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While there are so many symptoms directly linked to our periods, PMS and hormonal imbalances, menstrual migraines have got to be up there in the worst category, amiright?!
Believe me, I know firsthand, as this used to be a side effect I experienced often related to hormonal imbalances and a very heavy, painful period. Back then I’d do almost anything for instant relief, and would regularly pop Advil and anything else over the counter I could get my hands on that promised to “help.”
Luckily, since that time I’ve learned there are other natural and more beneficial ways to quickly relieve menstrual migraines and hormonal headaches (that don’t destroy your gut health in the process!), not to mention target the root cause so you’re not having to deal with them in the first place.
Read below for everything you need to know on menstrual migraines including symptoms, causes, tips for instant relief, natural remedies and more.
First things first, how do you tell if what you’re experiencing is just your occasional headache or migraine vs. a menstrual migraine or a hormonal headache? Below are the specific symptoms of a migraine related to your hormones and menstrual cycle.
Menstrual migraines and hormonal headaches are often triggered by a drop in your sex hormone estrogen. This is because estrogen controls chemicals in the brain that affect the sensation of pain, and when it declines women can experience an increase in these chemicals, leading to menstrual migraines, amongst other symptoms.
Other contributing factors to menstrual migraines include:
During your menstrual cycle, estrogen drops right before your period, signaling to your uterus to shed the uterine lining it’s been building in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
In a typical, healthy menstrual cycle, this drop in estrogen (along with sex hormone progesterone) signals your period to begin, with very minimal to no symptoms. However if you have a hormonal imbalance related to excess estrogen or high estrogen in relation to low progesterone, this hormonal shift can cause a myriad of side effects, including menstrual migraines.
Thus, it’s not actually your period causing your menstrual migraines, but rather an underlying hormonal imbalance of estrogen dominance or high estrogen to low progesterone ratio that is triggered during the onset of your period.
While hormonal birth control is often prescribed to women with symptomatic periods (including menstrual migraines) as a way to mitigate side effects, in many cases birth control has been shown to actually make menstrual migraines worse.
This is often attributed to the withdrawal bleed, which is not an actual period, rather an effect of your placebo week accompanied by a drop in hormones. This drop in hormones can trigger menstrual migraines.
Other women report menstrual migraines as a symptom of coming off of birth control (often known as post-birth-control-withdrawal symptoms).
Either way, it’s important to pay attention to how YOU feel and know that there are alternatives (see below) that don’t come with harmful side effects.
**The CDC advises women on hormonal birth control that experience migraines with auras (flashing lights/sensitivity to lights) to discontinue use immediately, as they are at increased risk of blood clotting and strokes.
If you’re experiencing menstrual migraines, chances are you’re also looking for instant relief. While it’s important to have tools to reduce pain at the onset of menstrual migraines, I also think it’s just as crucial you have remedies that address the root cause (so you don’t have to deal with them to begin with!)
Below you’ll find a combination of natural remedies for menstrual migraine relief, including both immediate pain-reducing tips as well as long-term root cause approaches.
As mentioned above, estrogen dominance, or high estrogen in relation to low progesterone, is the root cause of most menstrual migraines. Thus incorporating practices that work to balance this ratio, such as reducing exposure to xenoestrogens and toxins (found in plastics, canned goods, soy products, conventional beauty and household products, etc.), mitigating stress, eating more progesterone-boosting foods, and supporting your gut health through probiotic-rich foods and supplements (this brand is my fave, use code SOFRESH15 to save) are all extremely effective tactics.
**Need more recipes and tips to help heal estrogen dominance or other hormonal imbalances? Check out my go-to guide.
Dehydration is a common contributor to headaches and migraines, thus consuming enough water consistently is one of the most easy and effective tactics you can take for immediate relief. Hydration is also key for hormone health, as it helps your body get rid of excess toxins that can lead to imbalances. Bottomline you should be aiming for a minimum half of your body weight in fluid ounces daily.
Skipping meals and not eating enough nutrients contribute to blood sugar imbalances and nutrient deficiencies, as well as put your body into stress/survival mode (especially in the week leading up to and during your period, as your body’s stress levels are naturally elevated during this time).
