Are Migraines Really 'Caused' By Issues With Blood Flow To The Brain?
The Classic Explanation For Migraine
Migraine is defined as ‘recurrent attack of headache that are commonly unilateral and accompanied by gastrointestinal and visual disorders’.
Although I am not sure that’s the exact wording used by most migraine sufferers describe their migraines
Your average white coat type would explain migraine as “a complex neurovascular disorder involving local vasodilation of intracranial, extracerebral blood vessels and simultaneous stimulation of surrounding trigeminal sensory nervous pain pathway that results in headache”.
This impressive wordiness highlights the fact that traditionalists investigate migraine as a ‘medical disorder’ – they explain and study migraine as you might do so with a virus or a bacterial pathogen. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that as such.
For the migraine sufferer the vital question however is around whether looking at migraines ‘down the microscope’ is bringing us any closer to a solution.
A New Theory
According to Johns Hopkins – the old migraine theory about fluctuations in blood flow to the brain causing migraines has been pushed aside. Researchers have at last realised what clincians have known since day 1 – changes in blood flow and blood vessels don’t initiate the pain, at most they only contribute to it – and may in fact only be an incidental part of the far broader and more complex genesis of migraines.
Johns Hopkins article goes on to highlight the fact that newer explanations for migraine are focusing on the role of neurotransmitters and hormones serotonin and estrogen. The updated theory see’s waves of excitable brain cell activity being triggered by substances like serotonin and estrogen being the cause of migraine. A part of the support of this theory is the fact that facial and scalp nerves are far more responsive to pain when we have low serotonin levels.
But from my perspective – which I am going to claim is a valid one having successfully managed several thousand migraine patients in my time as a clinician – is that the updated ‘neurotransmitter theory’ is really not any deeper or more insightful than the blood flow theory.
Not only do these heavily ‘physiological’ explanations for migraine continue to overlook the true cause of most migraines – they don’t lead us any closer to an ideal migraine solution – a non-toxic – no drug based – removal of / adjustment to the underlying cause. Which would constitute the healing of the migraine problem – as opposed to just managing the migraine problem through trigger avoidance and pharmaceuticals.
NB. I am not knocking the use of pharmaceuticals for ‘managing’ migraines of any other condition for that matter. I am just saying that a better option would be one that treated the migraine at its root cause! If that is a possibility…
Is There A ‘Known’ Cause Of Migraine?
So what am I claiming that the root cause of migraine is?
The root cause of migraine headaches in most cases lies in the chronic and habitual ‘emotional habits‘ of the migraine sufferer – and the ‘as yet unknown by science’ way those emotional patterns upset the function of the internal organs (mainly the liver) – the upper neck and central nervous system. The most common emotional themes in this respect with migraine sufferers is the repression of frustration and anger.
And believe it or not there is research that lends some weight to this touchy feely explanation for migraine. And the American Migraine Foundation are well aware of this important theme too. And if you take the time to read that AMF article it’s worth reflecting on the amount of anger that many victims of abuse must feel.
And as a further proof that I am not being ‘woo woo’ with you – even the good old WebMD is able to acknowledge that emotions are a factor in migraines and headaches.
Not only is there research on the connectedness of migraines and emotional stress – there is also research that sits within the realm of being able to show that management of stress can actually reduce migraine.
And did I forget to mention a study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain concluded that chronic tension headache and migraine headache patients present with a ‘significant impairment of anger control’. Not that this lack of control applies to all migraine sufferers – in fact many control their anger to excessive levels and create issues for themselves through supprresssion. Does this sound familiar to you?
Which brings us full circle to Johns Hopkins and the ‘serotonin update’. If you are an unhappy bunny it messes with your serotonin levels – we have known that for ages! So when you understand the real underlying and easily observable common patterns that cause migraine it’s not at all surprising that when we look ‘down the microscope’ there is abnormal neurotransmitter activity – that’s what you would expect in people who aren’t happy for long periods of time surely?
If you bash your knee and I take a tissue sample from your bashed knee there will be inflammatory compounds present – but the inflammatory compounds are not the problem – the bashing of the knee was the problem. Migraine is a bit like that – emotional patterns mess with the biocemistry and ’cause’ the headaches. There is a difference between ‘coincidence’ and causality in other words.
The biochemistry doesn’t just mysteriously up-end itself and cause migraines I promise you. There are doubtlessly genetic components but we know genes are not the only determinant in genetic conditions – lifestyle and stress huge influential.
The emotional patterns and traits that classic migraine sufferers present with are super predictable – and easily obsevable if you know what to look for – but you won’t see any of that stuff if you are too busy peering down a microscope instead of looking at the whole person.
This isn’t gospel – the science has a long way to go before I can offer this view and say it has been rigorously tested in the academic sense. For now in all fairness its just my observation – and the observation of countless other ‘soldiers in the front line’ of migraine management.
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Pain is a symptom. Symptoms are the feedback that the body generates when it faces problems with its delicate internal balance (homeostasis). Without symptoms like pain, thirst, nausea and fevers, it would be very difficult for us to maintain a healthy body in the same way that it would be hard to drive a car safely with no dashboard display.
John is one of those rare gentlemen who has continued to play competitive soccer well into his late 50s. He is in really good shape, which you need to be to play football at that age—good shape except for his left leg. His left leg is not in good condition at all. In fact, once you get to know his left leg a bit better, it becomes apparent that it’s miraculous that he’s able to run at all, Let alone the type of running required to play competitive soccer against younger men.