Healing Migraines Naturally: A Comprehensive Guide to Root Causes, Holistic Treatments, and Long-Term Healing Strategies with Dr. Tanya Paynter (Episode 218)

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Healing Migraines Naturally: A Comprehensive Guide to Root Causes, Holistic Treatments, and Long-Term Healing Strategies with Dr. Tanya Paynter (Episode 218)

Getting from migraines isn't just about solving the immediate problem. It's about learning how to take care of your body holistically.
Reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines can improve overall quality of life. Dr. Tanya Paynter joins Dr. Doni to talk about types of migraines and headaches, their triggers, and a systematic healing process.

Today’s topics is migraines. There is so much we can do to help those of you who are experiencing migraines and wanting to solve them once and for all. That’s why I’m excited to introduce you to Dr. Tanya Paynter. She’s a Naturopathic Doctor, like me! We both went to Bastyr University in the Seattle area. 

This is a really important topic to me because I also suffered from migraines for many years. I’m so grateful now to have solved them and to have learned so much from the process. I’m really happy to have this conversation with Dr. Tanya because I know how life-changing it can be to find relief from chronic migraines.

Migraines are more than just headaches. They can be debilitating and affect every aspect of a person’s life. That’s why it’s so crucial to address them properly and find lasting solutions. 

In our discussion today, we’ll explore various aspects of migraines, from their causes to treatment options, and most importantly, how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Dr. Tanya’s Personal Journey with Migraines

Dr. Tanya shared her personal journey with migraines, which I find incredibly relatable and I’m sure many of our listeners will too. 

When she was 16, she was rear-ended in a car accident, which was the start of her migraine journey. From that point on, she started having fairly regular headaches. As she went through college, they became more frequent, accompanied by depression and other symptoms.

This progression is not uncommon. Many people find that their migraines worsen over time if left untreated or not properly managed. The impact on daily life can be significant, affecting everything from academic performance to social relationships.

After graduating and entering the workforce, Dr. Tanya’s headaches became even more frequent. She didn’t realize they were migraines at the time; they were just really bad headaches. Her doctor told her to take some Advil, saying that everybody gets headaches. This dismissive approach is unfortunately all too common in conventional medicine, where the focus is often on managing symptoms rather than addressing root causes.

It wasn’t until she went back to medical school that she realized it’s not normal to have headaches every day. This realization is crucial because many people normalize their pain, thinking it’s just part of life. But chronic pain, including frequent headaches or migraines, is not normal and should be addressed.

Dr. Tanya spent those years in medical school paying attention to what she could do for her body to help herself not feel that way anymore. By the time she graduated, her migraines were gone, but her chronic headaches were still there. This shows that healing is often a gradual process, with improvements coming in stages rather than all at once.

Solving Migraines and Headaches: A Holistic Approach

A holistic approach is key to solving headaches and migraines long-term. It’s not about taking a pill to relieve pain. It’s about addressing all the factors that contribute to chronic pain. This includes lifestyle factors like stress and diet, as well as internal factors like hormone balance and neurotransmitter function.

Dr. Tanya explained that it took a couple of years after medical school to work on stress management, understand its impact, work on hormone balancing, and address dietary factors. As she did, the chronic headaches disappeared. 

By solving her own headaches and migraines, she developed her approach to help patients who get headaches. She starts by helping patients to know where to begin. 

Dr. Tanya described that having gone through migraines herself, has helped her to have a deeper understanding of what patients are going through. She has firsthand experience of what works and what doesn’t, which helps her guide patients through her treatment approach.

The Prevalence of Migraines

About one in four people in the United States is dealing with migraines in some regard, whether it’s because they know someone, a loved one, or a close friend who has them, or they have them themselves. About 43% of women have experienced migraines fairly regularly.

These statistics highlight how common migraines are. They’re not a rare condition that only affects a few people. They’re a widespread health issue that impacts millions of people every day. Despite this, migraines are often underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Dr. Tanya believes these numbers are probably lower than they really are in reality because there is some misdiagnosis. Many people, like Dr. Tanya in her early experiences, aren’t properly diagnosed. It’s important for people to understand that there is a difference between headaches and migraines, and to make sure they’re getting properly assessed.

