The Hormonal Connection to Headaches + Migraines
By Jess Suchan, YHB’s Holistic Health Coach, @bodyblissbyjess
Do you suffer from monthly headaches or migraines that seem to pop up
right before your period? Or maybe you notice them happening during times
of heightened stress or travel? Do they come on 12-24 hours after you eat
certain foods or go too long without water? Bottom line: headaches can
disrupt the quality of your life and migraines can be completely debilitating!
The good news? Getting to the root of your triggers is possible and so is
leading a headache/migraine free lifestyle!
First, it’s important to note that changes in our hormone levels can be a
major trigger for headaches & migraines which is one of the key reasons
they are 3X more prevalent in women than men!
HORMONE TRIGGER 1: Many women experience premenstrual headaches/
migraines which can be triggered by the drop in estrogen that happens right
before your period. Combine this with a decline in serotonin (the feel good
neurotransmitter) which relies on estrogen for production and you've got 2
We also have a lower threshold for pain before our period as estrogen
regulates pain through chemicals in our brain & body! So, when estrogen is
low, the brain doesn’t intercept these pain signals as well which is why pain
can be more intense during your premenstrual week!
For some women, the decline in estrogen right after ovulation can trigger
headaches so you may notice them happening up to 2 weeks before your
period (this is why tracking your cycle via an app like My Flo and inputting
symptoms like headaches can be super helpful). If your hormones are in
healthy ranges you are less likely to experience headaches & migraines, which is why the steps taken to naturally rebalance are KEY. Other triggers include: barometric pressure, high levels of caffeine or sugar, poor sleep, loud sounds, strong scents, certain foods like aged cheeses, red wine, chocolate, processed foods, vegetable oils, & dehydration.
HORMONE TRIGGER 2: Post pregnancy! During pregnancy, estrogen levels
soar and most women see improvement in their headaches/migraines, but
afterwards, high estrogen levels plummet which can bring them back with a
vengeance after birth. According to Dr. Aviva Romm - 1 in 4 women
experience migraines in the 1st 2 weeks after giving birth and 50% will
get a migraine in the 1st month. For new mamas, sleepless nights, stress,
anxiety & a new (and all encompassing) routine can add more triggers which is why setting boundaries for yourself & carving out mindful moments for self-care is key.
HORMONE TRIGGER 3: In our 40’s and into early 50’s, as estrogen starts to
decline and fluctuate (perimenopause), we can experience symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, sleep loss, vaginal dryness (which can make sex painful) & a new onset of worsening migraines! Note: Migraines usually drop dramatically in menopause (12 months without a period, around 52).
HORMONE TRIGGER 4: Hormonal Birth Control. Some women experience headaches with the estrogen-containing form of the pill. The week of placebo pills creates a drop in estrogen which can trigger withdrawal headaches or migraines. You can try skipping the placebo week to see if this helps, but if you do decide to come off the birth control pill (which we’d recommend), it’s important to transition safely (and not cold turkey) to eliminate post-pill symptoms like migraines. Read the book Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten to prepare yourself in the best possible way!
GETTING TO THE ROOT OF YOUR TRIGGERS:
Migraines will not just go away with medication (which is a bandaid approach), so it’s crucial to get to the root so that you can understand your unique triggers and take steps to minimize them for lasting relief!
1. Keep a headache journal- when one arises, ask yourself: “what was I doing in the 24 hours before?” (food, beverages, stress levels, travel, dehydration, etc.) to notice patterns & connect the dots to what may be setting them off.
Note: there is a threshold so the more potential triggers you have in one day (i.e. coffee + red wine + stress + travel), the more likely you are to have a headache/migraine, meaning that even when you learn your unique triggers, you may not get a headache every time you come into contact with them (if the total load is still relatively low). For example, I can have small amounts of wine but if I don’t drink enough water & pair my wine with a hormone-balancing meal, it’s very likely I will get a bad headache or a migraine!
3. Get your hormones tested! Uncovering hidden hormonal imbalances via saliva testing like we offer at YHB is incredibly helpful because estrogen dominance can be a root for headaches & taking natural steps to rebalance will go a long way to finding relief!
