Migraines—if you’ve ever suffered from one, you know how unbearable they can be. The pounding, the nausea, the dizziness, the aura and loss of vision … it’s absolutely intolerable and leaves you seeking migraine relief—fast!
But in order to truly get relief, you have to know the root cause. And, trust me, there is always a root cause!
So, if you’re tired of dealing with debilitating migraines, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a look at some of the top common causes of migraines and then learn more about what you can do to help relieve your migraines and perhaps even prevent them in the first place!
What is a Migraine?
The first thing to know about a migraine is that it isn’t the same as any standard headache. Unlike tension headaches or even those associated with seasonal allergies, migraine headaches come on severely and with a vengeance.
They usually begin on one side of your head and are often accompanied with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light, and even vision disturbances, known as “auras.” 
One tell-tale sign of a migraine is a sudden, severe, throbbing headache that worsens with any activity—even small movements.
Unfortunately, migraine relief doesn’t always come right away. In fact, it’s common for migraines to last anywhere from four hours to three days, if left untreated.
While migraines aren’t yet fully understood, they’re known as a recurrent neurovascular disorder that’s often hereditary and stems from many factors. It’s commonly believed that they occur due to neuronal dysfunctions that cause changes both inside and outside the brain. 
Interestingly, migraines affect about 12 percent of people worldwide, with women suffering from them more often than men. In fact, women are up to three times more likely to experience migraines than men!  And migraines with auras tend to occur in about 75 percent of all migraine cases.
As we discussed above, migraines are often found to have a genetic component, and they’re most common between the ages of 30 to 39. 
But why is that? Why are migraines most prevalent in women during (arguably) one of the most demanding periods of life?
Is it possible that all of the running around with endless to-do lists and high demands (work, kids, relationships, etc.) could make women more vulnerable to migraines?
The simple answer is yes! And we can’t necessarily make our lives any less hectic, if you find that you’re suffering from frequent migraines, there is something you can do about it.
Fortunately, there is something you can do to get migraine relief, and perhaps even help prevent them in the first place—and it all starts with finding the cause.
Migraine Relief: It’s All About Finding the Cause
Here are nine of the common causes of migraines, along with some tips on how to get migraine relief.
9 Common Causes of Migraines
1. Food allergies or intolerances
Believe it or not, if you’re seeking migraine relief, one of the first places to check is your kitchen.
Why? Well, the simple truth is that you may have an unknown food allergy or intolerance. And that very issue could be the one thing standing between you and migraine relief!
In fact, one landmark study looked at the link between food allergies and migraines—and the findings may surprise you.
The researchers followed 60 migraine patients who completed elimination diets. Amazingly, 78 percent of those patients were experiencing migraines due to wheat!
Other food allergies linked to the migraines were as follows: oranges (65 percent), eggs (45 percent), tea and coffee (40 percent each), chocolate and milk (37 percent), beef (35 percent), and corn, cane sugar, and yeast (33 percent each).
Amazingly, the researchers discovered that when an average of ten common foods known to cause allergic reactions were avoided, 85 percent of the patients became migraine-free! 
The takeaway here? Steering clear of known inflammatory foods, which have become so commonplace in our modern, chaotic lives (largely due to their convenience), may be your ticket to migraine relief!
The best way to find out is by doing your very own elimination diet and slowly adding back in certain suspected offenders to see what’s causing your migraine. Then you’ll know what to stay away from.
Or, better yet, you can leave out inflammatory foods altogether to help set yourself up for even better health. Either way, it’s a win-win!
Dehydration happens when your body uses or loses more water than it needs to function properly, and it’s long been a suspected trigger for migraines. 
In fact, certain observational studies have shown that dehydration not only impaired concentration and increased irritability in participants but also triggered and even prolonged migraine episodes. 
Interestingly, according to one 2004 study, approximately 65 percent of headache sufferers found relief within 30 minutes of drinking between 200 and 1,500 mL of water. Meanwhile, a total of 97 percent experienced relief within three hours of drinking water. 
But how and why does this happen? It’s commonly believed that inadequate intake of water can induce migraines due to intracranial dehydration.
