A migraine isn’t just a headache. It’s a splitting, debilitating, earth-stopping, can’t-get-anything-done hammer to the head. Throw in the colorful agony of aura, and your migraine misery will reach the next level — and it may not be done with you yet.
Migraines with aura are also a risk factor for deadly disease, especially heart problems and especially in women, and one new study shows how those risks are much bigger than anyone ever would have guessed.
The 15-year study of 27,860 women finds that migraine with aura triples the risk of serious heart problems such as heart attack and stroke. It even triples the risk of death from any cardiovascular problem at all.
In fact, it’s such a reliable indicator of heart risk that it ranks ahead of almost everything else.
You probably know, for example, that diabetes and obesity can increase your risk of heart problems. But not as much as migraine with aura, according to the new study.
Have a family history of heart disease? That’s a big risk factor, too — but not as big as migraine with aura.
And smoking may be bad for your heart — but migraine with aura is actually worse.
The only risk factor that ranked ahead of migraine with aura was high blood pressure, according to the study from the American Academy of Neurology.
And if you suffer from migraine with aura and take hormonal birth control pills, a second new study from the Academy finds that you will face a higher risk of blood clots.
You can choose to not take birth control pills. But you can’t, of course, choose to not have migraines. However, there are steps you can take to minimize them even if you’re prone to the condition.
In another new study, researchers found that supplements of B vitamins, including B6, B12, and folate, can reduce migraine severity in women who have a genetic predisposition for the condition.
This study is ongoing, so they’re still trying to determine the proper dose — but a good B complex would be an excellent place to start for most people.
In addition, I’ve had great success treating migraines with a number of completely natural remedies backed by science.
In one study, 75 mg of butterbur taken twice daily reduced migraine frequency by 48 percent — nearly double the rate of a placebo. And in another, 600 mg of magnesium reduced the frequency by 41.6 percent — nearly triple the rate of the placebo.
In addition, many migraines have triggers — and in some cases, they may not always be obvious. Common triggers can include food and drink such as chocolates and alcohol as well as lifestyle factors such as stress and poor sleep.
Some of the most common triggers aren’t foods but food additives such as aspartame and MSG — additives you should be avoiding anyway, whether you have migraines or not.
One way to identify your triggers is to keep a headache diary, including what you did and what you ate before the migraine started. Then, you can go through the journal and see if you spot any patterns.
For a complete approach to identifying and correcting the cause of migraines, visit a holistic physician. And if you’re in the Southern California area, make an appointment to see me at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Mark Stengler