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What Causes Migraine Headaches

What Causes Migraine Headaches

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Getting To The Cause Of The Issue

Let’s take a look at exactly what causes migraine headaches. Since there are many different factors from spinal misalignment, toxicity, diet, and mineral deficiencies, targeting the exact cause of migraine headaches has the potential to provide permanent relief from this debilitating pain. Unfortunately, the standard solution to treating migraine headaches is to use medications to deal with the pain instead of defining the root cause.

Any sort of pain tells you that something is wrong with your body. Think of pain as a warning signal of a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. For example, if your oil light turns on in your car, it is warning you that something is seriously wrong and needs to be diagnosed immediately. Imagine simply putting tape over your oil light or disconnecting the wire so you can simply ignore this warning sign. Chances are that your oil level is low and continuing to run it will result in your engine seizing up. Ignoring the oil light is like ignoring migraine headaches that indicate a deeper problem that requires immediate attention.

What Causes Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are caused by a variety of factors, including multiple primary neuronal impairments. These include decreased bioenergetic function in the brain and spinal cord, which leads to changes in intracranial pressure and blood vessel diameter, thus increasing the excitability of neurons that respond to sensory input. Additionally, activation of trigeminal nerve fibers causes the release of neuropeptides and inflammatory mediators from the trigeminal nerve terminals, leading to sensitization of meningeal nociceptive fibers.

Further, central sensitization of neurons in the brainstem and higher structures, such as the thalamus, can lead to increased sensitivity of pain-processing neurons which may contribute to recurrent migraine headaches. Additionally, endocrine factors such as hormones may affect neuronal excitability, leading to migraine symptoms.1

What Causes Migraine Headaches

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Misalignment In The Upper Cervical Spine

Misalignments in the upper cervical spine are a major cause of migraine headaches. The base of the skull and the top two bones of the neck, known as C1 and C2, are where our head connects to our body. When these bones are misaligned or locked it can interrupt normal blood flow and nerve function causing pain ranging from mild to severe, known as a migraine headache.

Certain activities such as repetitive movements or trauma can cause these bones to become misaligned and create a situation where the brain cannot properly communicate with the rest of the body due to interrupted nerve signals. This can lead to many other symptoms like vision problems, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and other related issues.

Upper cervical chiropractic can be used to treat migraines, as it helps correct misalignments in the upper cervical spine that could be causing these headaches. By realigning the bones, nerve signals are no longer interrupted and brain-body communication is restored.2

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Genetics

Migraine headaches can be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Genetics plays an important role in the development of migraines, as it is believed that many migraine headaches are inherited from family members with a history of the condition. Additionally, several genes have been identified that are associated with migraines.3 4

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Toxins

Toxins, such as pesticides, organic solvents, air pollution, ammonia, and formaldehyde are known to be major contributors to migraine headaches. These toxins can irritate the brain, leading to inflammation and increased pain or discomfort. 

Pesticides have been linked to an increased risk of chronic headache disorders in those exposed for prolonged periods of time. Organic solvents, like alcohol and petroleum-based products, can also contribute to migraines. Inhaling or ingesting these solvents has been known to irritate the brain and cause headaches, as well as other neurological issues.

Air pollution is another contributing factor for migraine headaches. Exposure to air pollution increases the amount of ozone-containing particles in the air, which can irritate the respiratory tract. These particles can also enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain, causing inflammation and pain.

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a strong smell that is often used in household cleaning products. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause headaches due to its irritating properties as well as damage to the central nervous system.

Formaldehyde is a commonly used preservative that has been linked to headaches, nausea, and other neurological symptoms. It is found in numerous consumer products including furniture, bedding, and clothing. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause inflammation of the brain tissues leading to migraine headaches.5 

Read more about common toxins that we should stay away from.

What Causes Migraine Headaches - Toxins

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Heavy Metal Toxicity

Metal toxicity is a common cause of migraine headaches. Metals like lead, cadmium, iron, mercury, and arsenic can accumulate in the body over time and cause a range of symptoms that include migraine headaches. In a study on 25 individuals who suffer from migraine headaches, levels of cadmium, iron, manganese, and lead were far higher than the control group.6

Treatment for heavy metal toxicity typically involves chelation therapy, a process of removing the toxic metals from the body through special drugs like DMSA and DMPS.7 8

Read more about chelation therapy.

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Hormone Dysfunction

Hormone imbalances can also be a cause of migraine headaches. Hormonal changes during menstruation are a common trigger for migraine headaches in women. Estrogen is a hormone that influences the neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemical messengers that control pain signals. When estrogen levels drop, it can trigger a migraine headache. This is why many women experience migraines just before or during their menstrual cycle when their estrogen levels fluctuate. Birth control pills, menopause, and stress can also cause hormone imbalances that lead to migraines.9

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as stress, changes in weather or climate, bright lights or loud noises, strong odors, skipping meals, and lack of sleep can all trigger or worsen migraine headaches.1

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Poor Diet That Contains MSG, Caffeine, Nitrates, And Aspartame

Certain foods and additives are known to trigger migraine headaches. These include aged cheeses such as blue cheese, processed meats like hot dogs, soy sauce, yeast extracts including Marmite and Vegemite, monosodium glutamate (MSG), caffeine, alcohol especially red wine, and chocolate. It’s important to keep a headache diary to help identify your own triggers. Write down the foods you eat and when you experience a migraine. This can help you pinpoint which foods may be causing the headaches so you can avoid them.

Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer that can be found in many processed foods. It has been linked to neurological problems and migraine headaches. MSG sensitivity varies from person to person, so if you are prone to migraines, it is wise to avoid eating foods with large amounts of MSG.

