10 Migraine Triggers Plus 10 Herbs That May Help

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10 Migraine Triggers Plus 10 Herbs That May Help
Infographic – herbs-info.com Photo sources – see foot of article

According to research done by the Migraine Research Foundation, over 39 million men, women, and children in the US experience migraines — and that number totals to over 1 billion people worldwide who suffer from migraines. [1] The Mayo Clinic describes migraines as a “severe throbbing pain or pulsing sensation”, which typically occurs on just one side of the head (but not always). People who are affected by migraines often experience nausea, vomiting, and an increased sensitivity to light and sound. These symptoms may last from a few hours to several days; the pain may likewise vary from mild to severely disabling and can significantly affect a person’s daily activities. [2]

How Do You Recognize A Migraine?

You will often hear the term “aura” when talking about migraines. “Auras” are warning symptoms that can occur before or when the headache begins – however, not all people who experience migraines experience an “aura”. These warning symptoms can be flashes of light, blind spots, or even tingling sensations on one side of the body. [2]

Migraines can progress through four stages, which vary per person: [2]

1. Prodrome

A few days before the migraine occurs, you may experience constipation, erratic mood swings, food cravings, a stiff neck, increased thirst and urination, and frequent yawning.

2. Aura

Auras are visual disturbances like flashes of light or zigzag visions, like previously mentioned. However, they may also be tactile, movement, or verbal disturbances. Auras gradually build and can last over several minutes to an hour. If you experience auras with your migraine, you can expect visual changes and/or loss, pins and needles, weakness or numbness on one side of the body (a.k.a. hemiplegic migraines), difficulty speaking, hearing sounds or music, or uncontrollable movements.

3. Migraine

(Symptoms described at the top of the article.)

4. Post-drome

After the migraine, you can feel extremely tired or elated. Within the next 24 hours after the attack, you can experience confusion, moodiness, dizziness, weakness, and sensitivity to light and sound.

What Triggers Migraines?

1. Hormones

Two days before the start of their period until a few days after, some women may experience migraines due to the changes in the hormone levels of the body. This is called a pure menstrual migraine. Migraines that do not occur during this period but are related to female hormonal changes are called menstrual-related migraines. [3]

2. Stress

A 2013 study published by Radat focused on stress and migraine, specifically on how stress was a precipitating factor to consider when managing migraines. He found that stress triggered migraines or caused them to become worse, especially in cases of chronic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. Radat concluded the importance of stress management therapies for treating migraines. [4]

3. Poor Sleep Quality

Lack of sleep produces high levels of proteins that arouse the nervous system and trigger pain. Yalinay Dikmen, Yavuz, and Aydinlar studied the relationship between migraine and different factors, concluding that poor sleep quality greatly affected pain intensity and migraine-related disability. According to the researchers, poor sleep quality could cause migraines and vice-versa. [5][6]

4. Poor Posture

Poor posture causes tension in your back, neck, and shoulders which could lead to headache. A study has actually found that cervical mobility, posture, and even facial muscle movement could potentially trigger migraines. [7][8]

5. Bright Lights

One of the triggers for migraines are bright, flickering lights. Friedman and De ver Dye in 2009 cites environmental factors as one of the biggest migraine triggers, specifically bright sunlight and flickering lights. [7][9]

6. Low Blood Sugar

Have you ever heard people saying that a headache not a stomach ache is a sign of hunger and dehydration? Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be responsible for triggering migraines and other headaches. Finocchi and Sivori in 2012 discovered that food was an important trigger to consider in migraine aggravation. In fact, fasting or skipping meals is a frequently reported trigger for migraine, according to the results of their study. [10]

7. Strenuous Exercise

Exercise-induced migraines can be explained by the sudden changes in blood flow to the brain during prolonged workout. An article published in the NY Times reports that more research needs to be done in order to find out what mechanism causes migraines in relation to exercise, but sustained exertion during a workout is a possible cause. On a similar note, hypoglycemia during strenuous workouts can also contribute to the onset of a migraine. [10][11]

8. Loud Noise

For some people, loud noises trigger and/or worsen their migraines. This is one of the environmental factors mentioned by the National Health Services. [3]

9. Humidity

A hot, stuffy room is a very common migraine trigger. Also, barometric pressure change in response to humidity is a commonly reported trigger associated with the onset of migraines. [9]

10. Strong Odors

The strong fragrance from perfume, household cleaners, and air fresheners could trigger your migraine. Environmental factors indeed play a big role in triggering migraines. [9]

Herbs For Migraines

1. Rosemary

Rosemary is a promising herb in managing migraines naturally. While there are currently no studies that directly link rosemary with migraines, various research has shown the herb’s effectivity in treating headaches and poor circulation through anti-inflammatory properties – a characteristic that suggests that it can be an effective treatment modality to manage migraines. [12]

2. Peppermint

An older study published in 1996 by Gobel, et. al. found that topical application of peppermint oil was able to reduce pain associated with tension headaches. In fact, the peppermint preparation was as effective as acetaminophen, a drug typically taken to manage pain, working as quick as 15 minutes after the application. Unlike pain medications that are risky to take on an empty stomach, there were no reported adverse effects with using peppermint topically. [13]