This underscores the importance of proper diagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis, people can’t get the right treatment. They might be treating their migraines as if they were just regular headaches, which won’t be effective in the long run.

Diagnosing Migraines

When it comes to diagnosing migraines, there are specific diagnostic criteria. What we’re looking for are those neurological symptoms that come along with it. Very commonly people experience vision disturbances, such as an aura, and issues with hearing or auditory senses, and there can be some sensation issues going on too– numbness and/or tingling.

These neurological symptoms are what set migraines apart from regular headaches. They’re not just about pain; they involve a whole host of other symptoms that can be quite disruptive.

There’s also a specific diagnosis for chronic migraine. If you have migraines more than seven days out of the month, and it’s happening for more than three months, then we’re looking at a more chronic picture. This distinction is important because chronic migraines often require a different treatment approach than episodic migraines.

Other symptoms often include nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, and sound sensitivity. Some people experience more severe neurological symptoms like going blind on half of their face or one eye, or having drooping mouth or facial muscles. These symptoms can be quite frightening if you don’t know what’s happening, which is why it’s so important to get a proper diagnosis.

Conventional Treatments for Migraines

When it comes to conventional treatments for migraines, Dr. Tanya explained that most commonly, people are prescribed medications that are called triptans. That’s usually the first go-to medication. 

From there, there are other options depending on whether that does or does not work. We can look at CGRP inhibitors, beta blockers, and other medications. It depends on whether it’s going to be for prevention or acute treatment.

While these medications can be effective for some people, they often come with side effects and don’t address the underlying causes of migraines. They’re more about managing symptoms than solving the problem.

However, as naturopathic doctors, we take a different approach. We ask, “Wait a minute, maybe we can actually get these migraines to stop happening instead of always just treating the symptoms?” This is the fundamental difference between conventional and naturopathic approaches to migraines.

Our goal is not just to relieve pain in the moment, but to prevent migraines from occurring in the all together. We want to understand why the migraines are happening and address those root causes. This approach takes more time and effort, but it can lead to long-lasting results and true healing.

Understanding Migraine Triggers and Addressing Root Causes

With migraines it’s not just about avoiding triggers but understanding what the triggers tell us about how our body is working.

For example, many people notice that they get migraines when storms come in. Interestingly, when low-pressure systems come in, that causes our serotonin levels to drop. So then we know there’s a serotonin piece to address. We can actually treat that by understanding that a storm is coming in the next few days and doing some treatment to help prevent that serotonin drop.

This is a perfect example of how understanding the mechanism behind a trigger can lead to more effective treatment. Instead of just telling patients to avoid going outside during storms (which isn’t always possible), we can work on supporting their serotonin levels to make them more resilient to these weather changes.

Once you start balancing your serotonin and your hormones and all the other things that play a role in that serotonin pathway, then suddenly the weather doesn’t trigger you anymore. We can heal these things. This is the power of addressing root causes rather than just managing symptoms.

Migraines: The Bathtub Analogy

Dr. Tanya uses the analogy of a bathtub to explain how our bodies handle stress and triggers. We have so much that our body can tolerate, and when our bathtub fills up, it overflows. Most chronic migraineurs are living with a full bathtub all the time, so just the smallest thing will set them over.

This analogy is so helpful in understanding why some people seem to be triggered by everything while others can handle more stress or triggers without getting a migraine. When your bathtub is already full, even a small amount of additional stress can cause it to overflow, resulting in a migraine.

What we want to do is learn how we can drain the bathtub so your tolerance is much higher. Then you don’t have to always avoid the triggers like cheese or a glass of wine. You can enjoy them every once in a while, just not overdoing it. It’s about understanding what our body’s limits are and working to expand those limits.

This approach is liberating because it means you’re not doomed to a life of constant restriction. As you heal and your body becomes more resilient, you can start to enjoy things that might have triggered migraines in the past.

Different Types of Migraines

Dr. Tanya explained that there’s more than one type of migraine, and the types are connected with the different causes. Typically, she finds that her clients usually have three or four different types of migraines.

