I wrote here on the general naturopathic approach to treating migraines. As a rule, migraine predisposition tends to boil down to one of four things, or a combination of the following: food allergies, estrogen dominance, a backed-up liver, and/or cervical vertebral rotation or structural problems.
But what of those migraines that only show up with barometric changes?
The Weather Change Migraine Mechanism
The connection between migraines and weather has been proven at this point: in this study, 64% of participants suffered migraines following a drop in barometric pressure.
According to research from the 1990s and even earlier, the mechanism of migraines is neurovascular—meaning the nerves and blood vessels both play a role. Researchers agree that migraines are largely mediated by serotonin, which is the reason why Imitrex/sumatriptan (a serotonin receptor agonist, or stimulant) is such a popular migraine medication. But what has that got to do with the weather?
This study puts it this way: a small barometric pressure decrease leads to a small dilation of blood vessels in the brain. This triggers release of serotonin from platelets, where it’s stored—because your body is trying to create balance, and serotonin causes the blood vessels to constrict. When this compensation is too much, you get an “aura”, and sometimes tingling and numbness—resulting from too little blood flow to the brain. You then break down the excess serotonin to try to compensate again, triggering rebound dilation of blood vessels, and a migraine.
So this, at least apparently, is why pressure changes can trigger migraines.
Other Migraine Mechanisms (My Theory)
The whole process, as far as we can tell, hinges on that initial dilation of blood vessels in the brain. So what else, besides weather, can trigger this?
According to this study, there is also a mast cell connection. Mast cells are those cells that hold and release histamine; but they also store serotonin.
When allergies—be they food, environmental, or chemical—trigger the release of histamine, they can also release serotonin, I suspect setting off the aforementioned cascade.
My guess is, estrogen dominance bypasses the first step in the pathway and just directly triggers higher-than-normal serotonin levels, since estrogen and serotonin are correlated. This causes the subsequent blood vessel constriction, and rebound vasodilation.
What You Can Do
Based on your personal headache diary, identify your triggers.
- If you get migraines around your period, get your hormones balanced.
- If you get migraines from strong smells or perfume, do a liver cleanse.
- If you were in an accident or have neck pain, see your chiropractor for an adjustment.
- If you suspect food allergies, get tested or do an elimination diet.
If you get migraines from weather changes, I’d do all of the above first, since decreasing other triggers helps to stabilize the vessels in the brain.
If weather changes still do it, you might need to work on further stabilizing the vessels so they’re not so hyperreactive. Since the actual migraine results from low serotonin at the end of the process, this study shows that stabilizing your levels of serotonin with its precursor, 5-HTP, can help. Therefore you might consider a prophylactic dose of 5-HTP (listed below), as long as you’re not already on an antidepressant. (If you are, you might need supervision for this.)
This study also shows the efficacy of magnesium for migraine sufferers. Magnesium also mediates the serotonin release process, helping to stabilize the vessels; in fact, the linked study shows that most migraine sufferers are magnesium deficient. My caveat here: don’t go for magnesium oxide or sulfate. They’re not absorbable. Chelated forms, such as magnesium citrate, orotate, glycinate, taurate, etc are best; my usual recommendation for magnesium is listed below.
I’ve also had some patients who have had great results stabilizing their mast cells—natural options for this include Vitamin C and BCQ (Bromelain, Curcumin, and Quercetin, listed below). This, again, should block the initial serotonin release.