3. Gingko Biloba

In a study published in 2009, gingko biloba was found to effectively reduce the frequency and duration of migraine with aura. The study involved fifty women who were suffering from migraines with and without auras wherein the participants entered a six-month trial. After six months of taking the gingko biloba extract (called Ginkgolide B), there was a significant decrease to total disappearance of migraine aura. [14]

4. Butterbur

If you’ve never heard of butterbur, it is a shrub that grows in Europe and in certain parts of Asia and North America. It has been used historically to manage fever and various ailments like cough, asthma, and open wounds. Because of its antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, it was researched in 2004 by Lipton, et. al., focusing on its ability to reduce migraine attack frequency. The study found that the extract from the plant was well-tolerated as a preventive therapy for migraines. [15][16]

5. Cayenne

Capsaicin has long been studied as an effective analgesic, with a study in 2003 by Fusco finding that nasal application was able to effectively treat migraine. While the study participants reported an initial burning sensation with the topical application, it was tolerated and further reports of the capsaicin significantly improving their migraine were made after the study. The researchers concluded that nasal application of capsaicin could be used in managing chronic migraine. [17]

6. Feverfew

This herb has been reported to reduce migraine attacks efficiently and safely in a double-blind placebo-controlled study on feverfew and ginger taken sublingually. While there are studies that show mixed results on the effectivity of feverfew, there is always a percentage of participants who respond favorably to it, reporting a reduction of migraine symptoms. [18]

7. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is an under-researched resource in the management of migraines but it shows potential in being a potent neuroprotective agent. In a 2017 study by Hosseini, et. al., lemon balm used in conjunction with Dexamethasone was able to exhibit significant neuroprotective effects and able to reduce the risk for neurological diseases. [19]

8. Valerian

Valerian is popularly used as a treatment for sleeplessness and anxiety, which are considered migraine triggers. Taking valerian can be an effective prophylactic agent if you have problems with sleeping because of its ability to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep as well as improving your quality of sleep. [20]

9. Ginger

Ginger has been found to reduce the severity of migraines and helps prevent nausea and dizziness. Maghbooli, et. al. reported that ginger was a safer alternative in migraine management, because of reduced side effects compared to traditional treatments with medicine (sumatriptan). Together with feverfew, a study reported that it was able to significantly reduce the symptoms of migraine. [18][21]

10. Willow Bark

Willow bark has been used for centuries to manage pain and inflammation. These pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of the willow bark may able to help with headaches and migraines. [22]

Instead of popping pain pills to control your migraine or spending money on numerous medical examinations, why not give these herbs a try and go the natural route with your pain management? We must of course advise that you consult your doctor about whether herbs are suitable for you; especially if you are already taking medications.


[1] Migraine Facts. Migraine Research Foundation. https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/

[2] Migraine. Mayo Clinic. https://mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/dxc-20202434

[3] National Health Services. Migraine – causes. https://nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Causes.aspx

[4] Radat, F. (2013). Stress and migraine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23608071

[5] Boyles, S. 2010. Lack of Sleep Triggers ‘Migraine’ Proteins. https://webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20100624/lack-of-sleep-triggers-migraine-proteins

[6] Yalinay Dikmen, P., Yavuz, B., & Aylindar, E. (2015). The relationships between migraine, depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disturbances. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24889393

[7] 10 Headache Triggers. https://nhs.uk/Livewell/headaches/Pages/Headachetriggers.aspx

[8] Tali, D., et. al. (2014). Upper cervical mobility, posture and myofascial trigger points in subjects with episodic migraine: Case-control study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25440209

[9] Friedman, D. & De ver Dye, T. (2009). Migraine and the environment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19545255

[10] Finocchi, C. & Sivori, G. (2012). Food as trigger and aggravating factor of migraine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22644176

[11] Reynolds, G. 2014. Ask Well: Exercises and Headaches. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/ask-well-exercise-and-headaches/

[12] Yu, M. et al. 2013. Suppression of LPS-induced inflammatory activities by Rosmarinus officinalis L. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23122161

[13] Göbel, H. et al. 1996. Effectiveness of Oleum menthae piperitae and paracetamol in therapy of headache of the tension type. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8805113

[14] D’Andrea, G. et al. 2009. Efficacy of Ginkgolide B in the prophylaxis of migraine with aura. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19415441

[15] Butterbur. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/butterbur

[16] Lipton, R. et al. 2004. Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15623680

[17] Fusco, B. et al. 2003. Repeated intranasal capsaicin applications to treat chronic migraine. https://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/90/6/812.full

[18] Cady, R., et. al. (2011). A double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study of sublingual feverfew and ginger (LipiGesic™ M) in the treatment of migraine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21631494

[19] Hosseini, S., et. al. (2017). Coadministration of Dexamethasone and Melissa officinalis Has Neuroprotective Effects in Rat Animal Model with Spinal Cord Injury. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241506/

[20] Valerian. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/valerian

[21] Maghbooli, M. et al. 2014. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23657930

[22] Willow bark. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/willow-bark

Infographic photo sources:

https://fotolia.com/id/66017231 © calcutta – fotolia.com

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