Overcoming the Pain of Migraines—A Functional Medicine Approach

Migraine Symptoms

When a dull ache in your head turns into a pounding pain that lasts for hours—or sometimes days—it’s possible that a migraine has taken hold, making you long for a quiet dark room to minimize the throbbing discomfort. Way beyond being merely a “bad headache,” migraines can be debilitating until they subside.

In the U.S., migraines affect almost 16% of people, and women have them 3 times more often than men. There may be a genetic link for this condition since it can run in families, and although the headaches typically begin during early adult years, children can develop migraines too. Despite the prevalence, the biological cause of migraine headaches is not fully understood, although progress continues to be made. Some research has indicated that dysfunction in the brain’s vascular system (blood vessels) and electrical signaling processes lead to decreased blood flow and contribute to terrible head pain and accompanying symptoms. However, why this happens remains unclear.

If you suffer from migraines, it’s a good idea to investigate all the possible causes and triggers, which can include physical, psychological, and environmental issues. Functional (also called integrative) medicine physicians can help.

If you suffer from migraines, it’s a good idea to investigate all the possible causes and triggers, which can include physical, psychological, and environmental issues. Functional (also called integrative) medicine physicians can help. Click To Tweet


Some people have migraines infrequently, while others have them many times a month—or even chronically. And there is a lot of variability in how the symptoms manifest. To begin with, there are 2 primary types of these headaches:

  1. Common migraines are ones without an aura and may come on quite suddenly.
  2. Classic migraines begin with an “aura,” which largely affects vision and can cause colored or blind spots, tunnel or blurry vision, or seeing flashing lights, stars, or patterns. Auras may also cause cognitive issues, fatigue, dizziness, a sensation of “pins and needles” in extremities, and other neurological symptoms.

The accompanying headache, which may be more intense on one side of the head, in the neck, or behind the eyes, can start anywhere from a few minutes to several hours after the aura begins. In addition, many people have other symptoms concurrently, such as nausea, chills, sensitivity to sound and light, brain fog, muscle aches, and other issues that add to the discomfort. Even after a migraine subsides, some symptoms may linger in what is often referred to as a migraine “hangover.”


There are many potential triggers that can start the abnormal processes in the brain which lead to migraines, including:

  • anxiety or stress
  • physical exertion
  • alcohol
  • hormonal fluctuations or birth control pills
  • changes in the weather
  • lack of hydration
  • bruxism (grinding teeth, typically while sleeping)
  • specific foods, such as
  • aged cheeses
  • cultured dairy products like yogurt
  • dried or aged meats and fish
  • certain fruits or fruit juices
  • chocolate
  • pickled or fermented foods
  • artificial sweeteners
  • caffeine
  • MSG
  • yeast (i.e. bread products)
  • perfume, smoke, and other intense odors
  • loud sounds or glaring lights
  • poor sleep or skipping meals

Beyond these common triggers, migraines are also associated with certain neurological disorders. Because of the abnormal vascular function in migraines, research has found evidence that they can be a risk factor for stroke. Literature published in the medical journal, Headache, revealed numerous studies have shown some overlapping neurological processes in epilepsy and migraines, and that the headaches and auras may even trigger seizures. Other research has found that many people who suffer from migraines have a history of mild traumatic brain injury. Furthermore, Irlen Syndrome, which is a visual processing problem that causes certain colors of the light spectrum to irritate the brain, leads to several symptoms, including migraines.


Many people who suffer through the often-debilitating pain of these awful headaches struggle to find solutions to manage them. While certain medications can help with pain management, a holistic approach, such as functional (integrative) medicine might yield more effective long-term results for reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.

Many people who suffer through the debilitating pain of migraines struggle to find solutions to manage them, but a functional medicine approach can make a positive difference for better results. Click To Tweet

Functional medicine practitioners have expertise in investigating and treating the root cause of complex health problems. In the case of migraines, the doctor will want to know the details of your symptoms, the frequency with which your headaches occur, lifestyle behaviors, and any other coexisting medical or mental health disorders. For example, it is not unusual for migraine sufferers to also have one or more issues, such as:

In addition, some research has found that pro-inflammatory processes and oxidative stress can contribute to the onset of migraine symptoms.


