Migraines – How Ayurveda Can Help

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Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness, so that you can then go and empower others. Today we’re talking about migraines. They are more than just a headache. They’re crippling and they’re painful and millions suffer from them. We’ll be looking at causes, triggers and management and ayurvedic solutions. Dr Varalakshmi Yanamandra is an ayurvedic doctor and practitioner in the UK. 

What is a migraine? 

Dr Varalakshmi Yanamandra: Migraine is a type of headache or a form of headache where one can experience pain on one side of their head. It can feel like a throbbing pain. Usually, it starts in the beginning of the day and then can aggravate as the day goes on. Like as the sun becomes stronger and stronger. Some people can also experience aura before the migraine comes on, people can feel lightheadedness or heaviness in their head. Some can experience nausea and in some people who have severe migraines, sometimes it also leads to a warming sensation. So these are some of the common symptoms and how you can actually identify the migraine. 

AB: From what I understand, I mean with people who get it severely, it can be debilitating, it can go on for days and some of the symptoms, like you’ve said, can be so severe. I have friends who won’t even let a sliver of light come in. So tell me, what is the common cause of a migraine? 

Dr VY: Modern medicine or conventional medicine says that there are some triggers. As per Ayurveda, Ayurveda talks about a similar condition which has similar kind of symptoms and Ayurveda clearly explains some common causes that I also see in my practice which could usually trigger a migraine for someone who has that history. Suryavarta, which is surya means sun and varta which means like as it goes on, so it is triggered by the sun. Same like how I explained, the migraine starts in the beginning of the day and then as it becomes noon or so, it becomes more and more painful. And if we look at the triggers or causes, it’s when someone spends a lot of time in the sun, like direct sunlight. A lot of my patients, when I ask them what they had done before having this migraine. They say, “oh, yesterday I went to some beach or somewhere” or “I was spending a lot of time in the sun.” So when the sunlight actually hits you in the eye, sun exposure is one of the very common causes that we come across and also food related to food. Ayurveda explains that foods which are very sharp, think of spices, but spices like red chilli. So that kind of food, if you are consuming in excess before leading up to that, that is also one of the triggers. 

AB: My understanding was that one of the other common causes is stress. Is that right or not? 

Dr VY: Stress can act as a trigger in a way that if the stress is making someone lose their sleep, because sleep is another very important factor. People who struggle, like at least a few of the clients that I work with, are women, and they often get a migraine before their period comes on. So our hormones, for women, play a very important role. And if you have any stress leading up to your period and you’re not able to sleep on time, it could cause fluctuations in our hormone levels as well. So it is like an indirect cause to cause a fluctuation in our hormones and which could lead to having a migraine. So hormonal imbalances are also one of the primary reasons for especially women having migraines.

AB: I’m sure there’s been so much research done on migraines. What exactly happens to the body when you’re having a migraine? 

Dr VY: Chemically, it is said that it is a neurological condition like neurochemicals, which are being released. So as far as research and biology concerned, they don’t know what exactly triggers a migraine. There is one other cause that I see prevalent in my practice would be the consumption of certain combinations of food. We call them virudh, which means the opposite. So when you eat foods which have opposite qualities, for example banana plus milk, there is banana milkshake. So Ayurveda says that as a combination, this food will not get digested inside our stomach and it could sit inside our stomach and turn sour. 

AB: When you say opposite qualities, will you explain them for our audience? Because not everyone is familiar with Ayurveda. 

Dr VY: Yes, absolutely. So milk has cold qualities. Ayurveda describes that milk is cold and sweet and banana is also sweet, but it is heavy. 99% of the fruits out there, when we eat them, even though they have a sweet taste, more sweet than sour taste or different taste, when we eat them, they turn sour in our stomach. So this particular combination, milk is a heavy protein. Banana is a heavy fruit. When you combine them and then eat them, it takes a longer period of time to digest them. A simple understanding Ayurveda talks about whenever it comes to digesting any sorts of foods out there, they have to be easier to digest, which means lighter foods which have laghu or lighter qualities are easier to get digested. We also talk about congestion, like people who get sinusitis and rhinitis. So these kinds of incompatible food combinations, is one of the very common reasons in the modern day. 

