Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
Ever wonder what is causing that recurring headache or migraine? Maybe your doctor found no serious head or neck pathology, and suggested to "just take some painkillers"? Did they not work like you'd hoped? Well, headaches are a very common condition, which most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. If due to stress, neck tension, or lack of sleep, they are easily cured with rest or relaxation. The problem is when they recur on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis, and significantly interfere with your life. Sometimes they can be incapacitating causing nausea or vomiting, and may not even respond to drugs. Perhaps this is the case for you. Perhaps you’re tired of medicating yourself regularly. Maybe you want to avoid the drug side effects altogether. Enter Alternative Medicine, which often can provide relief for headaches and many other conditions where Conventional Medicine falls short.
Q: Dr. P., I get headaches regularly, what herbs can I take?
First, you need to be evaluated by a physician or primary care provider (ND, MD, DO, ARNP, or PA). This is critical to assure your headaches are not caused by a serious, life-threatening condition. Once the better-known causes like tumors, heart & vessel disease, eye, neck, ear, and sinus problems, or drug side effects are eliminated, then less know causes need to be considered. Hormonal imbalances, chemical sensitivity, food intolerance or allergy, and even nutritional deficiencies fall into this category. Unfortunately, many health professionals are unfamiliar with these causes of headaches, so you'll need to ask pointed questions to find someone is familiar with less-conventional diagnostics and treatments.
It’s likely you can get relief from your headaches with Alternative Medicine. I've seen it work in cases where nothing else had. And, it’s not always complex. For example, one of my patients, a woman of 35, who had almost daily headaches for 3 years, was simply mineral deficient. We identified this with a thorough history, and a hair mineral analysis. After taking the minerals she was deficient in, her headaches completely resolved within 2 months. Another patient, a 40-year-old man who had migraines all his life, was simply allergic to foods containing tyramine. Although allergy tests, performed at his allergist's office, had shown he had no food allergies, he had complete resolution of his headaches after elimination of just a few foods. You can imagine how pleased he was when he was able to discontinue his prescription drugs. Sometimes going back to historical or legend treatments is helpful. An old naturopathic adage is "whenever in doubt, treat the liver." Although vague, and often misunderstood by some of my mainstream colleagues, this simply means to use therapies, which optimize liver function. Since the liver is one of the body's major detox organs, "treating the liver" promotes clearing of excess hormones and harmful chemicals in the blood. It can even improve cholesterol status- another story by itself! Improving liver function, restoring hormonal balance, and improving the body's detoxification ability is often all that's required to give a person with longstanding headaches or migraines permanent relief. Always see an expert before employing any Alternative Medicine approaches to make sure you follow a plan safe and appropriate for you.
Q: Dr. P., my doctor says that there's no research behind Natural Medicine. Are there any good studies that show it works with headaches?
Yes. For example, consider headache related to food allergy: One double-blind study, published in a medical journal called Lancet showed 93% of persons following a hypoallergenic (or low allergy) diet had complete resolution of their headaches. Keep in mind this is with a change in eating habits alone! More importantly, was that 90% of these people had their headaches return when going back to the "high-allergy" foods. Another double-blind study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that fish oil was helpful in reducing severe migraine intensity and frequency. In a journal called Headache, controlled studies showed that magnesium, and tryptophan were helpful in select cases, while in a journal called Neurology, riboflavin (or vitamin B2) helped migraine sufferers. Even more studies in other journals have shown plant medicines like Ginkgo biloba, Tanacetum p. (Feverfew,) and Zingiber o. (Ginger) might be helpful. I would suggest you add an ND (Naturopathic Doctor) to your health care team. Any good naturopath can educate you and your Conventional Medical Provider about documented uses and limitations of Natural Medicine. Be well!
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