I’ve worked as a nutritional therapist for 16 years but have experienced migraines for many more years. If like me you experience migraines then we’re not alone – statistics show that 10 million adults in the UK alone live with migraine headaches, and lost workdays due to migraines amount to £4.4 billion each year.
Initially, my migraines presented in my late teens as visual auras and severe headaches, but swiftly progressed to include nausea, light aversion, anxiety, and of course, the severe and unrelenting headache. I kept a stash of painkillers in my cupboard, prepped and ready for some relief from the pain when a migraine struck, but I never found them very helpful. Sometimes the painkiller might take the edge off the headache, but the other symptoms would persist and the pain relief was only temporary. Other times, they wouldn’t even take the edge off the headache. Over the years, my GP offered me prescription medications including beta blockers and triptans in a desperate attempt to give me some relief.
Are painkillers the answer to migraines triggers?
Looking at this from a different perspective, taking painkillers to relieve migraine triggers is the real-life equivalent of turning off the fire alarm without putting out the fire. The migraine is the fire alarm – a symptom of something else happening in the body; the underlying cause is the fire that continues to burn, with or without painkilling medications. Maybe turning off the fire alarm as and when a headache or migraine triggers strike is enough for some, but if you’re reading this blog then you’re probably looking for answers – you’re looking for how to work out what’s making that fire burn, so you can put it out once and for all.
IgG intolerances as causes of migraines
The pathophysiology, or underlying cause of migraine triggers are not well understood. Food is known to be a trigger for many – in some cases, fasting or eating irregular meals may trigger a migraine; in other cases, eating unknown food triggers may cause a migraine trigger. Two small, randomised and double-blinded studies from 2010 and 2012 have shown promising results that dietary restriction based on IgG antibodies is an effective way to reduce the frequency of migraines. Participants who changed their diet to eliminate their specific IgG trigger foods saw subsequent improvements in headache and migraine symptoms, and a possible positive impact on their quality of life as a result.
But what if food doesn’t seem to be the trigger for you?
IgE allergies as causes of migraines
Allergic rhinitis, such as hayfever and pet allergies, is caused by an allergic reaction to an allergen such as pollen, dust, or certain animal furs. The immune system reacts to the allergen and produces IgE antibodies to fight it, as though the allergen were a danger to the body. These antibodies cause an inflammatory response leading to the symptoms of allergic rhinitis that, if you experience them, you’ll know only too well: itching, blocked nose, excess mucus, sneezing. A strong correlation has
been found in studies between those who experience allergic rhinitis and those who experience migraines – in fact, a 2021 study found that patients receiving treatment for their allergic rhinitis symptoms also experienced either a total elimination of their migraine symptoms or a significant improvement in severity/frequency of their migraine symptoms.
Other possible causes of migraines
IgE and IgG mediated migraines are by no means the only triggers for migraines – other areas to explore include blood sugar balance to avoid hypoglycaemic episodes due to hyperinsulinism (i.e. missing meals / fasting, or eating irregularly could be causing your migraines), dehydration, hormonal imbalance associated with menstruation, fatigue, stress, side effect of some medications (sleeping tablets, combined oral contraceptive pill, HRT), bright lights, strong smells, weather changes, strenuous exercise, shift work, lack of caffeine, and alcohol.
Identifying your migraine triggers
If you’re wondering where to start with testing and identifying your migraine triggers, here are some steps you could take:
- A headache diary, such as this one from The Migraine Trust’s website is perfect for keeping track of your symptoms to help you identify any patterns or possible triggers such as food, stress, weather, menstrual cycle, dehydration, irregular mealtimes etc.
- Testing for allergies and intolerances with a home blood testing kit such as the Allergy and intolerance Test Plus may be a beneficial tool for determining your IgE and IgG antibodies. With that knowledge, you would be able to experiment with dietary changes which may result in a reduction of migraine frequency.
- Eliminating any items/situations identified in your headache diary and/or your Allergy and Intolerance Test Plus for a few weeks.
If you’re struggling to spot clear patterns between your food diary and Allergy and Intolerance Test Plus results, consider consulting with a nutritional therapist to discuss your migraines and look for other connections in your overall health that might explain your migraines.
Note – if you experience any of the symptoms listed on the NHS website, please consider discussing your migraine/headache with a healthcare professional.