Migraine- More Than Just a Headache
Migraines are considered one of the most globally incapacitating conditions world wide. Migraines are poorly understood by conventional medicine. We know they are more than just a bad headache. They are not experienced by everyone. Those who experience migraines note incapacitating, usually one-sided (but about 1/3 of the time both sided) headache that lasts from hours to 2-3 days. Migraines are associated with other not so nice symptoms. Often there is nausea and vomiting as well as some type of visual disturbance from tunnel vision to flashes of light. Some people get tingling or numbness in their face. It is typical to have extreme hyper-sensitivity during a migraine to light, noise, touch and smell. In many first time cases symptoms can mimic a stroke and warrant immediate work up in the ER. Unfortunately many people with migraines do not respond well to conventional treatments and can suffer from severe attacks several times per month.
We have a fun mnemonic to diagnose migraine: POUND
- Pulsatile quality
- One-day length (on average)
- Usually unilateral (one-sided)
- Nausea or vomiting
Conventional Treatment has Side Effects
There are basically two general approaches to migraine treatment- treat an acute attack early, and prevent recurrent, frequent attacks over the long term. The common treatments for acute attacks are a combination of aspirin, motrin, caffeine, and tylenol. Triptans (like sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, and rizatriptan) are also commonly used. These can often fend off an acute migraine attack but aspirin, motrin, caffeine and tylenol can cause headaches if overused. Asprin and motrin can cause ulcers and kidney failure in high doses- especially if used continuously. These NSAIDs as well as tylenol are known to be toxic to our body’s powerhouse- the mitochondria. The science on this is still evolving. Tryptans interact with serotonin receptors. There is evidence that using triptans can dramatically change our neurochemistry– and in some patients triptans can make migraines a more chronic condition. There is potential for serotonin syndrome (I have seen one case that unfortunately resulted in death- though not from triptans) and triptans have a constricting effect on blood vessels- they shouldn’t be used in small children or pregnant women. The constricting action maes them contraindicated in patients with diseases of blood vessels- anything from Raynaud’s to heart disease. We don’t always know who might have undiagnosed heart disease. I once had a sweet Nepalese-speaking only patient who received sumatriptan in the middle of the night. She started having severe anxiety and chest pain. Usually the phone medical translator service is stellar but for some of the less spoken languages it can fall a bit short. It can feel like a bad comedy when after the patient gives a long discourse in her mother tongue the translator utters a single short English sentence. And vice versa. Fortunately, she turned out fine and did not have any detectable heart damage.
Sometimes we can decrease how often migraines occur by giving a daily medicine. Nothing makes me happier than giving one drug for two problems and getting really good results. Sometimes half the month of migraines can be reduced to 4 days per month just by changing a patient’s blood pressure medicine. But this is not always possible and the results aren’t always so good.
Anthroposophic Approach to Migraine
With a humanized thinking can we have some success with understanding and treating migraine? The science says yes. In this study of patients treated with an Anthroposophic approach their severity of migraines decreased by about 50% and their symptom score decreased by 1/3rd compared with before treatment.
Using Language to Describe Deeper Experience
Rudolf Steiner is renowned for using funny analogies to describe his observations of the deeper spiritual human being. We will explore such phrases as “the human is an upside down plant“, “cancer is a sense organ trying to form where it doesn’t belong“, and “an ulcer is an eye process in the wrong sphere“. I understand this use of language as being similar to the way a skilled wine taster tries to explain their experiences in the gustatory realm. They have worked hard to cultivate and refine their sense of taste and smell but they need to put their much more refined experience into words. Interestingly, there is an appreciation of humanized, biodynamic agriculture in these advanced tasters. Similarly, a poet may be best equipped to relay the inner experience of a color to a blind person.
Steiner described the migraine as a problem of the digestive process moving beyond the boundaries of the stomach and intestine and being completed in the nervous system. Humanized medicine sees the human being in three interworking spheres- the nerve-sense, the metabolic, and the balancing rhythmic sphere. It is interesting that many foods are known to trigger migraines and there is a clear association of nausea and vomiting as the metabolic sphere attempts to clear its system. Blood vessel constriction decreases the interplay of the metabolic into the nerve-sense and this is exactly the effect of the triptans. Medicines working the other way (nitroglycerin for example) as a vasodilator will often trigger a migraine or other headache. Of course, much of this was unknown in Steiner’s time but his insights hold true and helped to develop several key medicines. We will describe the most typical remedy Biodoron (AKA Bidor) a mixture of iron, sulphur, and quartz.
Biodoron has proven effective to treat and prevent migraines both in studies such as the above and in many patient’s experience. Sulphur awakens and strengthens the metabolic system leading it to take up its task in digestion. The experience of smelling burning sulphur reaches directly to the will often provoking an immediate movement response. Iron is the mediator supporting the rhythmic system (heart, lungs and circulatory system). These constantly adjust and balance the nerve-sense sphere and the metabolic sphere. Silica (quartz) completes this remedy as a buttress for the nerve-sense system.
Biodoron should be taken at the first sign of migraine onset (1-2 tablets) and followed by a tablet every 3 hours as needed. Otherwise they can be taken twice daily for several weeks. Combined with a diet eliminating possible migraine triggers and other therapies this can often be effective as a beginning of a natural migraine treatment. Eurythmy is often essential to address the underlying constitutional imbalance. A gentle lemon oil foot rub can help alleviate a migraine by drawing the metabolic process back downwards. A mustard footbath can similarly strengthen the metabolic pole.
Even if conventional medicines cannot be entirely avoided they can usually be significantly reduced.