By Dr. Leena Athparia, ND, AAWC
Almost everyone has had a migraine or headache at some point in their life, but for many individuals chronic migraines can be debilitating and impact daily life. Conventional medicine has several tools to help ease the pain of migraines – though not without side effects. While these medications are commonly prescribed or taken over the counter, they don’t necessarily address the root of the issue. In this article, the words migraine and headache may be used interchangeably; though they manifest slightly differently, the treatment approach is similar.
Ayurveda and other systems such as Naturopathic medicine or TCM have developed thorough systems of assessments to help identify various types of migraines stemming from a variety of causes. The first step to healing headaches is to understand why they are manifesting in the first place. Once the imbalance is identified, a treatment plan can be laid out.
Causes of Headaches & Migraines
Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is not right. Headaches could be a sign of dehydration or lack of sleep – a signal to get some rest. Chronic headaches can also be a sign of a more serious or underlying issue such as inflammation in the brain due to food sensitivities, auto-immune diseases or from chronic structural issues such as poor posture or injuries. Some common causes of migraines and headaches:
- Food allergies
- Weather changes
- Postural imbalances
- Eye strain
According to Ayurveda, headaches are seen as a sign of dosha imbalances – when the equilibrium of the 5 elements is lost, there is an accumulation of vata, pitta or kapha leading to symptoms. The location, quality, severity, duration and characteristics of the migraine can give clear information on the specific dosha imbalance. Tongue & pulse assessments can further reveal the individual’s prakruti and vikruti.
Types of Headaches & Migraines
According to Ayurveda, headaches are seen as a sign of dosha imbalances – when the equilibrium of the 5 elements is lost, there is an accumulation of vata, pitta or kapha leading to symptoms. The location, quality, severity, duration and characteristics of the migraine can give clear information on the specific dosha imbalance. Tongue & pulse assessments can further reveal the individual’s prakruti and vikruti. Migraines can be classified into 3 major types:
Vata headaches are often caused by fear, stress, anxiety and chronic muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. These headaches are often triggered by travel and having too many activities or commitments. Pain is often felt in the back of the neck and head and may come and go. These headaches are generally relieved with warmth, rest, quiet and massage to release tension.
Pitta Headaches are triggered by heat, dehydration, anger, impatience and overwork. When you are under pressure or take on too many responsibilities, this is your body’s way of telling you to ease up. The quality of these headaches are throbbing and pounding and are often felt at the temples or behind the eyes. These types of headaches resolve with relaxation, slowing down and cooling therapies.
Kapha Headaches are perpetuated by heavy foods, sleeping in, colds and sinus infections. They are characterized by heaviness and dullness in the frontal and sinus areas and mucus congestion. These types of headaches get better with heat, movement and light food.
Healing from headaches involves understanding the cause, relieving discomfort and preventing reoccurrence. There are many ways to do this using natural approaches once the type of headache has been identified. Someone with pitta headaches will need a different approach than a kapha headache for example. Below is an outline of some of the common treatments for headaches and migraines.
Eating according to the season and one’s dosha type is an essential foundation to healing headaches. In addition, it is very beneficial to identify food sensitivities and migraine triggers: this can be through keeping a food diary, or doing IgG/IgA food sensitivity testing with a practitioner. Some common triggers are: caffeine, alcohol, cheese, dairy, wheat, eggs, citrus and preservatives, though it will vary for each individual. You can do a food sensitivity test through your ND to identify your specific sensitivities or do an elimination diet where you remove all the common triggers for a month and slowly introduce one new food item at a time and record your symptoms.
Ayurveda has always emphasized the importance of dinacharya – the concept of healthy daily routines as part of a healthy lifestyle. Many people have lost touch with the cycles of nature and healthy routines, yet they are a foundation for health. Waking up by sunrise, drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, tongue scraping, dry skin brushing or self-massaging and incorporating yoga and meditation before eating a balanced breakfast is an outline of a healthy daily morning routine. In the evening, eating dinner before sunset and winding down with bedtime routines (such as aromatherapy massage and light reading or meditation) can help reset the body for a restful sleep. There are many routines in Ayurveda that can be customized based on your dosha type and lifestyle. More than a medicine, it is a way of life.
Botanicals & Supplements
A mainstay of naturopathic, supplements play a key role of delivering concentrated nutrients to the body – especially when there are deficiencies. Common supplements that can benefit individuals with headaches are: Magnesium, omega-3 oils, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Many nervine herbs help to relax muscle tension and support relaxation, especially in vata headaches. Some common herbs used in botanical medicine are: skullcap, passionflower, lavender, brahmi and jatamansi. It is always advised to work with your practitioner before taking supplements and herbs so that they can be adjusted to your individual needs.
When your head is pounding with a headache what brings the most relief? Many will enjoy a massage around the temples or forehead with a warm or cold compress. Receiving treatment is one of the most effective ways of dissipating pain. Some of the most effective treatments for relief of migraines (acute or chronic) are acupuncture and massage. These therapies reduce tension in the body and promote circulation. They also help your mind to slow down and break the pattern of stress and overwork. Abhyanga or Ayurvedic massage along with essential oils can bring instant relaxation and you can learn which oils to keep handy. Lavender or rose oils cool down a pitta headache, eucalyptus or pine helps with kapha headaches, and lavender or frankincense helps with vata headaches. There are many other oils and techniques that your practitioner can show you.
The body has the remarkable ability to heal. Migraines and headaches are not something that you have to live with. Once the cause has been identified it is much easier to treat them with a combination of diet, lifestyle, herbs and therapies according to dosha type. Before you pop that painkiller – take a moment and tune into what your body is telling you. With chronic migraines, a significant change in terms of diet or lifestyle is usually needed for lasting effects and best done under supervision by your practitioner. Once your headaches are addressed, you will feel better, have more clarity, productivity and energy in your day!
Dr. Leena Athparia is a Naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus on joint health, pain and chronic disease. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.