduce inflammation instead.

Foods which are effective for reducing inflammation are those which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Some of these include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Salmon
  • Chia seeds
  • Caviar
  • Cod
  • Roe
  • Mackerel
  • Milk, dairy, and cereal products which have been fortified with omega-3

If you have a hard time getting more fish in your diet (or you do not want to eat fish), it is a good idea to start taking an omega-3 supplement. Fish oil supplements are one great option, krill oil supplements are another. You can also take flax oil supplements if you are a vegetarian.

Key Points: Because inflammation can make migraines worse, you should do everything you can to reduce inflammation in your body. This includes reducing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

11. Take a nap

Getting plenty of rest is important if you want to avoid triggering a migraine; many people suffer from them if they are excessively fatigued.

 Make sure you are getting six to nine hours of sleep every night.

It is also useful to note that taking a nap is often a good fix for a migraine attack. If I sleep for just a few minutes (even as few as 10), I often can recover from a migraine. I am not sure why this works, but it is one of the most consistent migraine fixes I know.

Key Points: Get plenty of rest each night to prevent migraines. During an attack, consider taking a quick nap.

12. Identify your own triggers

Finally, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you when it comes to beating migraines is to start keeping a careful log of your own so that you can identify your triggers.

There are numerous different triggers for migraines. Some may affect you more than others, and many you may not have at all.

Here are some examples:

  • Forgetting to eat or drink enough (this can result in dehydration and a shortage of minerals).
  • Getting too little sleep—or even too much sleep.
  • Allowing stress to get to you.
  • Dealing with other types of headaches, like tension or cluster headaches.
  • Suffering from other types of pain (anything that makes you tense up and stress out can cause problems).
  • Too much caffeine or alcohol—or withdrawal from either.
  • Foods which contain nitrates, tyramine or MSG.
  • Aspartame.
  • Bright sunlight.
  • Heat.
  • Weather changes.
  • Time of the month (for women who are menstruating).
  • Birth control pills.
  • Hormonal imbalances.

Identifying your triggers can help you in a couple of different ways:

1) When you start figuring out your triggers, you can also start getting a feel for the underlying cause(s) of your migraines. For example, if you notice your migraines are triggered only during a certain part of your menstrual cycle, hormonal imbalance is a likely culprit. If you notice that eating Chinese food triggers your migraines, you probably are sensitive to MSG. If you only get a migraine when you miss out on your morning cup of coffee, withdrawal is probably the cause of your pain.

2) Identifying your migraine triggers tells you what to avoid in order to prevent migraines. If your migraines are triggered by heat and bright sunlight, don’t go for a jog on a hot, bright day; go earlier in the morning or later in the evening. If stress triggers migraines, take a few moments to relax and unwind on a particularly tense day—do not simply plough ahead hoping for the best.

You may talk to a doctor who specializes in migraines who can provide you with a lot of information on these debilitating headaches, but the reality is that only you can be an expert on you. Because migraines can be caused and triggered by such diverse stimuli, it is very much up to you to figure out what is going on in your own body. A doctor is not an expert on your diet, exercise, sleep, or other lifestyle factors, and does not keep a log of the weather or time of the month for you.

Finally, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you when it comes to beating migraines is to start keeping a careful log of your own so that you can identify your triggers.

Taking responsibility for your own health is the very best thing you can do if you want to eliminate your migraines for once and for all. After a few months of keeping a journal, you should be able to look back and start spotting patterns. Do not give up on this; it took me a couple of years, but eventually I found the patterns, identified the cause of my migraines, and took control. You can too.

Key Points: The causes and triggers of migraine pain are diverse. The only way to identify yours may very well be to keep a detailed log of your headaches. Doing so may be the key to stopping your migraines.

Conclusion:

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to eliminating migraines. Along with the fact that scientists still are struggling to understand migraines, this is why it can be so hard to get effective help from a doctor. But you deserve to live a life that is free of pain and which allows you to enjoy positive experiences to the fullest. So don’t give up. Whether it takes weeks, months or years, you can overcome this crippling pain and get back to living your life!

Read Next: The Top 8 Natural Migraine Headache Remedies 

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