We can all agree that migraines are no fun.
But being able to tell when a migraine is coming gives us the upper hand in being able to prevent what’s causing it and stop it in its tracks.
In this article, I will be covering what a migraine aura is and 7 essential skills on how to stop a migraine aura.
What is a migraine aura?
A migraine aura is a series of symptoms that happen before the migraine head pain begins.
The aura phase is after the prodrome phase of the 4 phases of a migraine. (See picture below)
A migraine aura can come with a number of symptoms including:
Sensitivity to light
Seeing zigzags or squiggly lines
Bilateral central scotomata
Altitudinal field loss
Temporal crescent involvement
Transient central scotoma
The migraine aura is a sign that a migraine has begun and the body is now going into protective mode.
The body will actually use a migraine to protect it from damage that is being done to the brain.
Starting a migraine is the body’s way of revving up the system and increasing the flow of blood and delivery of nutrients to the brain.
See the video below for a quick representation of a migraine aura.
It also causes us to stop what we are doing, in case what we are doing is causing the damage to the brain.
We want to support this process by increasing the available nutrients in our body, stopping what we are doing that may be causing damage to brain cells and giving our body and brain-specific tools to heal the damage. (To understand the damage see this article)
How do we understand a migraine aura?
Migraine, just like many pains that we experience in our body are used by our body as a reflex.
This reflex is there to signal to us that we are creating tissue damage and to make us bring our awareness in onto our selves and stop what we are doing. Whether what we are doing right now is part of the cause or not.
Just like if we stub our toe on the corner of some furniture, the pain is there to make us stop doing it and teach us to not repeat the action.
It’s a very primal reflex, but it has worked for us for millions of years.
What is causing this damage to occur that our body has to respond with an aura and pain?
This review explains that
“Oxidative stress is a plausible unifying principle behind the types of migraine triggers encountered in clinical practice.”
This review is saying that in every case except pericranial pain, all migraine triggers are a source of oxidative stress.
And that oxidative stress is the main factor that goes into the creation of all migraines.
This is big because it changes the way we think about migraines from something that needs to be beat, numbed and avoided… To something that needs to be understood and healed.
This means that we can pinpoint 1 single area to focus on instead of the random drugs that have been used for migraines over the years “off-label.”
By understanding that this 1 area needs help we can:
Give it more support
Learn how to avoid it
Heal it when it’s happening
But this is easier said than done and in these 7 essential skills we will learn more.
7 Essential Skills for how to stop a migraine aura
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Prevention always beats just reacting to pain. Stop chasing the pain.
Instead, take these 3 principles and create a system to avoid triggering the mechanism:
Are migraines an allergy?
Your migraine pattern
Brain cell maintenance
Are migraines an allergy?
In one study, when these foods were removed:
Tea and coffee
chocolate and milk
The patients experienced a “dramatic fall in the number of headaches per month, 85% of patients becoming headache free.”
The best part?
Along with 100% of the patients improving, food elimination is safe and inexpensive.
Food seems to be one of the biggest causes and triggers for migraines and even more for those that don’t respond well to treatments.
If we are eating food that our body is sensitive to, this can directly contribute to brain inflammation and oxidation which can lead to triggering and symptoms like aura.
Understand your food, where it comes from and how your body reacts to it.
If you experience digestive disturbances, frequent fatigue or cravings as well as headaches after meals, these can all add to triggering a migraine.
Your migraine pattern
This is the #1 area you need to recognize in your life, because few other people will be able to do it for you. Many people do not wear their emotions on their shoulder and so it is difficult to gauge what is going on from the outside.
A migraine pattern is a pattern of thought, emotion or behaviour that we take and usually repeat often.
From inside of us, if we don’t observe ourselves it can be difficult to see so we need to take a step back.
This pattern, however it shows up in our lives is a way that we initially learned to cope with a stress.
Our body uses patterns to make things easier on us so that we dont have to spend energy focusing.
But this pattern was built out of coping with a stress.
The problem is that this pattern can wind us up, build up tension and put us onto a rampage.
It becomes almost unconscious, even though it was used to deal with stress, usually becomes an even bigger stress and creates a huge amount of tension in our bodies.
We will run through the pattern and overcare. This overcare comes from our innate desire to care and to become attached to situations but when it becomes a pattern, it becomes overattachment.
We need to learn to recognize our migraine pattern, recognize our overcare and recognize our overattachment to situations, experiences, emotions etc.
If we can do that, we can recognize the pattern as soon as it starts, stop it and use techniques to drop any tension we are holding on to because of it.
See our article on 3 Urgent tools for migraine prodrome symptoms to use ASAP here.
Brain cell maintenance
Our brain cells, just like our cars and houses need to be maintained.