Thus eating nourishing meals throughout the day ensures your hormones are getting what they need to stay balanced and keep menstrual migraines at bay. Aim for lots of cruciferous veggies, beets and high quality fats and proteins, which support your liver in detoxing excess estrogen. For more tips on what to eat the week before and during your period check out this post.
Research has shown that acupuncture points (located all over our bodies) correspond to deep-seated nerves, so that when the needles are inserted, the nerves are activated, triggering the release of several brain chemicals, including endorphins, which block pain signals and help to relieve both the pain and frequency of menstrual migraines.
If you’re not down with needles, you can also try using acupressure by locating the point corresponding with your symptom and applying pressure with either your thumb or finger, or using a device like a wristband.
There are a number of supplements you can take that both offer instant menstrual migraine relief, as well as work to address hormonal imbalances that lead to menstrual migraines. Below are my top supplement recommendations for hormonal headaches.
Perhaps one of my favorite menstrual migraine relief methods, making a creamy, frothy golden milk latte is not only highly effective (due to pain and inflammation reducing ingredients like turmeric and ginger) but it’s also delicious and fun, making it an easy ritual to incorporate into your routine.
To make, melt 1 tbsp coconut oil to a small stovetop pan over medium heat. Whisk in 1 tsp turmeric root, 1/2 tsp ginger root, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp sea salt and a pinch of black pepper until combined. Add 12 oz non-dairy milk of choice (this clean brand is my fave, use code Lauren15 to save) and heat until steaming. Stir in either 1 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup, then pulse in a blender until frothy and creamy.
Deep, restorative sleep is absolutely necessary to keeping hormones balanced, reducing inflammation, lowering stress levels and regulating blood sugar, which are all crucial components of reducing menstrual migraines.
While this can vary from person to person, I’ve found the best way to optimize sleep is to ensure you’re giving yourself adequate time to wind down before bed, allowing your body to slip into it’s parasympathetic state and get that deep, restorative rest needed. This may look like putting away all electronic devices 1-2 hours before bed, making an herbal tea, dimming lights, reading a book, and getting into bed prior to 10 pm, before your cortisol kicks back into gear and you get that “second wind.”
Stress is a major contributor to inflammation, which can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to menstrual migraines, among other symptoms.
While we can’t eliminate stress from our lives, we can work to both reduce our exposure to it and navigate stressful experiences better through practices such as getting outside, moving our bodies, meditating or deep breathing exercises, eating balanced meals regularly, prioritizing sleep, having sex, engaging with our community, seeking support through a therapist or loved one, etc.
Applying a cold compress is a quick and effective way to reduce inflammation, constrict blood vessels and slow your nerves from firing pain signals.
Try soaking a washcloth in ice water or wrapping an icepack or bag of frozen vegetables in a cloth, then placing on the back of your neck or over the areas you’re experiencing your menstrual migraine for 20 minutes at a time.
Massage has been been to both decrease stress hormone cortisol while increasing endorphins like serotonin that work to offset pain, while chiropractic care can help alleviate pressure in your spinal chord that may contribute to an imbalance in estrogen production.
Gentle movement such as yin yoga, stretching, foam rolling and walking has been shown to lower cortisol levels, boost feel-good endorphins that block pain receptors, and promote optimal circulation and blood flow.
While I always encourage clients to focus on practices you can add into your daily routine vs. restricting or “taking things away,” it’s important to note there are certain things to avoid if you’re experiencing menstrual migraines or hormonal headaches.
Eliminating these contributors will work to offer quick menstrual migraine relief, as well as promote optimal hormonal balance for a long-term, root-cause approach.
While you’re now equipped with plenty of tips and tools that work to offer immediate and effective menstrual migraine relief, I do want to emphasize how important it is to focus on a root-cause approach by healing hormonal imbalances like excess estrogen or low progesterone. Not only will this remedy a myriad of other side effects (PMS, painful periods, cramping, acne, weight gain or stubborn weight loss, fertility challenges, etc.) but it will help prevent menstrual migraines from occurring in the first place (i.e. it’s a proactive vs. reactive approach).
If you need more support in healing your hormones, check out my go-to guide.
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I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.