This is Why You Get Period Migraines
If you’ve never had a migraine, count yourself lucky.
Some women get migraines regularly, especially around the time of their periods. Does this happen to you or someone you love?
Today, we are going to break down the menstrual migraine. I’m going to show you how to reduce the intensity and frequency of your headaches. With the right tactics, your migraines might stop completely. How does that sound?
I was talking about this subject earlier this week with my good friend and fellow hormone maven Sophie Quist of SheTalksHealth. We were on Clubhouse (are you on yet? Join us in the Aligned Cycle Room for our weekly Period Party, Tuesdays at 3pm PST- set up your account on the Clubhouse app and request an invite from me!) and migraines were the topic of the day.
We had a room full of women who really struggled with debilitating migraines right around the time of their period. They were desperate for relief.
Migraines are awful because they keep you out of life. I have clients who have previously needed to go to bed for a few days when they got a migraine because light, sound, and smell were all too overwhelming to deal with. Many of these women would experience nausea so bad that they would throw up.
There are two reasons that women experience period migraines.
Let’s start with histamine. What the heck is histamine?
Histamine is a chemical released by mast cells in the immune system when the body encounters an allergen. This causes an allergic reaction (source).
I like to explain histamine in terms using Benadryl. Benadryl is an anti-histamine, and you use Benadryl when you’re itchy, sneezy, headache-y, brain fog-gy, hive-y, and agitated, right?
Histamines are the substances that cause all of that nastiness to happen.
Usually, the body uses a cool enzyme called DAO to break down these substances on its own. When DAO is working at optimal levels, histamine reactions might happen, but they will quickly pass. You might not even notice them occurring.
But when your estrogen levels are high, or when they are unopposed by insufficient progesterone, those mast cells can be activated. When mast cells are activated, histamine increases in the body and these symptoms can occur.
Many women tend to have low DAO activity as DAO is inhibited by gut infections or dysbiosis, alcohol use, and use of medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics, muscle relaxants, and pain medications.
Foods high in histamine can also trigger migraines, especially for women with high estrogen levels. Here are some foods that are high in histamine (you’ll want to avoid them, especially the week before your period):
Foods that have been reported to have higher levels of histamine:
- Pickled or canned foods – sauerkrauts
- Matured cheeses
- Smoked meat products – salami, ham, sausages….
- Beans and pulses – chickpeas, soy flour
- Long-stored nuts – e.g peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachio
- Chocolates and other cocoa based products
- Rice vinegar
- Ready meals
- Salty snacks, sweets with preservatives and artificial colourings
Foods that have been reported to have released histamine (histamine releasers):
- Most citrus fruits – lemon, lime, oranges…
- Cocoa and chocolate
- Walnuts, peanuts
- Papaya, pineapples, plums, kiwi and bananas
- Wheat germ
- Most vinegars
- Additives – benzoate, sulphites, nitrites, glutamate, food dyes
While it will be a learning curve at the beginning, avoiding these foods can be very helpful for period-induced migraines.
How The Pill triggers migraines
The Pill also lowers DAO activity by raising synthetic estrogen levels and shutting down the production of progesterone.
When DAO activity is low, estrogen levels are high, and progesterone levels are insufficient, you’re ripe for a hormonal migraine.
Women tend to be deficient in magnesium since magnesium is used in over 400 processes in the body and is also burned up quite quickly during times of stress.
(Anyone here stressed out constantly?)
Magnesium is found in fruits and vegetables. With the popularity of the keto and carnivore diets, and the fear of anything containing sugar- even fruit- many women compound their magnesium deficiency by not getting enough of this miracle mineral through food.
Want to know why you crave chocolate before your period? It’s because dark chocolate contains 64 mg of magnesium per ounce- 16% of your RDA (source).
Your body is talking to you, always. And if you’re stressed, constipated, not sleeping, and “fussy” (as my friend Melissa likes to say)- you’re in dire need of some magnesium.
If you’re all of these things and you get menstrual migraines, you’re definitely in need of some magnesium.
Magnesium helps prevent migraines by blocking the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate (source).
Magnesium also helps stabilizes serotonin receptors, reduces inflammation, and prevents the release of substance-P, which is the pain-promoting neurotransmitter involved in migraines (source).
Amino acids like taurine can also calm migraines, which is why I recommend a diet high in fresh, amino-acid-rich animal products.
The Role of Progesterone in Migraines
If estrogen and histamine are one of the causes of menstrual migraines, then progesterone (as usual!) is one of the solutions.
Progesterone will reduce both histamine and glutamate, stopping migraines before they start.
Progesterone has an inhibitory effect on histamine secretion following mast cell binding..This may be particularly relevant in women who present clinically with low progesterone and elevated oestrogen, in terms of the histamine-stimulating effect of oestrogen and the physiological impact of high histamine on the body (source).
Therefore, if your progesterone levels are low (like most of my clients!), you might be more susceptible to experiencing migraines.
In fact, the simple action of adding progesterone to many of my clients’ protocols- after we DUTCH test, of course!- has stopped their migraines completely.
Another progesterone miracle!
Cutting out trigger foods, reducing estrogen levels, and optimizing progesterone can be a great first start in reversing your debilitating menstrual migraines.
If you need more help, or you want to run the labs and get real answers, book a discovery call with me here!