Caffeine is another possible trigger for migraines and is often found in soda, energy drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate. Caffeine can sometimes be helpful in relieving a migraine headache, but it may also act as a trigger. It’s best to restrict your caffeine intake if you are prone to migraines.

Nitrates are commonly found in processed and cured meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and ham. They can be converted into nitrites which are known to cause headaches. It’s best to avoid eating these types of foods if you are prone to migraines.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in many diet sodas and other food products. While it’s not clear whether or not aspartame directly causes migraines, some studies have shown that regular use of aspartame can lead to an increased risk of headaches. If you are prone to migraines, it may be best to avoid foods containing aspartame.11

Read more about eating a healthy diet.

What Causes Migraine Headaches - Poor Diet That Contains MSG

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Magnesium Deficiency

Migraine headaches can be caused by a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium plays an important role in the body’s neurological system and is beneficial for regulating nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood flow. If your body isn’t getting enough of this essential mineral, it can lead to migraine headaches. A lack of magnesium can cause changes in the brain’s electrical activity, leading to an increase in the pain signals that are sent to the brain. It can also cause vascular constriction of the blood vessels around your head which can result in a migraine headache.

Research has shown that people who suffer from regular migraines tend to have lower levels of magnesium than those who don’t experience them. Increasing dietary intake of magnesium-rich foods or taking magnesium supplements can help reduce the occurrence of migraine headaches.12 13

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Lithium Deficiency

Lithium deficiency is another cause of migraine headaches. Lithium is essential for maintaining healthy levels of serotonin in the brain. Low levels of lithium can disrupt serotonin transmission and neurotransmitter function, leading to changes in electrical activity in the brain that can trigger migraines. 

There are several ways that lithium deficiency leads to migraines. Low dietary intake of lithium, inadequate absorption from the gastrointestinal tract, or decreased renal elimination can all contribute to a deficiency in this important chemical. Treatment for migraine headaches due to low levels of lithium typically involves consuming food like nuts that are relatively high in lithium or supplementation with an extremely low dose of lithium carbonate.14 15

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to migraine headaches. Research suggests that a lack of this important vitamin may trigger symptoms, particularly in women. Symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and depression can all be exacerbated by a Vitamin D deficiency. Studies also suggest that people prone to migraines have lower levels of this vitamin than those who don’t suffer from the condition.16

What Causes Migraine Headaches – Getting To The Cause Of The Issue

Pinpointing exactly what causes migraine headaches can be tough, but understanding the underlying cause of a migraine attack is essential to help reduce the frequency and intensity of future attacks. It’s important to identify potential triggers, both external and internal, that are contributing to migraines in order to find relief.

Read more about how important Vitamin D is for ideal health.


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2 Ferracini GN, Florencio LL, Dach F, Bevilaqua Grossi D, Palacios-Ceña M, Ordás-Bandera C, Chaves TC, Speciali JG, Fernández-de-Las-Peñas C. Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper cervical spine in women with episodic or chronic migraine. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2017 Jun;53(3):342-350. doi: 10.23736/S1973-9087.17.04393-3. Epub 2017 Jan 24. PMID: 28118694.

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6 Gonullu H, Gonullu E, Karadas S, Arslan M, Kalemci O, Aycan A, Sayin R, Demir H. The levels of trace elements and heavy metals in patients with acute migraine headache. J Pak Med Assoc. 2015 Jul;65(7):694-7. PMID: 26160074.

7 Miller AL. Dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), a non-toxic, water-soluble treatment for heavy metal toxicity. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Jun;3(3):199-207. PMID: 9630737.

8 Sears ME. Chelation: harnessing and enhancing heavy metal detoxification–a review. ScientificWorldJournal. 2013 Apr 18;2013:219840. doi: 10.1155/2013/219840. PMID: 23690738; PMCID: PMC3654245.

9 Reddy N, Desai MN, Schoenbrunner A, Schneeberger S, Janis JE. The complex relationship between estrogen and migraines: a scoping review. Syst Rev. 2021 Mar 10;10(1):72. doi: 10.1186/s13643-021-01618-4. PMID: 33691790; PMCID: PMC7948327.

10 Kesserwani H. Migraine Triggers: An Overview of the Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Atmospherics, and Their Effects on Neural Networks. Cureus. 2021 Apr 1;13(4):e14243. doi: 10.7759/cureus.14243. PMID: 33954064; PMCID: PMC8088284.

11 Leira R, Rodríguez R. Dieta y migraña [Diet and migraine]. Rev Neurol. 1996 May;24(129):534-8. Spanish. PMID: 8681169.

12 Gröber U, Schmidt J, Kisters K. Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients. 2015 Sep 23;7(9):8199-226. doi: 10.3390/nu7095388. PMID: 26404370; PMCID: PMC4586582.

13 Dolati S, Rikhtegar R, Mehdizadeh A, Yousefi M. The Role of Magnesium in Pathophysiology and Migraine Treatment. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2020 Aug;196(2):375-383. doi: 10.1007/s12011-019-01931-z. Epub 2019 Nov 5. PMID: 31691193.

14 Szklarska D, Rzymski P. Is Lithium a Micronutrient? From Biological Activity and Epidemiological Observation to Food Fortification. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2019 May;189(1):18-27. doi: 10.1007/s12011-018-1455-2. Epub 2018 Jul 31. PMID: 30066063; PMCID: PMC6443601.

15 Medina JL, Diamond S. Cyclical migraine. Arch Neurol. 1981 Jun;38(6):343-4. doi: 10.1001/archneur.1981.00510060045005. PMID: 6786269.

16 Nowaczewska M, Wiciński M, Osiński S, Kaźmierczak H. The Role of Vitamin D in Primary Headache-from Potential Mechanism to Treatment. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 17;12(1):243. doi: 10.3390/nu12010243. PMID: 31963460; PMCID: PMC7019347.

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