What Causes Migraines? The Answer is Decades Old

Looking over several Facebook pages related to migraines as well as some message boards, I am continually saddened by the continual search for treatments and lack of discussion on a cure.

And maybe “cure” is not the right word.  Somewhere along the lines we decided that migraines were the problem and not just a symptom.  Of course, “not just a symptom” is downplaying the experience of someone who suffers from migraine headaches.  I truly understand the frustration and hopelessness that goes along with chronic, debilitating headaches.

All the evidence points to a combination of vascular dysfunction (basically a sickening of the health of your blood vessels) and mitochondrial dysfunction (an inability to make the energy needed for brain cells to survive and function the way they are supposed to.  This particular article, while a few years old (2011), highlights the process known as cortical spreading depression.

Cortical spreading depression is a slow wave of brain cells firing that occurs in a wave-like pattern.  Consider the proverbial wave at a sporting event, but when this wave occurs in the brain it wreaks havoc.  This review article summarizes the research that links cortical spreading depression to neurological disorders like migraines, stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage and traumatic brain injury.  In migraines, this cortical spreading depression may be the wave that creates the headache, while in stroke, hemorrhage and traumatic brain injury it is the result of the damage.  So, while cortical spreading depression is a principle piece of the migraine puzzle, the important question to ask is where does this come from in the first place?

Obviously in a stroke or traumatic brain injury there is damage that disrupts the brain cells.  But where is the “damage” that kicks off a migraine?  Rarely does this discussion come up between a migraine sufferer and the physician who is relied on for answers.  Instead, we dive wholeheartedly into controlling the headaches with medications.

I have said this hundreds of times now, but I’ll say it again, medications used to treat migraines do absolutely, positively NOTHING to fix the underlying problem.  And the underlying problem is a big one.  Poor blood vessel health / vascular health has strong links with cardiovascular problems (heart attacks, stroke and dementia).  Mitochondrial dysfunction is the root of all evil with links to pretty much every chronic disease.

The list of things to do to help improve the mitochondrial problem and improve blood vessel function is long enough to take up a book (which, conveniently, I happen to have written and can be found by clicking here).  The short list begins by avoiding behaviors that abuse the mitochondria in our brain cells.  Here are a few of the more dangerous risks:

After you’ve cleaned up the mess, the next thing to focus on is aspects of lifestyle that are well-known to protect the brain.  The general recommendations that I promote for all chronic diseases remains the same and can be found by clicking here.  Besides lifestyle, there are numerous supplements that have some pretty good support for protecting the brain.  These include:

  1. Vitamin D
  2. Choline
  3. Magnesium threonate
  4. Vitamin E.

These are things that HAVE to be fixed if you are a chronic migraine sufferer.  It’s not an option.  Controlling the headaches may be a very important step, but it can’t be the goal.  In the vast majority of patients, chronic migraine patients can be cured by making the right lifestyle choices.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.