1. Incorporate phytoestrogen foods, (especially during your menstrual week), to help balance estrogen levels- like flax & sesame seeds, organic whole tofu, tempeh, edamame, & lentils. Seed cycling can be really helpful too and easy to incorporate into your routine. Learn more HERE. I love to use Replenished Roots seed cycling blends for convenience. Use code BODYBLISSBYJESS10 for 10% off.
2. Enjoy anti-inflammatory foods, herbs & spices to reduce inflammation (a root cause for headaches) like grass fed meat, wild caught fish, pasture raised eggs, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, extra virgin olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, etc.
3. Reduce sugar, caffeine, processed foods & alcohol - Find “sexy swaps” (healthier alternatives for the food & drinks you crave) & don't skip meals or start your day with coffee on empty stomach. Check out my Sexy Swaps & Recipe guide with TONS of ideas, product suggestions AND exclusive discount codes for brands. Use code YHB10 for $10 off.
4. Incorporate tryptophan rich foods which turns into 5HTP, that then converts into serotonin, and can be found in foods like bananas, turkey, nuts, tuna, & cacao (add my Rose & Shine energy & detox latte blend into steamed milk for a healthy & delicious hot cocoa). Use code: BALANCE10 for 10% off
5. Fill up with 25-35 grams of fiber per day which helps to sweep excess estrogen out of the body like a broom & keep things moving (if constipated, estrogen recirculates in the body). Great sources include: lentils, beans, raspberries, avocado, flax & chia seeds + cruciferous veggies which contain a compound called DIM for further estrogen sweeping.
6. Enjoy nutrient rich carbs like sweet potatoes, winter squash, beans, oats & quinoa for hormone supportive nutrients & to keep serotonin levels steady to prevent hormonal headaches! Carbs are the building blocks to serotonin production so don’t eliminate or restrict them, but rather focus on eating majority whole based variations (especially before your period) and balancing them with substantial amounts of healthy protein & fat sources! No wonder we feel angry when we go too long without carbs ;)
7. Wean off migraine medications which can cause rebound headaches and create dependency & withdrawal migraines- this is a vicious cycle & one I had to learn the hard way! It can be tough at first, but will save you so much pain in the long run.
8. Incorporate stress reducing practices like mindful meals (away from distractions), deep breathing, a midday shower with essential oils like lavender and peppermint, digital detox, yoga, having fun, pushing deadlines & saying “no"!
9. Stretching! Neck tension from sitting at desks all day and bending over laptops and phones devices can be a headache trigger, so schedule stretch breaks into your calendar, use a massage gun, or ask your partner to massage you, use fascia balls, or lay on an acupressure mat like this.
10. Load up on lavender & peppermint essential oils and add a few drops to your temples or wrist (dilute peppermint with a carrier oil like almond oil so it’s not as strong next to your eyes). I personally LOVE Saje Wellness’ peppermint Halo and never leave on a trip without it!
11. Incorporate the following: magnesium to calm the mind & body (this one by Mary Ruth Organics is my fav), 64-100oz water daily, Ultima electrolytes for extra hydration (use code BODYBLISS20 for 20% off), butterbur (anti-inflammatory herb) & a turmeric/ginger tincture like this one by Leefy Organics (it tastes great)!
1. Heal Your Headache, the 1-2-3 Step Program by David Bucholz - an amazing book written by a neurologist who has cured thousands of patients of their migraines! This was the book that changed my life and helped me find out my core triggers.
2. The Dizzy Cook- tons of delicious recipes, free from the top migraine triggering foods (which will support the elimination eating plan in the Heal Your Headache book).
I know it can seem like a long road to really get to the core of your
headache/migraine struggles but once you take the steps (and learn to be
your own compassionate detective), it becomes extremely empowering to
know how to keep your triggers low and the natural steps you can take for
balancing your hormones to support your healing and pain free lifestyle!
Have a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in testing your hormone levels and getting started on an all-natural rebalancing plan? Check out our at-home hormone testing + consulting packages HERE.