AB: And that is something that someone has to go to an Ayurvedic practitioner for because you wouldn’t know what is necessarily cooling and what is heating or what is incompatible. 

Dr VY: It’s a very common knowledge. What I’m trying to say is it’s a common knowledge and most people who know a little bit about Ayurveda understand at least the most common one. So banana and milk is a common one. So proteins of two different origins, like fish, are from a different protein source compared to dairy. So they have different qualities. And food combining is a very, again, a popular theory. Most people know about it.

AB: Yes. But you know, the way food combining is done in the west is sometimes different from the way we do it in Ayurveda. I mean, what I love about Ayurveda is just that by getting the body back to balance, so much just sorts itself out. But I wanted to ask you, from my experience, things take a lot longer in Ayurveda to kick in. If someone comes to you or starts following Ayurvedic practices for migraine issues that they have, how long do you think it’s going to take them in general? Is it going to be three weeks? Is it going to be three months before they see a difference? 

Dr VY: Actually, in some cases it would be instant. It depends on each and everyone. Some people might be having migraines for years together, which is a chronic condition, and they might be having other predisposed imbalances as well. If the migraine is a standalone condition and they don’t have other associated things like hormonal imbalances or things like that, it actually takes within weeks, one or two weeks.

AB: To completely get it out of their life?

Dr VY: It all depends on the person because they need to make lifestyle changes. Like, for example, these food combinations. Even if you take it off your diet or in your lifestyle, you would take time for your body to get used to this new adaptation. 

AB: The reason I’m asking you, and I’m pushing you to give me these answers is because I’ve seen miracles happen with Ayurveda. That’s why I’m such a fan of Ayurveda. I know sometimes, it’s taken a long time, but I’ve seen absolute miracles. things that they were told there’s no cure for anywhere in the world have been sorted out with Ayurveda. 

Dr VY: I can give you an example. If someone comes to me with a migraine, it might take maybe a month or two months, as long as they’re willing to enhance their diet and lifestyle. 

AB: Wow, that’s amazing because I know people who’ve had it for a lifetime. It’s literally crippling when someone has it badly. So that’s amazing that you’re saying you can help them in a month, at least to start seeing changes. In terms of lifestyle changes that you would recommend, one being the food changes, can you give us some more that you would recommend? 

Dr VY: Nowadays, when we are eating food, we are doing it in a rush. Sometimes we don’t have enough time to sit and eat. And you actually postpone your hunger. One of the very important reasons for having a headache, any sort of headache, 90% of my clients who are modern, like Millennials and Zillennials, they all do this. Not ignoring your hunger, it does miracles to our body, not just to help with migraine, but also to do with our digestion. If you can block that ten minutes every day for your lunch, this simple adaptation has done miracles to my patients. Ayurveda has emphasised upon lifestyle. So when I say lifestyle, it’s not just about waking up on time or having a good lifestyle, like doing exercise. There is a whole concept of dinacharya. Dinacharya means day, charya means routine. So Ayurveda has clearly explained what you should do for you to lead like, 100 years. Ayurveda has already told us what we need to do for living 100 years or 200 years. It clearly talks about each and every season. And they also talked about different climatic variations, like countries. So they talked about the countries and the type of lifestyle changes that one should make depending on where you are.

AB: This is interesting because Ayurveda always says, eat when you’re hungry, right? Because our body is producing the juices to digest our food. But then how does intermittent fasting fit into Ayurveda? 

Dr VY: Fasting is considered as a therapeutic thing. When there is a problem inside your body, you don’t do it every single day. For example, in the modern day, intermittent fasting has made amazing changes for people. And I see a lot of people actually reversing their conditions, it’s amazing. But from an ayurvedic perspective you work with your body, even the fasting has to suit your body. So while we can say that there are so many people who benefited from fasting, there are also a small set of people for whom it doesn’t suit them. You as an individual are completely different to someone who is sitting next to you. Even though they might be wearing the same kind of clothes, they might be wearing the same jewellery, everything, but still you are not a mirror image of the person, whoever is sitting next to you. There are minute biological differences that exist between each and every one of us. For the season I am in, for the country I am living in. So these are all important aspects that we should always be aware of before trying any of the things fasting, Keto, all these things. 