This is crucial information because many people think all migraines are the same. But understanding that you might be dealing with different types of migraines can help explain why some treatments work sometimes but not others.

When you start paying attention to what your migraines feel like, you’ll notice differences. Maybe one migraine comes and you feel super nauseous, and then another migraine comes and it just feels like your head’s in a vice, and then the next migraine comes and it’s a stabby ice pick behind your eye.

Those are all different types of migraines. The same thing is kind of happening, but they’re all being caused by different underlying issues.

This can be really confusing and is one of the reasons why a treatment might work for one type of migraine but not for another. Understanding that we have different migraines and knowing what’s causing them will allow us to treat them properly.

This personalized approach is key to effective migraine treatment. It’s not about finding one solution that works for everyone, but about understanding each person’s unique migraine patterns and addressing them accordingly.

The Prodrome and Postdrome of Migraines

The prodrome is the period before the migraine starts, and it usually has different symptoms associated with it depending on the type of migraine you’re having.

Understanding the prodrome can be a game-changer in migraine management. If you can recognize the early warning signs of a migraine, you have a better chance of preventing it or at least reducing its severity.

You might be able to feel like you’re starting to get really nauseous, or you might notice that you get really short-tempered. Paying attention to the symptoms leading up to when your migraine actually starts can give you a clue early on about what kind of migraine you’re going to be having.

Once you figure that out, you can treat it before it gets started. In most cases, you can abort it before it takes hold, and then you don’t have to deal with the migraine hangover, which is the postdrome.

This proactive approach can significantly reduce the impact of migraines on your life. Instead of being at the mercy of your migraines, you can start to take control and intervene early.

The Migraine Hangover

The migraine hangover, or postdrome, is the after-effects of the neurochemical imbalance that happens during a migraine. You feel hungover, you’re out of it, your mental capacity isn’t there, you’re really tired, your mood is different. You’re usually dealing with that for a couple of days.

This postdrome phase is often overlooked in migraine treatment, but it can be just as disruptive as the migraine itself. It’s not just about the acute pain; it’s about the lingering effects that can impact your life for days afterward.

In some cases, the cycles blend together, and it becomes this chronic cycle of acute pain and then hangover pain, and then acute pain and hangover pain. It’s like you never feel good. This constant cycle can be incredibly draining and can significantly impact quality of life.

The Journey to Healing

As we worked through solving our own migraines, we both found that it wasn’t just solving one thing. There’s a list of things to address, and as we worked down that list over time, the frequency of migraines started decreasing. That’s what we’re going for – we want the frequency to decrease so they’re not happening as often.

This gradual approach is important. It’s not about finding a magic bullet that instantly cures migraines. It’s about systematically addressing various factors that contribute to migraines and slowly but surely reducing their frequency and severity.

It’s important to note that this process takes time. For both of us, it took years to fully solve our migraines. But even small improvements can make a big difference in quality of life. Going from having migraines several times a week to once a month, for example, can be life-changing.

The Fear Factor and Recovery

There’s a fear factor that comes with migraines – the fear of the next one. Dr. Tanya shared that for her, it was like walking on eggshells. She didn’t want to do anything because she knew that one of the things she did was going to make her have a migraine.

This fear can be paralyzing. It can prevent you from fully living your life because you’re always worried about triggering a migraine. This psychological aspect of migraines is often overlooked, but it’s a significant part of the migraine experience.

It took a lot of work and a lot of digging and really learning her body and paying attention. Finally, she realized she didn’t have to be like that anymore. She hadn’t had a migraine in a long time, so she could go out with friends and try things again.

This recovery process is not just physical; it’s emotional too. It’s about regaining confidence in your body and trusting that you can engage in activities without fear of triggering a migraine.

Signs of Progress

Typically, what we end up seeing as a sign of progress is not necessarily an immediate decrease in migraine frequency. Usually, what happens first is much more minor changes. We start noticing no changes in migraines, but we might have a little bit more brain clarity or a little bit more energy. Maybe we’ve lost a little weight or our joints don’t hurt quite as much.

These subtle changes are important to recognize and celebrate. They’re signs that your body is starting to heal, even if you’re not seeing dramatic changes in your migraines yet.

