I’ve been working on this post harder, I think, than any other post since healing my intolerance. I’d gotten migraines since the first time I had a period. Even though I don’t get periods anymore and I don’t have a cycle, I still get the occasional migraine. It’s only within the last few months did I even find out that migraines have a histamine connection.
For the last thirty five years of headaches I only knew estrogen spiked before my periods causing my migraines. But like so many other things, I took that at face value. Estrogen rises and it triggers my migraines. I never once thought to ask why. But now, with the Internet, I can ask almost any question and dig for the answer. I thought once I know the answer to why estrogen plays a role in a migraine, maybe I can cure a migraine. And what’s histamine’s role?
I’ve dug around for hours and have learned quite a bit. Whether it leads to any kid of cure is a question. But can what I’ve learned take the edge off or shorten the duration once a migraine’s started? I hope so.
As a note, one of the tricks to controlling migraines is to start your intervention once you feel it coming on. If you wait until you have full blown throbbing, it’s almost too late to do anything to stop it. But I’ll talk about that more in a minute.
A couple of questions I can’t answer at this point are: Are all women who suffer “hormonal” migraines histamine intolerant, and do all histamine intolerant women migraine sufferers?
All right, so let’s talk about what I’ve learned about the mechanisms that trigger migraines and how it relates to estrogen and histamine.
First estrogen rises and triggers nitric oxide production. From the NCBI abstract:
Estrogen is an important vasoprotective molecule that causes the rapid dilation of blood vessels by activating endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) through an unknown mechanism.
While that’s happening, the estrogen is raising histamine levels in the body, If you are an allergy or asthma sufferer, you might be familiar with this because your issues intensify at this point. From Allergic Living:
It has long been observed that women experience allergic reactions that are more severe compared to men, but clinicians did not understand why – until now. Research recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology pinpoints estrogen as the culprit.
Upon closer examination, researchers discovered that estrogen increases the activity of the enzyme – endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) – that causes tissues to swell and blood vessels to widen, resulting in anaphylactic symptoms such as rashes, breathing issues, and in severe cases cardiac arrest.
Now for the link between estrogen, histamine, and nitric oxide.From another NCBI abstract:
Histamine increases the permeability of the blood brain barrier allowing the excessive nitric oxide to dilate blood vessels.
It’s the dilation of the blood vessels that causes the pain of migraine. There are other enzymes that can also be involved, such a cox-2, an enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain, but all the research I’ve done ultimately points to too much nitric oxide triggering the dilation. (As a note, drugs like Advil work to inhibit the cox-2 enzyme. But anyone who suffers migraines knows that this isn’t a cure but a temporary reprieve from pain, so I am not focusing there.
Before I do go on however, I have done quite a bit of research into using turmeric for migraine relief because it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and cox-2 inhibitor. So if you are having pain where you know Advil helps, turmeric might be a good natural replacement.
To continue, the thing I kept coming back to is the nitric oxide. It is a cellular signaling molecule that our body produces to help its 50 trillion cells communicate throughout the entire body. It is also a free radical. From Wisgeek:
A free radical refers to a molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons. This makes them very unstable, and they move through the bloodstream, taking electrons from other cells or giving away unpaired ones. By doing so, free radicals cause cell damage that has been linked to a host of diseases including heart disease and cancer.
In other words, free radicals wreak havoc in your body. To get rid of them, you need to eat foods that are free radical scavengers. Also from Wisegeek:
The role of the free radical scavenger is to hunt down these unstable molecules and destroy them before they can cause significant cell damage within the body.
So this is where I began to focus my research. If estrogen triggers nitric oxide and histamine helps the nitric oxide pass the blood brain barrier to dilate the blood vessels, then doesn’t it make sense that reducing histamine is not necessarily going to stop the migraine on its own. You have to also sweep away the nitric oxide free radicals.
Free radical scavengers are also referred to as anti-oxidants. Many foods are high in anti-oxidants, but can you eat away a migraine? I started to dig into what is the most potent anti-oxidant. Turns out cloves are one and cinnamon is two. But those had some pitfalls to using them. So I kept searching.
Rosemary, the herb, is the one I landed on as the anti-oxidant that might hold the most promise to help curb a migraine. It is a free radical scavenger, but also a nitric oxide suppressor.
This is the information that made me settle on rosemary as the best and safest free radical scavenger of nitric oxide. There are other free radical scavengers that are higher on the list, but rosemary is the first one on the list that scavenges nitric oxide specifically.
And now the thing that really seals it for me. When I was continuing on in my research, I tripped over an abstract that says that smelling lavender and rosemary reduces cortisol levels and reduces oxidative stress.
The interesting thing about that is I already knew that inhaling lavender oil is an aromatherapy cure for migraine. I haven’t researched why yet, but the fact that it lands in a medical abstract about reducing oxidative stress fascinates me.
Once you start searching the link between free radicals and migraines you come upon a lot of anecdotal evidence that eating a diet high in anti-oxidants can really help with migraines. And if you are a histamine intolerant, estrogen dominant woman, you probably need to be super vigilant. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet becomes of paramount importance. And eating lots of anti-oxidants is also key.
As soon as you feel a migraine coming, you need to start working on getting rid of it. Inhaling lavender and rosemary oils might be the thing to curtail the pain before it really gets going. Remember rosemary is a nitric oxide suppressor, so maybe it can keep the nitric oxide from crossing the blood brain barrier in the first place. Then maybe it can sweep away the left over nitric oxide free radicals.
The problem right now is that I don’t have a migraine and I can’t test the hypothesis. And I’m not willing to trigger one to test it. But I can tell you I’m stopping off tonight to get some rosemary essential oil. (I already have lavender) I’ll be using it daily prophylactically. And because it’s supposed to reduce oxidative stress anyway, I’m hoping it will keep a migraine away even if I eat a trigger.
But can it stop a migraine? I just don’t know that either.
I really don’t know where this all will lead. This is still quite theoretical. But it is based on sound science. Wouldn’t it be amazing if at the very least inhaling lavender and rosemary had a positive effect on a migraine? Stay tuned. This is just the beginning of my mission to vanquish migraines permanently!
I did forget to mention that all of what I’ve presented is based on migraines without auras. I don’t know if you have auras if that is a different type of migraine, but I’ve only had a true aura once in my life. I know when a migraine is coming, and I also have migraines without pain (yes that’s a real thing), but I don’t have lightening bolts and eye issues first. But all the abstracts mention migraine without aura.
In closing, what I really need is someone who is having a migraine or about to, to give the lavender and rosemary oil a try and let us know if it helped. Until I have a migraine to test it out on, I just don’t know if it will work. So let me know down in the comments section if you try to vanquish a migraine with lavender and rosemary.
All the best,
After I wrote this whole post I googled the words rosemary and migraine together and was surprised to find that rosemary has been used for eons as a migraine curative. The interesting thing about that is that I came from such a different direction to land on the same herb. In essence I could very well have proved why rosemary is known to help with migraines. Had I just seen somewhere that rosemary is good for migraines, I might never have asked why.
One other point I want to make is that even if you do not have estrogen spiked migraines now, which I think I’m over with, the mechanism for histamine and nitric oxide theoretically would be the same. Once histamine rises it triggers the nitric oxide. I don’t think you necessarily need the estrogen component. I still get migraines when I eat something that is a histamine trigger, so my thinking is the histamine is the most important component because it’s the thing that allows the nitric oxide to pass through the blood/brain barrier.