AB: The other thing I wanted to ask you, so we’ve talked a bit about what to do before to prevent getting a migraine. You’ve talked about what happens when people are getting a migraine. Because I’ve known people to not get out of a room for four or five days because it’s been so severe. How would you recommend they manage it at that point? 

Dr VY: When someone is having an extreme migraine, trigger or attack, one of the very important things that will help is to rest. And the second thing is avoiding light, because light is one of the first or very common triggers for most people who struggle with migraine. And the third thing is hydrating, drinking warm water which is boiled and cooled down. Some people can’t take the warm water when it is warm when you’re having migraines. And some people feel it actually helps them. 

AB: That’s really interesting. 

Dr VY: One of the important things that many people who are new to migraine or who don’t actually understand is that the migraine happens due to the things that you do, like two, three days before leads up to the migraine. If you know that you have a history of migraine, it’s a very good practice to keep a diary and then note down these triggers so that you are aware. And you can ensure that if you know that you spend some time or you’re going to spend some time in the sun where there is direct sunlight, then you can wear some sunglasses, carry an umbrella, and wear a hat. So these are very simple things that we can do. 

AB: Is there any medicine you would recommend to people or anything that you feel can help shorten it? 

Dr VY: Taking a simple triphala for a day or two if you are having very severe constipation. And then you have a history of migraine, that could actually help to lessen the severity. And the other thing is, while they are having a migraine, it is best to avoid foods which are heavier to digest and to stick to simple food. Simply warm cooked food, which goes smoothly, like a soup. And spices like Shonti are very helpful. Dry ginger, not fresh ginger; fresh ginger is different from dry ginger. That is very helpful for someone who has digestive problems or constipation who also has this migraine kind of thing. So whenever they’re consuming things like milk or something that is heavier, just a pinch of dry ginger on top of these heavy foods can make them digest it easily. There is also a remedy, a very simple remedy, that even my grandmother used to do when we were small, and make it a paste, put it on your forehead. It actually helps to reduce the severity of the migraine. For a season like autumn, if you’re prone to migraines, it’s a very good idea to cover your head like a scarf or something, or cap right. In general, if prone to migraines, sinusitis, any kind of headaches, it’s a very good practice. Ayurveda says that [our] ears play a very important role in pain because vata, one of the doshas, is related to our ears as well. So whenever our ears come in contact with cold air, that’s when it triggers the vata and it could cause migraine or sinusitis.

AB: That is very useful because I get sinusitis not related to migraine, but covering the ears and head really helps. And I just worked it out instinctively. So, yes, that’s very useful information and it’s amazing that Ayurveda says that. Any last advice to the people listening in? 

Dr VY: Oil inside of the nose. Ayurveda says the nose is like a gateway to our head because the problems like headaches, sinusitis, all these things are related to the head. So this simple daily practice of putting warm oil, normal oil, that is recommended, anu thailam oil or  simply sesame, even mustard oil can be used. They have to be warmed up a little bit and then used. But this simple practice can help. 

AB: Wow, that is fascinating. 

Dr VY: In my practice, I was able to help so many people like that. So anu thailam is obviously an ayurvedic oil. And for people who don’t have access to that, you’re saying we could either put mustard oil or sesame oil, just two drops in each nostril. Generally on an empty stomach in the morning before you go out or head out, it’s really helpful. It also acts as this barrier between that allergen and your nose and it keeps our nose moist. When there is more moisture inside our nose, our body can quickly fight against these things that come in contact with our nose as well. When it is more dry, that’s when we are prone to getting sneezes and allergies, you will get sick quicker. 

AB: That was such an amazing chat. Thank you. I hope that people will find this useful. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you, leading your best life.