Do You Suffer From Menstrual Migraines?
Approximately 70% of people who experience migraines are women, and often these are connected to certain times in their menstrual cycle – more specifically around menstruation. . Women are 3 x more likely to get migraines than men and research shows that almost 12% of women experience menstrual migraines at some point in their lives.
A ‘menstrual migraine’ is one type of migraine seen a lot by women. Other types of migraines are aura, migraine without aura and chronic migraine. Although you may be ‘lucky’ enough to suffer from all of these! There are also ‘menstrually related migraines’, which is when you can get migraines at any time of the month but your menses is also a trigger for more migraines.
Why Do They Happen?
When women suffer migraines, it’s often related to changes in the levels of estrogen. Levels of estrogen drop immediately before the start of your period and may continue through the first few days. This kind of migraine mostly occurs during or after the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, have dropped to their lowest level.
Menstrual migraines are triggered by the drop in estrogen levels whereas other migraines can be triggered by a whole load of reasons such as stress, forgetting to eat, too much caffeine, or something else. Things like starting new hormonal birth control or using HRT during menopause can also trigger migraines, so if you’ve just started one of these treatments it could be worthwhile speaking to your doctor.
What Can I Do?
There are a range of medical treatments for menstrual migraines including NSAIDs, BetaBlockers and Triptans and some doctors even recommend starting hormonal birth control, although keep in mind every drug comes with its own host of side effects. You should always discuss any medication with your doctor.
There are however a range of natural treatments which may work for you.
Self-care is your top priority for any kind of migraine. It’s important to rest well and decrease any potential stress during menstruation. Aiming to live a yoga lifestyle can help to realign all aspects of your life, improving things like your energy levels and overall emotional well-being too. Self-care throughout the month is vital though – not just when you’re bleeding. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and aim to get 7-8 hours per night if possible, also try to get up and go to bed around the same time. Don’t skip meals – this in itself can trigger migraines and always try to eat protein with every meal. Regular cardio and a daily yoga practice will help also.
Aligning your menstrual cycle with the lunar phases has also been said to reduce menstrual symptoms such as migraines and PMS. The moon is especially important for women as it’s full of feminine energy. It represents wisdom, intuition and the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. The moon has a powerful effect on the ocean’s tides, and can even alter how we feel, as our bodies are made up of 60% water. The pull of the moon and its effects are undeniable, and are the key to a deeply connected feminine yoga practice…
Magnesium is a saviour for migraine sufferers. There is evidence to support the efficacy of magnesium in treating menstrual migraines, with one study showing that women who took magnesium for 12 weeks had a 42 percent less chance of migraine attacks (Cephalalgia.) Try taking a daily magnesium supplement – not only will this help prevent menstrual migraines, teamed with calcium and zinc, this is a supplement all women (especially over 40) should be taking for overall wellness.
Aromatherapy can also be used as a preventative measure for migraine. Once a migraine attack has begun, many sufferers are unable to tolerate the scent of essential oils. Some oils to try are Citronella, Lemongrass, Lavender and Peppermint. Regular self-massage and light tapping on the forehead and scalp with oils has been shown to help.
You also try to avoid foods that trigger your migraines or even try a complete hormone reset. Some foods that are common migraine triggers to be aware of are alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners, processed meat, and cheeses too. I had the worst migraine ever when I had a Mexican dish covered in cheese, a glass of wine and an espresso to finish the meal: A combo I now know to avoid!
Awareness of the right nutrition to support you throughout the month or a regular nutritional cleanse can be hugely beneficial. I recommend journaling any possible triggers outside of menstruation that you identify, and also any signs that a migraine is starting (to quickly take any prescribed meds) and to avoid these triggers in the future.
What About My Yoga Practice?
Multiple studies have shown that yoga practice and meditation are excellent for every aspect of reducing the frequency and severity of migraines. Over-exerting yourself can trigger migraines, so look towards a slower, more flowing, or restorative yoga practice throughout the month. Forget the HIIT workouts and powerlifting.
Although I recommend a daily yoga practice for the prevention of menstrual migraines, moving around during a migraine could make things worse. If you are able to get out of bed and the migraine is not yet too severe, there are a few yoga postures that could actually be beneficial.
My top 5 postures for preventing and reducing the severity of menstrual migraines would have to be:
Balasana (Child’s Pose): Everyone’s favourite 🙂 This pose calms your mind and destresses your body and also allows you to stretch and shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for someone suffering from migraine. By resting your forehead on the mat, you’re actually activating pressure points that can help relieve migraines.
Uttanasana (standing forward bend): Forward bends increase blood circulation to refresh the nervous system. It also allows you to relax, let go of any tension and calm your mind.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downwards Facing Dog): This pose improves blood circulation too and gives quite a bit of relief from headaches. It stretches your body, clears your mind and strengthens your bones
Bidalasana (Cat Curls): Cat curls not only relieve tension in the upper body but also help boost blood flow and circulation in the body. This can bring more oxygen to the brain and can help ease some headache pain.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose): This pose is a truly restorative posture. Your blood is now flowing in the opposite direction—towards your brain. The more blood and oxygen moving towards the brain, the less painful your migraine might be.
Pranayama such as Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana is also a great choice for relieving menstrual headaches. This is a cooling and calming breathing practice that can help to relieve tension in the head and face.
The most important thing to remember if you are suffering from menstrual migraines, is to listen to your body: What is it trying to tell you? Practice awareness of your menstrual cycle throughout the month and try to ‘feed’ your body or give it what it needs so that you can work with your natural hormonal fluctuations.
To find out more about menstrual cycle awareness and aligning your yoga practice throughout the month, check out my best selling Yoga for Life Journal, available on Amazon and in all good bookstores 🙂
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I’m an inclusive, not scary, totally normal yet heavily qualified yoga instructor and founder of YogaBellies® and the Birth ROCKS Method. I’m trained in self hypnosis and meditation and what I love is helping women (ALL women) enjoy yoga without having to whisper all the time and wear fancy activewear that cost a month’s rent.
I believe Yoga is for everyone.