October 4, 2014

Five ways to Eliminate Migraines. ~ Dr. Mark Hyman


Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. For serious.


If you’ve ever suffered a migraine, I don’t need to describe the feeling.

These severe, nearly disabling headaches can last from hours to days and create nausea, vomiting, and severe throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head. In extreme cases, migraines can even carry stroke-like symptoms or paralysis.

Migraines are not inexpensive to treat. One survey found they cost U.S. employers over 24 billion dollars each year in direct and indirect healthcare costs. A 2014 study at the University of Michigan Medical School found one in eight visits to a doctor for a headache or migraine end up with the patient going for a brain scan, at a total cost of about one billion dollars each year.

Migraines have indirect costs as well. One study in The American Journal of Managed Care found that the annual cost to employers exceeded $14.5 billion, of which $7.9 billion was due to absenteeism and $5.4 billion was due to diminished productivity.

Migraines drain more than just money. “Worldwide, migraine on its own is the cause of 1.3 % of all years of life lost to disability,” says a 2011 report in the World Health Organization (WHO). If a migraine forced you to take a sick day or miss out on an important event, you understand just how debilitating and life draining they can become.

Conventional Approaches Don’t Work

Doctors know how to look at a migraine’s effects, but not its underlying causes. Conventional approaches for migraines can have poor results, and prescription drugs often become ineffective and carry adverse side effects.

A newer class of medication called triptans can stop a migraine once it starts, but they can be expensive, carry serious potential side effects (including strokes), and create addiction or dependence.

Migraines are simply a set of symptoms. The name tells us nothing about the symptom’s causes, of which there are over 20 that vary with each person.

Even if you’ve struggled with migraines for years without relief, your case isn’t hopeless. Using Functional Medicine, I have been able to get nearly 100 percent of my patients migraine-free in days or weeks.

Rather than simply prescribe drugs to treat migraines, as a medical detective I search for underlying causes. My initial approach involves evaluating a patient’s symptoms including palpitations, severe constipation, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps, and menstrual cramps. All these symptoms are connected.

From that approach, I’ve found these five most frequent migraine culprits and how to approach them and find relief.

1. Food Allergies/Bowel and Gut Imbalances


  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Bloating
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Postnasal drip
  • Sinus congestion

Testing: Do an IgG food allergy panel and a celiac panel because wheat and gluten are among the biggest causes of headaches and migraines. One study in the journal Headache found migraines more prevalent in people with celiac disease and irritable bowel disease (IBD). You should also consider stool testing and urine testing for yeast or bacterial imbalances.

Treatment: An elimination diet—getting rid of gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, and yeast—is a good way to start. Adding in enzymes, probiotics, and omega-3 fats help create and maintain a healthy gut.

2. Chemical Triggers

Causes: A processed-food diet including:

  • Aspartame
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Nitrates (in deli meats)
  • Sulfites (found in wine, dried fruit, and food from salad bars)
  • Tyramine-containing foods like chocolate and cheese

Treatment: Remove processed foods, additives, sweeteners, and sulfites. Focus on whole, phytonutrient-rich foods.

3. Hormonal Imbalances


  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) with bloating, fluid retention, cravings, irritability, breast tenderness, menstrual cramps
  • Oral contraceptive pills or hormone replacement therapy
  • Being pre-menopausal, which leads to too much estrogen and not enough progesterone because of ovulation changes
  • Studies associate insulin resistance with chronic migraines

Testing: Blood or saliva hormone testing looks for menopausal changes or too much estrogen.


  • Eat a whole-foods, low-glycemic load, high-phytonutrient diet with flax, soy, and cruciferous vegetables
  • Use herbs such as Vitex, along with magnesium and B6
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and refined carbohydrates
  • Focus on exercise and stress reduction

4. Magnesium Deficiencies


  • Cramps or a tight feeling
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety, insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Muscle cramps or twitching
  • Palpitations

Testing: Check red blood cell magnesium levels, though keep in mind you might have total body deficiencies.

Treatment: Supplement with a highly absorbable form of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate powder. One study in the journal Clinical Neuroscience found oral magnesium supplementation provides a low-cost way to reduce migraine frequency. If you have kidney disease of any kind, do this only with a doctor’s supervision.

5. Mitochondrial Imbalances

Symptoms: While sometimes migraines are the only symptoms, sometimes the migraines occur with:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aching
  • Brain fog

Testing: Check urinary organic acids to assess mitochondria function and energy production.


Other Approaches

Consider combining treatments, try herbal therapies, and consider complementary approaches like acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and osteopathic treatment to fix structural problems.

If you’ve struggled with migraines, what strategy worked best to find relief? Have you implemented complementary or alternative therapies to alleviate migraines? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.




AK Dimi et al., “Prevalence of migraine in patients with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease,” Headache 53, no 2 (2013):344-55.

A Fava et al., “Chronic migraine in women is associated with insulin resistance: a cross-sectional study,” European Journal of Neurology 21, no 2 (2014):267-72.

A Mauskopet al., “Role of magnesium in the pathogenesis and treatment of migraines,” Clinical Neuroscience 5, no 1 (1998):24-7.

TD Rosen et al., “Open label trial of coenzyme Q10 as a migraine preventive,” Celphalgia22, no 2 (2002):137-41.







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Ceevee Jan 22, 2016 4:07pm

What about migraines triggered by weather?

Susan Weber Oct 6, 2014 12:39am

I am a chronic sufferer and although I have tried all of these things and hold a strict diet and exercise regime, I still rely on medicine to control my migraines. While the diet and suppliments reduce my migraines, this is not a cure for many of us and should not be presented as such.

Hannah Eagle Oct 5, 2014 8:46am

Thank you for such a thorough article. I have been dealing with silent migraines – a throbbing in my head without the headache. I have realized i have a histamine intolerance. Eating foods produce alot of histamine as well as being dehydrated, increase the problem and can also cause a headache, eliminating those foods diminishes the problem. Those foods include alcohol, fermented foods, anything aged, like aged cheeses, smoked meats, left overs, even yogurt! You can google "histamine intolerance" and find good lists of other foods to avoid. And stay Hydrated!! Drink at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces every day. More if you drink tea or coffee, since they are a diuretic.

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Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues.
Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.