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What Are The Underlying Causes Of Chronic Migraines?

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Migraine is a chronic complex disorder potentially caused due to the interactions between genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Here is a brief analysis of the common causes of migraines and the effective ways to eliminate them.

What is a migraine headache?

Migraine is a neurological disorder known to cause multiple symptoms. It is characterized by severe debilitating headaches.

The symptoms may include vomiting, nausea, difficulty in speaking, numbness and tingling in the hands, and increased sensitivity to sound and light. Migraine can affect people of all ages and has been found to run in families indicating it could be genetically linked.

What are the underlying causes of migraines & what can you do?

  • Gut-related causes of migraine food (gut-brain connection)
  • Leaky gut and dysbiosis is often found in individuals with migraines
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Lifestyle causes of migraines: high stress and poor sleep
  • Some migraine sufferers have higher levels of cortisol
  • Seizures are a common correlation in individuals with frequent migraines
  • Chemical sensitivities can cause migraines
  • Hormonal factors such as oestrogen / progesterone imbalances
  • Key nutritional deficiencies (B vitamins, magnesium…)

The role of hormones

Disruptions in the levels of hormones could trigger an attack of migraines. Hormonal migraines are more commonly associated with the imbalances in the levels of female hormones, particularly estrogens.

Nearly 60 percent of women having migraines develop it due to the disruption in the secretion of hormones, specifically those related to menstruation.

In these cases, the attacks of migraine may occur during ovulation or before, during, or after menstrual flow. The treatment of migraines in these cases should be aimed at identifying the cause of hormonal disruptions and correcting them.

Balancing hormones and supporting liver detoxification

Inadequate estrogen excretion may result in excess circulating estrogens – worsening symptoms of endometrioses.
Zinc, vitamin B6 and magnesium synergistically work together to support hormones synthesis and specifically the production of progesterone. Magnesium also impacts the detoxification of estrogen metabolites in the liver and bowels – thus a deficiency can contribute to circulating estrogen levels. Including cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli (or supplemental with DIM) can help support healthy estrogen metabolism.

An overall pro-inflammatory and oxidative state

Chronic inflammation in the vital organs and tissues and increased oxidative stress can contribute to the development of migraine attacks. The intensity and severity of migraines may also be higher in people with a more severe inflammatory state.
Damage to healthy tissues by free radicals and the release of pro-inflammatory substances by the immune cells could worsen the body’s sensitivity to environmental factors thus increasing the risk of migraines.

Reducing factors that cause inflammation is paramount: read more here:

One of the most fundamental benefits of increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids is the profound anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3’s can help to mitigate inflammation and improve immune function.

Quercetin is a flavonoid that can be found in vegetables and fruits, such as leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. It is rich in antioxidants, full of anti-inflammatory benefits and can fight free-radical damage.

Mitochondrial dysfunctions

Mitochondrial dysfunctions may contribute to the increased frequency of migraine attacks.

Mitochondrial dysfunctions indicate a deep-seated problem at the cellular level that might affect the processes involved in the production of energy. The loss of adequate supply of energy could hamper the body’s ability to fight diseases or prevent inflammation and oxidative stress thus worsening the risk of migraines further.

Coenzyme Q10 aids mitochondria energy production and is a part of the antioxidant system. CoQ10 is essential for daily functions and required by every cell in the body.

Ozone increases antioxidant protection by activating Nrf2 more than any other therapy. Under conditions of stress, activation of Nrf2 counteracts the increased reactive oxygen species production in mitochondrial.

Common migraine triggers

Exposure to factors such as stress, environmental toxins and pollutants, and food allergies or sensitivities can trigger the attacks of migraine.
Migraine attacks linked to mental stress are sometimes referred to as tension- headaches.
Moreover, environmental factors like strong smells, flickering screens, second-hand smoke, stuffy rooms, loud noises, bright lights, and temperature changes can trigger the attacks of migraines.

Food triggers

The treatment of migraines should involve identifying and eliminating food triggers such as MSG, tyramines, phenylethylamine, nitrates, dairy products, alcohol, and gluten.
Hypersensitivity or allergy to these foods can lead to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that might result in more intense and frequent attacks of migraines.
Avoiding your intake of these foods could reduce inflammation and free radical damage caused due to allergy and food sensitivity and minimize the attacks of migraines.

Nutritional support

The inadequate supply of nutrients or an inability to uptake nutrients in the body could increase the risk of migraines. Therefore, a focus should be aimed at providing optimum nutritional support.

The nutritional supplements commonly recommended for the management of migraines also include those that possess natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Specific nutrients such as CoQ10, magnesium, B vitamins, melatonin, and L-tryptophan have been found to be effective in the management of migraines. B vitamins are believed to work by improving the functions of the immune and nervous systems while melatonin and magnesium could help by restoring a healthy sleep pattern.
L-tryptophan and CoQ10 are particularly recommended for controlling inflammation and oxidative stress so that the pathological processes responsible for migraines could be reversed or slowed down.

Detoxification and toxins

One of the primary functions of the liver is toxin management and removal know as detoxification. Repeated exposure to toxic chemicals, environmental pollutants, drugs etc. can increase the detoxification burden. This overload leads to an increased production of free radicals and subsequent damage to various body systems. Therefore, addressing the toxic overload is important to reduce headaches and migraines.

Lifestyle factors

The risk of migraines is associated with the lifestyle habits of the patients.

The unhealthy dietary habits, smoking, lack of sleep, and excessive alcohol consumption may lead to the development of inflammatory diseases, GI disorders, and obesity making a person prone to develop recurrent migraine attacks.
The common dietary factors linked to the higher risk of migraines include MSG, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, citrus fruits, cheese, and foods containing an additive called tyramine.

Lifestyle considerations

Therefore, individuals are advised to adopt healthy lifestyle habits and avoid smoking, alcohol intake, and the use of drugs known to cause addition to be able to avoid the attacks of migraines.

Moreover, efforts should be made to restore a healthy sleep pattern. Going to the bed and getting up in the morning at the same times every day is considered an effective way to regulate the body’s internal biological clock and restore a healthy sleep-wake pattern.

Getting adequate sleep would reduce mental stress, control inflammation, minimize oxidative stress, promote repair processes, and boost immunity thereby providing significant relief from migraines.

Anti-inflammatory diet

Chronic inflammation is considered the root cause of migraine. It is possible to avoid the attacks of migraine by adopting healthy dietary habits and including natural anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, honey, and herbs such as turmeric and neem. At the same time, you should also minimize your intake of pro-inflammatory foods such as sugars and unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats.


 Individuals suffering from migraines are advised to follow a comprehensive functional medicine approach to not only alleviate the symptoms but remove the cause of migraines. The treatment should be aimed at meeting the body’s nutritional demands, correcting hormonal imbalances, and identifying and eliminating triggers.

2 Responses

  1. In my 20’s I use to suffer terribly from migraines especially after having lunch. As more and more mercury was removed from my body (losing teeth etc) my migraines vanished completely. My only regret is that I wish I started learning functional medicine at the age of 26 instead of 66. Better late than never! Thank you TrulyHeal for giving my life a purpose and meaning even at retirement age.

    1. You are welcome. Without our mistakes we would not evolve and learn and we could not pass on what we have learned to future generations. only through making these mistakes can mankind evolve.

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