If you’ve ever suffered from migraines, you know it’s more than a “really bad headache.” While a severe and often debilitating headache is one of the main symptoms of migraines, it can also induce nausea, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, numbness or tingling sensations, and even vomiting. And unfortunately, if you suffer from migraines regularly, they’re liable to get worse around your period.
Menstrual migraines are categorized as migraines that happen in sync with your cycle (usually right before or during menses), and tend to be more intense than migraines that are experienced at any other time of the month. While purely menstrual migraines, occuring only with menses but at no other time, are rare, menstrual related migraines are much more prevalent.¹
This is likely due to the drop in hormones right before menstruation, specifically the sudden drop in estrogen.² But there are other contributing factors to consider as well. Magnesium deficiencies³ and blood sugar imbalances can also exacerbate menstrual migraines, so it’s best to look at solutions that address holistic health when you want to treat menstrual migraines naturally.⁴
There are plenty of diet and lifestyle changes that can help balance your hormones, your blood sugar, and make sure you get all your necessary vitamins and minerals. If menstrual migraines seem to be a part of your pattern, try tweaking these habits to mitigate their extreme effects.
Eat to beat migraines
Aim to eat a whole-foods based, low-glycemic load, high-phytonutrient diet with flax, soy, and cruciferous vegetables. Think foods like broccoli, kale, peppers, tomatoes, berries, nuts and seeds, and edamame. These are foods that will help you balance your blood sugar and hormone levels, especially seeds like sesame and pumpkin, which contain phytoestrogen that can help counteract the drop in estrogen that comes before menses (and why we included them in our seed cycling bundle).
Supplements for prevention
In addition to an improved diet, using herbs such as Vitex Agnus-Castus, also known as chasteberry, has been shown to reduce menstrual-related migraines in women by up to 66 percent.⁵ Vitamin E has also been shown to be particularly useful as a supplement to prevent menstrual migraines specifically due to its prostaglandin inhibiting effects.
Another big culprit for menstrual migraines is magnesium deficiency, a mineral crucial for proper hormone function, better blood sugar balance, and supporting sleep and physical recovery after workouts. Studies have shown that taking a highly absorbable form of magnesium, such as magnesium glycinate, can provide a low-cost way to prevent and reduce menstrual migraines.⁷ (note: If you have kidney disease of any kind, do this only with a doctor’s supervision.)
Focus on exercise and stress reduction
We all know exercise is good for the body, but it’s also good for the mind - especially if you have frequent migraines. In addition to releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, exercise also helps reduce stress, a major trigger for migraines.⁸ Extra benefits might be derived from mindfulness-based exercise such as yoga, since studies have shown mindfulness to be an effective tool for combating migraines as well.⁹
Things to avoid
In addition to adding these healthy habits to your diet and lifestyle, what you remove from your life can have a huge impact on menstrual migraines as well. Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and refined carbohydrates all contribute to inflammation, which can be one of the causes of extra-painful menstrual migraines.¹⁰ While it’s a good idea to avoid these items most of the time, it’s especially crucial to cut them out in the week leading up to your period when they have the increased potential to trigger migraines.
While these tips can help reduce the chances of menstrual migraines specifically, you should consult a trusted healthcare provider if frequent migraines are affecting your life. Keep a diary of your migraines, including symptoms, so you know the exact details to share - and to see if these lifestyle changes improve the state of your menstrual migraines.
¹ PMID: 27910087
² PMID: 24792340
³ PMID: 22426836
⁴ PMID: 19810862
⁵ PMID: 22791378
⁶ PMID: 25815319
⁷ PMID: 28392498
⁸ Exercise and Migraine - American Migraine Foundation
⁹ How can mindfulness practices help with migraine? - Harvard Health
¹⁰ PMID: 27293326