Think back to the last time you felt overwhelmed; did you remember to stop and drink water to stay hydrated? Likely not. Now consider how often you’re feeling stressed by all of your “to-dos” and daily demands. It’s easy to see how something like this could happen, right?
So, the next time you find yourself seeking migraine relief, grab some filtered water and try to drink one to two cups. If your migraine is due to dehydration, you should find some relief within a few minutes to a couple of hours. And, if you do, make sure to keep water on hand so you can prevent this type of migraine in the future.
3. Poor gut flora
Your gut and your brain are communicating all the time—and this connection actually has a name, the “gut-brain axis.” So, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to learn that you may be able to find migraine relief by taking a closer look at the health of your gut.
According to several studies, those who suffer with frequent migraines also have a higher chance of being diagnosed with IBS. In fact, research has shown that migraines and IBS both alter the composition of your gut flora, which promotes inflammation and impacts the gut-brain axis. 
Interestingly, there are things you can do to help remedy and even prevent poor gut flora-induced migraines, such as taking a well-formulated probiotic.
In fact, a 2019 study examined the effects of probiotic supplementation on migraines by having 79 participants suffering from chronic or episodic migraines take either a probiotic or a placebo.
The researchers found that taking the probiotic for up to 10 weeks significantly decreased migraine attacks. Those with chronic migraines experienced a 45-percent reduction in migraines, while those with episodic migraines experienced a 40-percent reduction. 
Moreover, when those participants did experience migraines, they reported a reduction in intensity by about 30 percent!
When you’re looking for a quality probiotic, I recommend finding one with multiple strains of bacteria. Specifically, I like to use one that contains Saccharomyces boulardi, which is known to help improve the integrity of the gut. 
4. High systemic inflammation
Another one of the major causes of migraines that may surprise you is systemic inflammation. And, unfortunately, this can be a harder cause to determine. But when you’re looking for migraine relief, it’s well worth the investigation. Here’s why …
Studies have shown that migraine sufferers tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies, based on the readings of certain inflammatory markers. And researchers are beginning to question if a migraine could be an inflammatory disorder. 
In fact according to a 2016 study, participants who suffered from migraines had significantly higher hsCRP levels than participants without migraine. (hsCRP, also known as high sensitivity C-reactive protein, is a prevalent marker of inflammation.) 
According to the study’s findings, those with migraines tended to have 11 percent higher hsCRP levels, and, interestingly, the levels in female participants tended to be higher than in male participants.
5. Hormonal shifts
Migraines often tend to occur due to hormonal shifts in the body. As a result, balancing your hormones may actually help provide much-needed migraine relief.
As we discussed above, migraines are predominantly a female disorder, with women being three times more likely to experience them than men. But why is this? After all, aren’t we all stressed?
It appears that several estrogen-mediated hormonal shifts are actually at the root of some migraines. In fact, a woman’s first period, regular menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and even the use of hormonal contraceptives and hormone replacement treatment have all been shown to influence the occurrence of migraines. 
Migraine have actually been shown to start after a woman’s first period and occur more frequently in the days just before or during menstruation. Moreover, they tend to improve or disappear during pregnancy and menopause.
Interestingly, each of these shifts are controlled by changing estrogen levels, which influence on cellular excitability or blood flow within the brain.
So, what should you do if you’re in need of migraine relief and suspect they may be occurring due to hormonal shifts? My advice to women is use a journal to track the timing of your migraines in relation to your cycle.
See if you can identify a pattern in terms of when they’re happening throughout your cycle. Then, you can speak with your doctor about possible solutions that may help you find relief.
As we’ve been discussing throughout this article, our modern stress epidemic is a major cause of migraines. So, if you’re seeking migraine relief, it makes sense that you ultimately need to address your body’s ability to handle and respond to stress, right?
So, how does stress cause migraines? Well, remember that during times of stress or anxiety, your body enters into the “fight-or-flight” mode, which cause changes in your blood vessels, making you more prone to experiencing headaches and/or migraines.
Interestingly, according to a 2014 study, experiencing heightened stress followed by relaxation is a significant trigger. This occurs because cortisol, which rises during times of stress, helps to relieve pain. So, when it suddenly falls again, that pain relieving benefit also disappears.
