Menstrual Migraines

migraine menstrual headache
Migraine Headache

Menstrual Migraines

Suffering from a migraine every month around the time of your period?  Likely there is a hormone imbalance contributing to these PMS headaches.  I have had women who had suffered with these every month for 16 years, who were amazed to find that their period could come and go without a migraine after naturopathic treatment.

What Causes Migraines?

There are a number of theories as to the origin of migraines:

  1. Serotonin imbalance
  2. Histamine – excess or intolerance
  3. Lack of B vitamins
  4. Lack of magnesium
  5. Muscle tension
  6. Hormone imbalance

What Can I do About Migraines?

The solution to migraines is to address some or all of the factors listed above, all of which can be done through naturopathic medicine.

Serotonin imbalance

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is produced in the brain, it is a chemical that the brain produces that influences how the brain works.  It is considered to be the “happy” neurotransmitter and it’s one of the key neurotransmitters addressed in people who suffer with depression.  The brain requires vitamin B6, magnesium and an amino acid called tryptophan to make serotonin.  Supporting these nutrients can sometimes allow the brain to rectify a serotonin imbalance on its own.


Histamine is a substance released by white blood cells called mast cells.  It’s part of how the immune system defends you against viruses and bacteria, but excessive histamine can cause inflammatory conditions like allergies.  People with allergies will take anti-histamines to try to prevent histamine release or histamine binding to receptors.  Vitamins C and B6 are natural anti-histamines.  In the gut, we produce an enzyme that helps to break down histamine, called DAO.  Some people aren’t genetically programmed to produce enough DAO, for those people sometimes supplementing DAO helps.

Lack of B Vitamins

Vitamin B2, B5 and B6 supplementation have all been shown to help migraine sufferers.

Lack of Magnesium

Magnesium serves a dual purpose for those with migraines: it helps muscles to relax and helps calm down the nervous system.  Both B vitamins and magnesium are also essential to help the body cope with stress.

Muscle Tension

Tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles can compress nerves, cause misalignment of the spine (subluxation) and contribute to migraines.  Massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, proper posture, yoga, pilates, a more ergonomic work environment, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and magnesium may all help with migraines that originate from muscle tension.

Hormone Imbalance

Menstrual migraines are obviously related to fluctuations in hormones or hormone imbalance. What has worked most effectively in my practice for these types of migraines has been enabling efficient phase I and phase II liver detoxification through supportive nutrients like pyridoxal-5-phosphate, 5MTHF, vitamin B12, indole-3-carbinol, calcium-d-glucarate, N Acetyl-cysteine, and magnesium.  Herbs like Vitex agnus-castus combined with vitamin B6 will also sometimes help in the event of insufficient progesterone production.


What’s New with Fibroids?

There’s a new drug on the market that is a “selective progesterone receptor modulator”.  What that means is that the drug moderates the effects of progesterone.  I have had a couple of patients on this medication prior to fibroid surgery and for both it does seem to have shrunk their fibroid.  The thinking with fibroids has always been that estrogen was the culprit causing the fibroids to enlarge and in many of the women that I’ve treated for fibroids, that has been the case.  However, in some fibroid patients, that’s not the case as demonstrated by the efficacy of this drug.  For these women, we need more of a progesterone moderating approach.

How can we moderate the effects of progesterone naturally, without drugs?

  1. Ensure a healthy balance of all of the sex hormones so that no one hormone dominates over the others.  That means two main things to me: a) keep insulin levels low by avoiding processed starches and sugars and b) keep the endocrine system working optimally, that includes the ovaries, thyroid, adrenal glands, pituitary and hypothalamus.
  2. Vitamin B6 in it’s active state, pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) modulates the cell’s capacity to respond to steroid hormones.  Although some of the professional lines contain the active P5P, most vitamin supplements don’t contain the active form of B6, relying on the body’s capacity to convert the inactive pyridoxine hydrochloride into the active P5P.  Source: FASEB J. 1994 Mar 1;8(3):343-9.
  3. Scutellaria barbata is a Chinese herb that has been shown to have progesterone moderating and anti-proliferative effects.  Source: Phytother Res. 2008 May;22(5):583-90

Group B Strep in Pregnancy

Group B Strep (GBS), otherwise known as Streptococcus agalactiae, can cause serious, sometimes fatal infections in newborn babies. Pregnant women in Canada are routinely screened by a vaginal swab for Group B Strep at around 35-37 weeks gestation. Guidelines for Group B Strep positive women recommend IV antibiotics during labour to prevent infection for the baby.

A positive test for GBS is very common (25-30%). It isn’t very common for babies to contract it, especially if the mom does the IV antibiotics during labour. The rate of GBS infection is only approximately 0.4 babies per 1000 births, and only 10% of those babies infected die from it.

Your best bet is to do the IV antibiotics during labour. Prior to that, taking a good quality probiotic can help. Probiotics are the good bacteria that normally populate the vagina and which the baby will pick up at delivery. Keep your immune system healthy with diet, sleep, stress reduction, exercise and be sure to breast feed. Breastmilk, especially the first milk called colostrum, is full of antibodies that will help keep the baby healthy and fight infection.

You can also use a vaginal probiotic. There are specific strains of probiotics that benefit the vagina and help prevent Group B Strep from being able to take hold. Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri are two such strains.

Here is some relevant research, the second study specifically studied the effect of lactobacillus rhamnosus on streptococcus agalactiae (group B strep).

What Will Be Your Wake-up Call?

With so many demands on our time and our thoughts, it’s easy to push health to the back burner. Don’t! Maintaining your health on a daily basis and actively preventing disease is crucial so that you can keep enjoying life to the fullest. Injuries, chronic or recurring infections, low energy, exhaustion, allergies, headaches, these are all your body trying to give you a wake-up call that something isn’t right: you’re not taking care of me well enough or you’re overworking or otherwise abusing me. Will it take cancer, a heart attack or stroke to be the wake-up call you need?

Check out Kathy Smith’s story:

Great health is a habit worth investing in.

Think You’re Getting Unbiased Opinions About Pharmaceuticals?

Sadly, there isn’t any such thing. Your doctor only gets to read research results that have positive outcomes.

Dr Irving Kirsch, a psychologist, dug out the following information regarding psychiatric drug studies:
They found that out of 38 drug studies showing positive outcomes, 37 were published. 36 studies showing negative outcome, only 3 were published and 11 had their data manipulated to show a more positive outcome.

Many UNpublished studies show little or no difference between taking an anti-depressant and placebo.

More on Dr Kirsch’s study here: