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Migraine Headaches -
Overlooked Causes and Possible Treatments

To date, many different triggers for migraine headaches have been identified. Listed below are some of the causes of migraines and other types of headaches that we have had in my family, causes that seem to often be overlooked by conventional medical doctors. These factors include magnesium deficiency, muscle tension, shoulder imbalances, high blood pressure, sinus infections and bacterial infections.

1. Magnesium Deficiency - One cause of headaches and migraine headaches can be a magnesium deficiency.

Caffeine and Magnesium Loss

Caffeine consumption can lead to magnesium loss. Most of the people I know who suffer from migraine headaches consume high amounts of either, tea, coffee or caffeinated soda

Effect of caffeine on calcium and magnesium excretion - adapted from J American College Nutrition, October 1994 issue

Magnesium is responsible for hundreds of different functions in the human body, so a deficiency of this one important mineral can lead to a wide range of seemingly unrelated maladies. Other conditions often linked to magnesium deficiency may include anxiety, depression, migraines, nystagmus (shaky eyes), asthma, heart palpitations, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), muscles cramps, mitral valve prolapse, rickets (sunken or barrel chests, scoliosis, bow legs, etc.), hypersensitive hearing and chemical sensitivity.

Migraines are often treated with medications containing magnesium sulphate, but yet most doctors fail to ask patients about magnesium intake in their daily diets. Studies show that most people in the U.S. and other industrialized countries often do not consume the recommended daily amounts of magnesium, so eating a diet high in magnesium rich foods foods would be a simple, inexpensive and logical treatment for many migraine sufferers to try.

Listed below is just a small sample of the studies on Pubmed on the magnesium-migraine connection:

For more studies, click on any of the links above to get to the PubMed database at the National Institute of Health and enter the term:

migraine magnesium

in the search box.

For more information see my pages on:

2. It is known that headaches can occur from chronic muscle tension. Based on my experience, I think this is probably true for many migraines as well. The clues to this are that migraines often start on just one side of the head and may include numbness down the arm and visual disturbances. I know from personal experience these symptoms can all occur together from tight muscles pressing on nerves and blood vessels in the thoracic outlet.

In my case I used to get headaches from having one shoulder higher and much tighter than the other. On the high shoulder side I had headaches, plugged up ears, eye pain, ear pain, arm numbness and tingling and frequent nosebleeds,

and on the lower shoulder side I had plugged ears, ear pain, TMJ and neck pain. The high shoulder had very tight, shortened muscles so if I would look to my right for an extended period or do any kind of shoulder exercise that would pull on the left side of my neck, the muscles on the left side of my neck and head would go into spasm. The pain was excruciating, but only on one side of my head.

On my high shoulder side my muscles were tight, shortened and contracted.

They were pressing on the nerves and blood vessels, especially in my thoracic outlet, causing visual disturbances, migraine headaches, numbness tingling and joint popping in my left shoulder and arm.

My left hand would get cold from having the circulation cut off.

drawing of muscle tension causing pain in head and neck

Drawing of my unbalanced muscles pulling my shoulder out of shape.

The shaded areas show where I was in pain.

On my low shoulder side the muscles were weak and stretched out, causing ear pain, TMJ, neck pain and a frozen shoulder.

My arm on the side of my body would sometimes go numb from my muscles putting pressure on the nerves in my thoracic outlet and my left hand would be cold from the circulation being cut off.

I used to go to different optometrists and opthamologists trying to find the cause of my eye pain. They always told me my eyes were fine. It turned out my eye pain was actually referred pain from the contracted muscles in my shoulder pulling down on the left side of my face, including my left eye. I would also see a lot of floaters in my left eye. These eased up when I figured out how to loosen up my tight shoulder muscles.

3. High blood pressure can cause headaches and I suspect they are factor in migraine headaches, too. While it isn't a common view within the medical profession, based on my own experience, I think blood pressure can either be a systemic problem or very localized to just one part or several parts of the body. I personally think that taking a person's blood pressure in one arm and at one point in time is probably an ineffective and overly simplistic way of determining if there is something wrong with his or her blood pressure. The blood vessels in a person's body are a long, complicated network, and I think it is possible for some parts and not others to have pressure problems.

I used to get high blood pressure just in the left side of my head from the muscles in my left shoulder being overdeveloped and pressing on the blood vessels on the left side on my neck like a tourniquet. My blood pressure readings could vary greatly depending upon which arm the reading was taken from and also how much muscles tension I was having at that particular point in time. For many years I never understood why I just had the headaches, facial pain, eye pain and nosebleeds onjust one side of my head until a physical therapist explained it to me.

I realize now the muscular tension in my shoulder was just like someone putting his thumb on a garden hose to stop the flow of water, only in my case it was muscles instead of a thumb pressing on my blood vessels stopping the flow of blood from leaving my head, causing pressure to build up. This resulted in localized high blood pressure and headaches. I also used to get eye floaters and frequent nosebleeds but only on the left side. At one time my left eye even hemorrhaged.

Coffee for Headaches: Cure, Cause or Both?

Coffee is sometimes recommended to help with headaches, especially migraine headaches. I personally believe coffee works in the short run because it constricts the blood vessels and blood flow to the head, alleviating headaches caused by high blood pressure.

According at an article on caffeine in National Geographic magazine, "coffee withdrawals" occur from increased blood pressure in the head when the blood vessels return to normal size after being restricted from prior coffee/caffeine consumption.

While ingesting coffee for headaches may help in the short run, coffee lowers magnesium levels, so in the long run this solution may do more harm than good. I rarely drink coffee, but if I do have a cup one day, then the next day I have to have at least a half a cup or I get a headache from the blood flow to my head increasing.

I've noticed that my eye floaters get worse when I drink coffee. I suspect this occurs because the constricted blood vessels reduce blood pressure to my eyes and prevent some needed nutrients from getting to the cells.

Related Link: Caffeine 'can ease headaches' - A cup of tea or coffee might be able to tackle certain types of headache, say researchers.

Another time when I was experimenting with a new yoga routine, I accidentally tightened my shoulder muscles instead of loosening them up. I actually lost my peripheral vision in my left eye. Everything around the edges of my field of vision became wavy. That was really scary. I got my vision back okay through doing more relaxing yoga poses and trigger point therapy on my shoulder. I have been careful not to do those same exercises any more and I have not had the problem reoccur.

4. Chronic Sinus infections can cause chronic headaches from the pressure of the infection in the sinus cavity. Interestingly, recent studies, including work at the Mayo clinic, are linking chronic sinus infections to fungal infections.

5. From the CBS News Web site - Some headaches may be linked to infection with a common bug, and daily doses of friendly bacteria could ward them off, preliminary research suggests. A study presented at an infectious diseases conference found that about 18 percent of chronic migraine sufferers were infected with the stomach bug helicobacter pylori and antibiotics appeared to clear the headaches.

Adding the friendly bacteria Lactobacillus seemed to work even better, leaving most people migraine-free for a year and lessening the intensity and frequency of recurring headaches in the others, the lead researcher said." For the entire article click here -
Take Two Aspirin And Some Bacteria.

6. An overly acidic diet can cause a depletion of magnesium, which is why I think some people suffer from both migraines and acid reflux. Magnesium is an alkaline mineral, and is one of the minerals that gets released by the body when it is trying to lower its acidity levels. I think this is why for some people highly acidic foods, such as tomatoes and pickles, can trigger headaches in some people.

Visit this page of my site for more information on alkaline and acidic foods.


Many of the above conditions often do not occur in isolation and are most likely interdependent conditions. For example, magnesium is needed for the chemical reaction that causes muscles to relax. As such, a magnesium deficiency can cause tight muscles which can lead to headaches. Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to high blood pressure, so again this shows an interlinking of the above causes. Antibiotics kill the intestinal bacteria that synthesize vitamin K, which in turn may reduce blood pressure by thinning the blood.

I believe these contributing factors may be part of the problem as to why so many people suffer from headaches that never seem to get completely cured. Doctors tend to look for a single cure and a single cause when in reality headaches are most likely the result of a complex set of interdependent nutritional and muscular factors. If you are like me and your headaches and migraine headaches stem from nutritional deficiencies, high blood pressure, tight muscles, chronic muscles tension and poor body alignment, then just taking a pill may not be a comprehensive long term solution. The things that worked for me were a combination of trigger point therapy, yoga, posture changes, diet changes, and especially improving my body alignment to balance the muscles in my shoulders.




Related sections of interest:

Magnesium's Link to Migraine Headaches

What Really Causes Migraines? What Ties Seemingly Unrelated Symptoms?

Treatment of Menstrual Migraine Headaches

Food and Other Migraine Triggers

Overlooked Headache Causes and Treatments


Selected Links:

Migraine Headaches


Visit my home page or use my site map for more information on headaches and related topics.


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