In fact, the study showed that participants were five times more likely to experience migraines within the first six hours after their stress levels declined. 
As a result, the researchers noted that it’s extremely important to learn how to manage the effects of stress, because allowing major build-ups of stress will drastically increase your likelihood of experiencing migraines.
Furthermore, the researchers confirmed that participating in stress-relieving activities such as yoga or even taking a walk or deep breathing can help to prevent this build-up of stress
7. Poor diet
At this point, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that eating a poor diet is a common cause of migraines. After all, if inflammation causes migraines, eating processed, highly inflammatory foods is bound to contribute to them, right?
We’ve also discussed how food allergies and/or intolerances are to blame. And since we know that inflammatory foods are the most common culprits for food allergies and intolerances, this makes sense.
If you tend to indulge in fast food and highly processed, packaged foods and you’re searching for migraine relief, you’ll want to start but cutting those out as much as possible—ideally, completely!
Your next step? Cut out the highly inflammatory foods from your diet. These include gluten, dairy, sugar, eggs, red meat, and peanuts. You can slowly integrate these foods back into your diet and see if any trigger your migraine symptoms to identify the cause.
8. Magnesium deficiency
Here’s a very common cause of migraines that I personally see in clinical practice: magnesium deficiency.
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, magnesium is a vital mineral that’s responsible for over 800 different essential roles within your body. It’s necessary for several basic bodily functions, including maintaining your heart rhythm, providing cellular energy for your body to build tissues and eliminate toxins, and even promoting regular muscle contraction.
Perhaps more relevant here, though, is that magnesium helps to block the release of certain neurotransmitters in your brain that can trigger migraines. So, anytime your body is low in magnesium, you’re more prone to experiencing migraines.
In fact, experiencing chronic migraines is one of the top signs you may be deficient in magnesium!
To get a better idea if you’re truly deficient in magnesium, look for other signs as well. These include gastrointestinal difficulties, neurological symptoms, and even cardiovascular problems. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, muscle spasms and/or twitches, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, depressed mood, brain fog, constipation, high blood pressure, and more. 
Check out my article on natural remedies for magnesium deficiency to learn more about which plant-based food sources of magnesium may help provide you with migraine relief.
You can also consider supplementing with either magnesium glycinate or magnesium orotate, since studies have shown that taking magnesium supplements helped to reduce participants’ migraine frequency by up to 41.6 percent! 
9. Blood sugar changes
Have you ever experienced a sudden, severe headache after eating too much sugar? Or, conversely, have you ever experienced one after going too long without eating? Well, these occurred as a result of fluctuating blood sugar levels—and the very same issue can cause migraines, too!
Interestingly, some studies have shown that insulin levels are significantly higher in those who suffer from migraines than those who don’t. 
Because insulin is utilized to break down blood sugar into usable forms and it’s also responsible for certain brain functions, researchers have surmised that insulin may be involved in migraine development. 
But that’s not all. It’s also important to mention the impact that stress has on your blood sugar.
When your body releases cortisol during times of stress, it also signals the release of stored glucose (sugar) into your body so that you can escape the stressful situation.
As a result, your body will also release insulin in an effort to restore proper blood sugar levels. (Remember, your body doesn’t want high or low glucose and tries to maintain balance). Unfortunately, when chronic stress is occurring, this interplay between glucose and insulin can become significantly impacted, resulting in fat storage and, ultimately, insulin resistance, which we now know impacts brain function.
So, what should you do to get migraine relief if you suspect your migraines stem from blood sugar changes? In addition to supporting your body’s stress response, consider adapting a Mediterranean diet and eating in a predictable pattern, so your body isn’t left wondering when it will receive food next.
To learn more about how eating a Mediterranean diet helps to stabilize blood sugar, click here.
- Migraines aren’t your standard headache. They usually begin on one side of your head and are often accompanied with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light, and even vision disturbances, known as “auras.”
- The best way to get migraine relief—and possibly even prevent them in the first place—is to identify the root cause.
- Some of the most common root causes include: food allergies or intolerances, dehydration, poor gut flora, inflammation, hormonal shifts, stress, poor diet, magnesium deficiency, and blood sugar changes.
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