We know how hard it is for some people to deal with migraine and yet some people can get dramatic changes just by improving small things such as their diet. But for many, menstrual migraines are the remaining remanence of migraine that prevents them getting their life back.
So, what are they and why do they occur?
To understand the effect of hormones you need to understand the cause. Migraines are believed to be a sensory processing problem. Whilst there is growing evidence that this may be caused by specific changes in the brain, it is known that the driver for many people is dysfunction in what is known as the trigeminovascular pathways.
This pathway takes sensory information from the face, eyes, ears, teeth and jaw and uses it to assess for potential risks to your life. You see, the brain has a huge vested interest in the health of you face. Our face allows us to eat, communicate and sense danger amongst other things. As a result the pathway is hard wired into your flight or flight responses, the stress areas of the brain.
In addition, the same nerve also takes input from blood vessels and the coverings around the brain.
When this system gets wound up, inflammation occurs at the nerve endings releasing various chemicals, such as CGRP, which sensitize the system. The result for many is the natural beating of arteries in the brain is felt leading to a throbbing headache feeling.
How do hormones effect this?
Along the nerve itself, we have little channels that are used to sense things. These behave like tiny microphones tuned to pick up specific types of stimulation. To give you an analogy, imagine your right ear could only hear male voices and your left ear could only hear female voices. You would need both ears to communicate with everyone.
Our receptors work similarly to this. Specific receptors are tuned into specific frequencies. But if we go back to our analogy, specific musical tones will also trigger both right and left ears as they have similar frequency to male or female voice.
When someone has an upregulation of the trigeminovascular system they are already tinkering with a higher level of brain stimulation, or hypervigilance, which can increase light and sound sensitivity. When receptors on the trigeminal system are stimulated or when inflammation around the nerve is increased, the result can be a further upregulation triggering migraine.
Which is me?
Which hormone affects you is very hard to establish. Estrogen can stimulate these receptors and we tend to see this with women who get migraines just prior to the period. If the change is due to progesterone changes or a significant drop in estrogen, we tend to see migraine occur after the period has started.
The timing of menstrual migraines can tell us a lot about which hormone is causing your problems and what needs to be done about it.
Where to from here?
Diagnosing imbalances is critical to working out the best strategy to correcting migraines. A combined approach of reducing structural irritation on the trigeminovascular system, balancing hormonal function and specific biochemical support seems to provide great relief for many people we see.
Not sure where to start? Click here to organize an assessment with one of our highly trained team, or download my Ultimate Nutrient guide to Migraine for some great self help options.