Since so many things can play a role in triggering migraines, a functional medicine physician is likely to do testing and recommend different strategies to help figure out the specific factors that are contributing to the headaches. For example, the doctor may want to:

  • Run blood and urine tests to assess for any hormonal imbalances or vitamin deficiencies
  • Recommend a change of birth control method (if applicable) to see if it changes your headache pattern
  • Undergo food allergy testing
  • Work with you on an elimination diet for a period of time to identify triggering foods
  • Ask you to keep a “headache journal” for tracking your food intake and activities prior to getting a migraine

A multi-pronged investigative approach will provide the integrative healthcare professional with a wealth of information about the underlying cause(s) of these debilitating headaches. From there, an individualized and comprehensive treatment plan with specific recommendations can be created and adjusted as needed. Each person’s recommendations will be different based on their unique needs, but examples may include:

By following through with the functional medicine doctor’s suggestions and guidance, the recurrence of migraine headaches can be minimized—or potentially prevented—so they do not continue to be so disruptive to your life and sense of well-being.

At Amen Clinics, our Integrative/Functional Medicine physicians are here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Luckily, my teenage migraines have lessened to where I usually get just the auras with little to no headaches. My question is, there are weeks when I don’t have any auras, and then may have a couple a day. I was wondering if you have any experience with this scenario. Thanks!

    Comment by Marie Myers — August 22, 2022 @ 4:12 AM

  2. I have suffered from chronic daily migraines for the last 17 years. I have tried nearly everything medical science and natural science has to offer—elimination diets, acupuncture, neurofeedback, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, a host of specialized healthy diets and supplements, every medication on the market, herbs, medical marijuana, etc, etc. I currently survive by staying home in the dark and using a Cefaly device. My question is does your clinic have anything different to offer a patient like me? Do the brain scans provide any information that could lead to specific therapies? Thanks, Kim

    Comment by Kim Maxwell — March 12, 2023 @ 3:32 PM

  3. Hello Kim, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 14, 2023 @ 8:49 AM

  4. I heard magnesium helps plus eating greens like kale

    Comment by Jim — April 24, 2023 @ 4:54 AM

  5. Thank you for addressing the problem of migraines. I am 83 years old and have had migraine attacks for about 60 years. They seem to be getting more frequent. I think this is partly because the food industry is adding more preservatives and additives to improve the shelf life and palatability of foods. I have learned to read labels on all foods I buy. How can I find a doctor who really cares about working with me to alleviate my pain and the frequency of my attacks? (They are not all headaches.)

    Comment by Edith Johnson — April 25, 2023 @ 6:33 PM

  6. Hello, i have had on and off tension headaches and anxiety since a car accident with whip lash about 5 years ago. I regularly saw a chiropractor and it always made me feel like myself again along with therapy. Recently i saw a nuerologist who has told me to stop seeing a chiropractor and to take gabopentin as she believes anxiety causes the tension headache. I have followed dr amen for some time now and would like to know his opinions on this drug before starting it.

    Comment by Brooke mullin — July 21, 2023 @ 6:17 PM

  7. I have been getting migranes for the past 32 years. I have reduced sodium intake, I pay attention to what foods that I east and I even remove certain fruits, I rarely use perfumes, I will not entertain certain hair styles like ponytails and I try to use and adjustable pillow under my neck. And yet and still, I can get migraines that last one to two days. I most recently had a migrane that started on Sunday and lasted until Tuesday morning. Most times when the migraine gets unbarely, I take an excedrin. But I try not to take those too much as they make my stomach hurt and they are like wide awake pills. Would you please help?

    Comment by Jennifer — August 15, 2023 @ 6:50 AM

  8. I had a 4-year long migraine. No dr could figure out the cause. Then we had a snowstorm and I couldn’t get to the store to buy eggs. My migraine stopped completely. I can’t even have egg in baked goods. So egg intolerance in adults exists!
    Hope this helps someone. Do formal elimination diet testing with your physician!

    Comment by S — October 2, 2023 @ 12:14 PM

  9. I am a migraine sufferer.. just wondering if migraine can be seen in brain images ?

    Thank you

    Comment by Caroline Flahive — March 26, 2024 @ 3:35 PM

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