How Does Stress Cause Migraines?

Stress takes many forms, and is often the hidden culprit behind migraines. To get at the root cause of chronic migraines, you may be surprised to learn that we need to look at how stress might be disrupting our digestion, neurotransmitters, hormones, and immune system.
A migraine headache can be the sign of a cortisol imbalance – and stress is the likely culprit.

Headaches come in many different forms: tension, cluster, sinus, and yes, migraines. A headache is head pain that presents in different ways throughout your head for a variety of causes.

For example, head pain can be caused by emotional stress, physical stress, such as tight neck muscles, neck vertebrae misalignment, or inflammation in the TMJ (jaw) joint, and/or allergies, sinus congestion and pressure, viral infections, toxin exposure (mold toxins and others), and more. In worst case – but very uncommon – scenarios, head pain can be caused by growths or tumors in the head.

Identifying where the pain is coming from goes a long way towards helping to identify the cause of the head pain. For this reason, your practitioner will likely ask you if the pain is on the left side, right side, temples, front, back, or everywhere. The location of the pain is one of the keys to understanding the cause.

What is most common, however, is that headaches – and specifically migrainesare related to stress.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine is an extremely painful and severe throbbing pain or sensation, typically on one side of your head. Frequently, sufferers of migraines experience hypersensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and potentially vomiting, which can last for hours… or days.

As someone who suffered from vomiting migraines (referred to as abdominal migraines or cyclic vomiting syndrome) for over two decades, I can attest to the severity of these painful experiences.

Why Does Stress Trigger Migraines?

With my patients, I always work to bring it back to understanding the different stressors in their lives. We already know that stress goes beyond what we deal with on a daily basis, or that of sudden life changes. In fact, stress, as it relates to migraines, is often caused by environmental stressors, such as: toxins (around us, in the air, and in the foods we eat); food sensitivities (such as gluten, sugar or dairy); and mold.

Specifically, when our bodies are stressed and considered under attack, the brain (hypothalamus) increases production of a hormone (corticotrophin-releasing factor) which triggers the adrenal glands to increase cortisol levels, thereby altering the messages it sends to our main systems. When this happens, four main areas are affected:

  • Digestion: Decreased digestive enzymes and motility, Leaky gut, imbalanced gut bacteria, and the gut-brain axis are all known to cause migraines when mixed signals are sent to the nervous system.
  • Neurotransmitters: When neurotransmittersthe messengers in our nervous system – are imbalanced, it again affects our nervous system as serotonin (mainly produced in the intestines), GABA, and dopamine levels are too high or too low, making migraines more likely (amongst other symptoms like anxiety and depression).
  • Hormones: Hypothyroidism, blood sugar and insulin imbalances, estrogen, and progesterone imbalances can all cause migraines.
  • Immune System: Allergies or Histamine Intolerance, inflammation in the body, and autoimmunity are often the underlying reason for continuous migraines.

Additionally, I’ve seen genetics play a role in making it more likely that stress will manifest itself as migraines. MTHFR, for example, affects B vitamin levels, which in turn causes nutrient and neurotransmitter depletions. We also know that certain medications or birth controls can also deplete B vitamins, so when combined with MTHFR, this can result in migraines.

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS)which is the hypermobility of the joints – can cause joints to move out of place easier. As I found out from my own experience with EDS, this is exacerbated by driving or sitting at a desk for extended periods of time. EDS is known to cause migraines.

How to Eliminate Migraines

Ultimately, we can check for the various stressors to learn what may be triggering your headaches and how stress has shifted your cortisol, digestion, hormones and neurotransmitter levels. We can also look at your genetics to see what your body specifically needs to heal.

Get your adrenals back in order with Dr. Doni's Adrenal Wellness Program!My Adrenal Recovery and Wellness Program includes several of these panels, as well as consultations with me to identify the root issues and work through my Dr. Doni Protocol to reverse your symptoms and ultimately eliminate migraines.

If we suspect that hormonal imbalances are causing your migraines, we can also assess that through a Women’s Hormone Panel, known as the DUTCH test.

We can check for environmental toxins and/or mold toxins with advanced panels. And then I can guide you to get them out of your body safely.

To understand your genetics, we can cost-effectively run a panel and use software needed to know your genetic tendencies and nutrient needs based on your genes.

Finally, after 20+ years of suffering from migraines, I identified my root causes and eliminated my migraines – and I know that you can, too. Click here to schedule a consultation with me.

Wellness wishes to you!

–Dr. Doni
23rd January 2020