Garima Singh, 32, a homemaker from Jaipur, Rajasthan, successfully managed chronic migraine that was attacking her for several years.
Here she shares with Happiest Health how she countered the numbing daily attacks with measures she took, mainly with Ayurveda.
“My chronic pain and sickness exhausted me, and I became frustrated by the possibility of migraine attacks every day,” she recounts.
Earlier, Singh used to be on certain medications. At one point, the doctor she was consulting advised her to take Botox treatment as a temporary option. She dreaded the idea and turned to Ayurveda as a complementary therapy.
Her Ayurveda doctor made her look closely at the relationship between her symptoms and her lifestyle which may have been causing the migraines. “I committed myself to gradually implementing the changes in my daily life by adding more digestive herbs to my diet and following an Ayurvedic morning routine. I started to feel more energetic [than before] and gradually even began having no-migraine days.”
The initial treatment lasted for 21 days, where she was given shirodhara (a systematic bath of therapeutic oils over the head) and nasya (infusion of medicinal oils through the nose). She was asked to change her diet and lifestyle to improve her condition.
Read more about migraine here.
Understanding the attacks
‘”Migraine is more than just a headache. It is the instability in how the brain deals with incoming sensory information,” says Hetal Lodhavia, Somatic Wellness Facilitator, Sohum Studio, Mumbai. ”Many physiological factors contribute to this instability, including sleep, exercise, hunger, overthinking, and work profile.”
Migraine is mostly a vata-pitta dosha or tridoshic condition (the disease caused due to imbalance in the bodily elements of air, fire, and earth-water respectively) according to Ayurveda. Many headache specialists strongly advocate avoidance of migraine triggers.
Tackle the trigger
“I first had migraine attacks a few years ago, usually twice or thrice a week. I tackled it by understanding myself and figuring out the trigger,” says Rohit Verma, 28, an IT professional from Coimbatore.
”We often experience eye and neck pain, and heaviness in the head just before the actual pain starts. If we could act at this point, the migraine would not be as severe. It could be as simple as taking a brisk walk, drinking a glass of water, getting good vapourisation, or even applying ice to the forehead,” he says.
The treatment strategy
Dr Succha Lakshmi R, Eye and ENT specialist at the Government Ayurveda Medical College, Bengaluru, says, “The treatment stages include prescribing a specific diet, especially eating at regular intervals and in a calm environment.
The other aspects involve correcting the metabolism with herbs, maintaining good functioning of sensory organs, relieving stress and strain, lifestyle modifications and enhancing immunity.
“In the first stage, detoxification (panchakarma) is performed to relieve symptoms, then rejuvenation therapy to reduce the episodes and recurrences of migraine.”
What to eat and what to avoid
Skipping meals or not maintaining a regular eating schedule can be detrimental to people trying to shake off migraines.
Divya Naik, a clinical nutritionist from Bengaluru, suggests that migraineurs should consume milk, paneer (cottage cheese), ghee (clarified butter), and protein-rich pulses like green gram, cowpea, and soybean, Vitamin A, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and Vitamin D.
Caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, aged cheese (tyramine is a by-product of a fermented food that triggers migraine) and salty foods should be avoided.
A regular exercise routine
In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Pain in July 2022, it was demonstrated that regular aerobic exercises are effective in reducing the burden of migraine. You can either pick up dancing, cycling, swimming or brisk walking. You can begin slowly, and gradually increase the activity levels.
Dealing with hormonal changes
Some women have migraine attacks due to hormonal changes (mainly with oestrogen) during their monthly menstrual cycle. “Consume one tablespoon of oil seeds like flax, chia, sunflower, and sesame seeds. This helps to deal with the common symptoms of migraine where women face hormonal changes caused due to fluctuations in oestrogen, such as before or during menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause,” says Naik.
Stress reduction and yoga
Stress consistently ranks as the top trigger for migraine attack. A host of interventions like meditation, CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy, conventional psychotherapy and yoga may help in reducing stress and associated migraine.
“When you perform yoga on a regular basis, there is a 99 per cent chance of management of migraine,” says Lodhavia.
There are certain yoga poses that are particularly effective against migraine. Among them are the supported-bridge pose (Sethubandhasana), child pose (Shishu asana) with pillow support under the head, and the cat stretch (marjari-asana). Single nostril breathing (nadi shuddhi pranayama) also helps, she says.
Good sleep routine
If there are major changes in one’s sleep hours and bedtime routine, then sleeping excessively in the weekends or even taking an afternoon nap can trigger migraine symptoms.
A good sleep pattern means you should try to hit the bed by 10 p.m. and wake up naturally half an hour before the sunrise. Adults need to get a minimum of seven to eight of sleep every night, and children and adolescents need at least nine hours of good sleep.
Panchakarma and herbs
“Shirodhara is a great therapy for alleviating migraine headaches. It is a soothing process with relaxing effects,” says Dr Greeshma Thomas, chief consultant and medical director, VCC Ayurveda and Panchakarma Centre, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh.
Nasya therapy which includes nasal insertion of medicinal oils also reduces pain intensity, phonophobia, intervals and duration of headache. Turmeric, triphala, giloy (guduchi), aloe vera and neem are a few herbs used to treat migraine.
Tips and home remedies
- Follow a healthy sleep cycle.
- Avoid cold drinks.
- Keep fluid intake to a minimum during meals. Avoid milk and tea; and consume ginger, coriander and black tea.
- Drink water boiled with cumin or jeera, and coriander.
- Drink a glass of buttermilk mixed with asafoetida, curry leaves, rock salt and ginger.
- Include three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits to prevent constipation which is common in individuals with migraine.
- Apply mustard paste on the forehead and keep it on for 10-15 minutes.
- Get some natural light every day for at least 15 minutes.