They absolutely must have:
- Good quality sleep every night to detoxify. (waking up with tension headache article)
- Moving and exercising our bodies daily so that our lymphatic fluid gets pumped and waste is removed from the brain.
- The correct breathing pattern that takes tension off our neck and head, massages our organs and brings in enough oxygen for brain cell metabolism. (1 Big tip for cervicogenic headaches article)
- High quality water with enough potassium and magnesium coming from diet to keep our urine alkaline.
- Belief that the super organism(you) that is leading them has a clear purpose and desire to live.
- Enough nutrients to fulfill brain cell metabolic needs. (Migraineur food pyramid)
If any of these are missing, stresses that come into your life will be too much to handle and can trigger the sensitive migraine brain.
See the foundation principles of migraine health article to learn more about brain cell maintenance.
2. This spicy anti-inflammatory herb
Ginger is amazing and has been shown clinically to do wonders for migraines.
It is not only amazing for inflammation, but also for pain and nausea. This study found ginger to be useful as an abortive.
To top it off, it’s safe enough to use while pregnant or breastfeeding which makes it an amazing tool.
So how do we use ginger?
It can be taken as a fresh herb, as a dried powder, in a tea, through a home made ginger beer, ginger candies and even ginger capsules.
The goal is to get enough of it and this can be tricky with things like ginger beer and ginger tea.
This study found that 250mg of ginger was as effective at stopping migraines as sumatriptan.
This article states the needs based on the types as:
250 mg of ginger powder
1/8 tsp. of dried ginger powder
1/4 tsp. of freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp. of freshly grated ginger steeped in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes
1 tsp. of fresh ginger (not grated) steeped in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes
1 cup of ginger tea from 1 prepackaged ginger tea bag
Ideally, you want to take any abortives as soon as prodromal symptoms start coming but even during the aura and actual migraine may be effective.
3. Stop what has already started
Once the aura has already started it can get tricky.
If our brain is creating a migraine because it is trying to protect itself, then stopping its protective mechanism may make matters worse.
It may even be responsible for why so many abortive medications leave migraine sufferers in “hangover” states for days.
But if we can go with the body, instead of against it…
And if we can help it do what it’s trying to do with a migraine which is:
Decreasing oxidant production
Upregulating antioxidant enzymes
Facilitating mitochondrial biogenesis
Releasing growth factors in the brain
Then we may prevent brain damage, full blown and even future attacks…
So we want to do what a migraine makes every migraineur do, just a little better.
Hydrate: But instead use brain friendly minerals like potassium, magnesium and zinc.
Grab a big bottle of water, give it a sprinkle of sea salt, some raw honey and the squeeze of a citrus like lemon. Close the bottle and give it a good shake. This water will be much more hydrating, absorb into your body easier and provide way more nutrition than just toxic tap or bottled water.
Bonus: If you have magnesium supplements like most migraine sufferers should, add it to the water. Magnesium is like a fire fighter for your brain cells, it helps cool any fires going on.
Kill stimuli: Environmental stimuli are completely normal for the average person but once the brain has become fragile enough to get migraines, all stimuli can aggravate the brain. This means we want to have a blacked out room using black out blinds or garbage bags and tape over windows and doors. Cut out all sounds with ear plugs or muffs as well as any odours but we all know that.
Add the inflammatory 1-2 punch from this article to your abortives.
Understand what you can do for migraine aura by learning the 3 truths of frequent ocular migraines here.
4. Feed your brain cells
One of the main causes of brain cells to get damaged, inflamed, oxidized and contribute to the break down of the brain is because the brain cells metabolism is broken.
When the brain cells metabolism breaks, it cannot produce enough energy to run its systems and send signals throughout the brain.
Even worse, when the metabolic cycle doesn’t have nutrients to go from A to Z,(gets stuck along E or M or F etc.) then a bunch of oxidative particles start being created.
If we are not supporting the brain with enough antioxidants, these particles can actually destroy the brain cell.
But luckily one of the most important factors in this A to Z cycle is oxygen.
We need to support our body’s ability to bring in oxygen.
This means fixing our breathing and optimizing it.
If our abdominals are tight because of over-training or a mental desire to have a “flat stomach” we can end up limiting our breathing.
If we are constantly stressed or anxious, chances are, we are “chest breathers.”
A chest breather is someone who breathes with their chest.
Even though this may logically sound like the right thing to do because our lungs are in our chest, it’s not.
Our lungs are actually supposed to expand down more than they expand out.
They are only supposed to expand up a little…
Nowhere near enough to cause tension on the neck, head and shoulders but if we have a bad breathing pattern, this is a very common cause of headaches and poor oxygen intake.
To make matters worse, if we are breathing into our shoulders and neck then we are triggering stress receptors that will contribute to anxiety and bad sleep.
