If you suffer from migraines and headaches, spring time can be especially difficult as the barometric pressure lowers and the weather keeps changing. Consider these complementary strategies to reduce and even potentially prevent migraines.
CBC Health spoke with neurologist and headache expert Dr. Christine Lay of Toronto's Women's College Hospital and Toronto-based mindfulness coach Maria Gonzalez.
Watch what you drink
Pay special attention to the amount of caffeine you are consuming. Caffeine is found in coffee, some teas, some soft drinks and chocolate. But not all caffeine products are created equally: Starbucks coffee has significantly more caffeine than your traditional cup of coffee. Stay away from drinks with high fructose corn syrup or artificial colour because both these ingredients contribute to headaches. Make it a priority to drink water throughout the day — adequate hydration will help the body stay regulated and less prone to migraines.
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Make your breakfast count
North American breakfasts are problematic because they happen too late in the day and they don't contain enough good protein. Our brain needs protein to function well throughout the day. To keep migraines at bay, make sure to eat your breakfast shortly after awakening in the morning. Include a good source of protein in your breakfasts such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, nuts and seeds. Top fresh fruit with cottage cheese or add some almond butter with sliced banana on your morning toast. You can also have leftovers from the night before like steak or casserole — what you eat doesn't have to be traditional Western breakfast food.
Try magnesium citrate
The Canadian Headache Society recommends magnesium citrate as the best vitamin to help reduce headaches. Magnesium is required for the proper function of nerves, muscles, and many other parts of the body. Consult your doctor first before taking any vitamins or supplements.
Connect with breath
When we experience the pain of a migraine coming on, the breath goes out of rhythm and when the breath goes out of rhythm, we become stressed. By focusing on the breath, you are calming your system down. Focusing the mind on calm breathing rather than the physical tension and stressful thoughts that tend to arise with migraines will help reduce the suffering associated with them. Here is a nine-minute breath exercise guided by Maria Gonzalez.
Create positive thoughts
Or, put more bluntly, fake it 'til you make it. Rather than engage with the fearful thoughts that often arise with migraines, change the loop. Instead of "Oh no, what's going to happen?", shift to "I've experienced this before, I have successfully managed it." Positive self-talk is incredibly important because it moves brain activity to a part of the mind where pain can be managed. While it may feel awkward, insincere, or downright uncomfortable at first, know that positive thinking engages a different part of the brain and can therefore be transformative for migraine suffering.