Thinking of going natural?
We've all had our share of bad treatment experiences. Many times we are tempted to give up on doctors and medicines, turning instead to more natural ways in an effort to minimize side effects and long-term damage to our bodies. I understand this temptation all too well because I lived it for thirteen years. In fact, I exhausted nearly every natural remedy I could find before finally switching to integrative treatments just a few years ago. For the most part, from 1995 until late 2007, I used only traditional healing practices. I didn't just dabble in it. I was immersed in it as a lifestyle. I received extensive training in Reiki and western Herbalism. For five of those years, my family owned and operated a health food store. Natural medicine was our livelihood.
Naturally, when well-meaning people offer suggestions to try yet another natural remedy, I get a little testy. You see, I've met some of the country's leading experts on natural medicine. These men and women are just as knowledgeable about health, nutrition, and medical science as any headache specialist I've met. They weren't "quacks" (I met plenty of those, too, and kept on walking). My treatment choices were not based on some fad being promoted on daytime medical talk shows. I did my research carefully and consulted with some of the brightest minds in natural medicine. The supplements I chose were from pharmaceutical-grade laboratories that documented the purity and accuracy of each product from raw material to post-market studies.
None of it ever made a difference.
By the time I was introduced to natural medicine, I was already chronic. I'd beaten Medication Overuse Headache only to discover that migraine was still out of control. I didn't know there was such a thing as Chronic Migraine. I just knew that attacks happened way too often and were difficult to stop. Migraine attacks more than half the time was "normal life." Still, I wanted a life free from frequent attacks.
During those years I learned a lot about nutrition and how food, supplements, and medicines interact to affect our physical and mental health. If I had to, I could treat many common ailments without the aid of a pharmacy or doctor. Even today, my medicine cabinet is stocked with mostly natural remedies. I'm not intimidated by much of anything as I've had years of successful home practice. There are many common ailments (and some more serious ones) that I can handle with great skill. I'm no fool though. There's a limit to every treatment option, natural or not. Emergency situations call for emergency treatment. I know my limits.
Migraine was one condition I could never beat.
I had a few temporary successes, but like anything else with migraine, no treatment success ever lasted for long. On the bright side, I learned a lot of creative comfort measures. I share my discoveries with one caution. They worked for me, but we're all different, so please consult with your doctor and a naturopath or master herbalist before trying any of these.
- Adding Valerian root tincture at the early stages of an attack kept me calm and sometimes even helped me take a nap.
- Apple cider vinegar and honey mixed in warm water eases nausea and heartburn so common with my attacks.
- Creative use of alternating hot and cold can cut the intensity of the pain by up to half.
- Mullein oil helps relieve muscle tension in my face, jaw, and neck during a long-lasting attack.
- Peppermint and Lavender essential oils soothed the pain when applied to my temples, sinuses, and neck.
- Peppermint leaf or Raspberry leaf tea calms nausea and keeps me hydrated during an attack.
- Tincture of Lobelia was a mixed blessing. It is an emetic, but occasionally had the opposite effect by preventing me from vomiting so I could keep medicine down.
There were some terrible failures, too.
- One such failure involved testing a migraine remedy for inclusion in our store inventory. I wasn't about to promote a product (particularly a migraine-specific one) without trying it out first. Just trust me on this one. Oregano and migraine do not mix, no matter who tells you it will stop an attack in 30 minutes or less. Obviously, the product did not make it on to our shelves!
- Another involved a product still in use today for migraine. I consulted with a physician who participated in clinical studies of this supplement. Trying it seemed like a reasonable choice. I didn't know to ask him about titration, so I started out with the highest recommended dose at 300 mg of 5-HTP. Within an hour all that extra serotonin hit my stomach like a ton of bricks. I spent the rest of the day vomiting every few hours until it was finally out of my system.
- Cayenne ointment is a powerful analgesic. In my case though, it left mild burns on my skin. It would often stop an attack but I would peel for days after using it. People would express concern when seeing my face so obviously burned. I got more sensitive the more I used it, so eventually I had to stop.
- Liver detox just made me sick.
- White willow bark was about as useful as a sugar pill.
- Mouth guards made me grind my teeth even more.
- Going gluten-free made me sick, weak, and exhausted. After 6 weeks, even my naturopath encouraged me to stop.
- At first, feverfew worked as a preventive. I stopped taking it during pregnancy and it never worked again.
- Butterbur didn't cause any side effects, but it didn't do anything to slow the onslaught of attacks either.
These are just a few of the remedies I tried over the years.
Chances are good that if you have heard of it, I've tried it.
On the whole, I have experienced fewer side effects and more positive results with pharmaceutical treatments than I ever did with natural remedies. I still use the remedies that work in addition to medical treatment. My neurologists, family doctor, and naturopath all work together. If I had it to do over again, I would have accepted my doctor's offer of Topamax the first time he offered it. Instead, concerned about side effects, I put him off for two years. I wasted over a decade trying to avoid the medical treatments that might have prevented me from becoming totally disabled by migraine. It's a choice I have to live with. Hopefully it is also a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of firing their doctor, dumping out those pills, and trying every crazy theory hoping something might work.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?