We want to breathe about 2/3 into our abdomen and only have the last 1/3 go into our chest which means NO neck or shoulder breathing.
How do we do this?
It takes time to retrain a breathing pattern especially if we have been doing it for 30 years, have social blocks preventing us from releasing our abdominal wall, are a nervous or anxious type of person or have stressed organs.
But it’s amazing what we can do with just 5-10 breaths, 2-3 times a day.
Ideally, we would do this anytime our migraine pattern starts to creep up.
To start and sensitize yourself, lay down flat with your back to the ground.
Grab a water bottle and place it on your stomach.
Your goal is to breathe a 6 second inhale and 6 second exhale without forcing anything.
On each inhale raise the water bottle with your stomach by breathing down into your belly.
On each exhale the bottle should come down.
Repeat this 5-10 times, nice and slow without tension for force.
Do this when you think you may be triggering, you can continue up to 30 breaths but don’t do more than that as you may relax too much and fall asleep. (Wouldn’t want that)
As a regular, do this twice per day minimum to retrain breath.
See our article on cervicogenic headaches to understand more about breathing.
5. Support the migraine mechanism
For some migraine sufferers, their bodies have few resources to deal with an attack so when the aura has started, little will work to prevent a full blown migraine.
But everything should be tried and every measure taken.
This is also a reminder that we pushed the envelope a little too far and need to pull back a little earlier before our body gets pushed over the edge again.
We need to support the system and plan for the hangover.
This means recognizing how it progressed and putting a plan in place to stop it…
Reducing total body stress load that comes in through our relationships, physical activity, electromagnetic fields, chemical exposure through hygiene products, makeups, foods etc.
And we need to boost nutrients available for the attack at hand, as well as our recovery period after the fact.
To understand more about the phase of migraine after the head pain(postdrome), see our article on 7 Hacks for how to get rid of migraine postdrome symptoms.
6. Supplement for the brain
Migraines are a long time in the making.
Usually, it is just a big life trigger that puts our body over the edge and into regular migraines.
Some common “straws that break the camels back” are:
Illnesses and infections
Because it takes so long to build up to creating the migraine brain and we are often unaware until it’s too late, it can take more than just dietary and lifestyle changes to reverse the brain’s fragility.
This is where getting a high quality holistic healthcare practitioner like myself, NUCCA chiropractors, CHEK practitioners, naturopaths, functional medicine practitioners etc can make a world of difference.
But we can boost the brains functioning ourselves if we just know where to look.
This review suggests that magnesium should be tried in every migraine patient because as much as half of all migraine patients may be magnesium deficient.
This double blind placebo controlled study of vitamin B2 riboflavin found that it significantly decreased frequency and duration of migraines.
This study found that:
“The results from this study indicate that folate(vitamin B9) intake in the form of FA may influence migraine frequency in female MA(migraine with aura) sufferers.”
This study found that pyridoxine supplementation(vitamin B6):
“Led to a significant decrease in headache severity and duration of migraine with aura attacks compared to placebo”
So magnesium as well as vitamins B2, B6 and B9 have all been found to be effective in some study’s and many including migraine with aura.
It’s awesome because these are all vitamins and minerals, have great safety profiles as long as they aren’t abused for months on end and are simply adding to our bodies nutrient reserves. In essence, we are supporting the body to do what it is trying to do with a migraine.
Each of these nutrients has been found to fit into brain cells metabolism and support the energy generation and “clean up” of any damaging particles.
The doses used in these studies were:
B6: 80mg/day (P5P is the best form)
B9: Dietary folate was assessed in the above study but this study found 5mg/day effective when combined with B6 (methylfolate is the best form of B9)
All of these nutrients are available in food and food comes with many more that are brain beneficial so this is why I always recommend developing a solid dietary program first.
None of these should be taken without the supervision of your healthcare provider as they will know your case best.
When in doubt, abort.
Migraine pain can be incredibly difficult to bear and nobody wants to go through it.
When nothing is working and you feel it coming on, use all the safe abortive measures you have available.
It can be incredibly frustrating seeing healthcare providers that are not specifically dealing with migraines daily as they do not know what will be effective and it’s usually just a list of “to use” meds they choose from.
But when you find the right practitioner that checks you over for underlying root causes of migraines and gives you a solid nutritional protocol to help the brain repair and rebuild stronger cells, your life can change in a few weeks to months.
This is why it’s always important to choose your healthcare provider wisely and why I suggest reading our article on how to choose a healthcare provider when you have migraines.
Migraines can come from many different sources and because of all of the misinformation I created the Migraine Professional Community that you can join and learn more than you’ve ever known about migraines here.
Share this post and let me know in the comments below…
What works for your migraine auras?
Holistic Health Practitioner
Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.