Then we start noticing that when we take our medication, it works better and our migraine doesn’t last as long. So we’re looking at less intensity, better medication use, and shorter duration. As soon as Dr. Tanya starts hearing someone say, “Oh, this one wasn’t 48 hours this time, I only had a migraine for 12,” she knows they’re on the right track.

Over time, as the body continues to heal, we start seeing a decrease in frequency. It’s a very slow progression, and it takes time, especially the longer you’ve dealt with migraines. Patience is key in this process. It’s not about quick fixes, but about sustainable, long-term healing.

The Systematic Approach to Solving Migraines

Dr. Tanya shared her systematic approach to solving migraines. She starts with the foundational things:

  1. Hydration: We talk about the very first things, the foundational things. We discuss hydration, but hydration isn’t just drinking water. It means how much electrolytes we need as well so that our body, our cells, are actually absorbing the water we’re drinking. Proper hydration is crucial for overall health and can play a significant role in migraine prevention.
  2. Antioxidants: We need to make sure that we’re starting to support the antioxidants. This includes things like vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, and alpha-lipoic acid. Antioxidants help combat oxidative stress in the body, which can be a contributing factor to migraines.
  3. Healthy Eating: We want to make sure that we’re eating healthy. Our diet can either really work against us or really work for us. We want to use it to work for us. Dr. Tanya calls them “swaps” rather than using the term “elimination diet” because it feels less restrictive. The goal is to focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods that support overall health and reduce inflammation.
  4. Stress Management: Within the first month, we’re looking at stress management and meditation, prayer, and all of the other things that you can do to help relax and lower our stress levels. Stress is a major trigger for many migraine sufferers, so learning effective stress management techniques is crucial. This might include practices like deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation.
  5. Adrenal Support and Detoxification: We work on adrenal support and detoxification, doing some liver support in preparation for looking forward to hormone balancing. The adrenal glands play a crucial role in our stress response, and supporting them can help improve overall resilience. Detoxification support helps ensure that our body can effectively eliminate toxins that might be contributing to migraines.
  6. Structure: We want to take a look at structure. This is where the hypermobility aspect comes in. We want to be evaluated for that and make sure that our spine is in alignment. Many people don’t realize that structural issues can contribute to migraines. Misalignments in the spine, especially in the neck, can lead to tension and trigger migraines.
  7. Eye Alignment: One thing that not a lot of people know about is eye misalignment, which can be huge. If somebody is triggered by close-up work, reading, knitting, or looking at the computer, Dr. Tanya really encourages them to talk to their eye doctor about being evaluated. Eye strain can be a significant trigger for migraines, and addressing any alignment issues can make a big difference.
  8. Neurotransmitters and Hormones: Then we want to assess neurotransmitters and hormones. This is where we start getting into the more specific pieces because that doesn’t apply to everybody. Imbalances in neurotransmitters like serotonin can play a role in migraines, as can hormonal fluctuations. This is particularly relevant for women who experience menstrual migraines.
  9. Other Factors: We want to rule out any infections, any mold issues. We want to look at sleep. There’s a lot of stuff to be thinking about. This catchall category reminds us that migraines can have many different triggers and contributing factors. It’s important to be thorough in our investigation and not overlook any potential causes.

The Rewards of Healing: A Case Study

Dr. Tanya shared that she frequently gets responses from people saying, “I didn’t know you could feel this good.” Many people have forgotten how good it feels to feel really good because it’s been so long since they’ve had a good day. Even their good days were not good.

This highlights how much migraines can impact overall quality of life. When you’re constantly dealing with pain or the fear of pain, it’s hard to truly enjoy life. Healing from migraines isn’t just about reducing pain; it’s about reclaiming your life and rediscovering what it feels like to feel good.

She shared a story of a 26-year-old who went through her program. For the first time in her life, this young woman was able to move out of her parents’ house, have a full-time job, and take care of herself. She said, “I actually get to be an adult and have a life now.”

This story illustrates the far-reaching impacts of chronic migraines. They don’t just affect your health; they can hold you back in life, preventing you from achieving your goals and living independently. Solving migraines can truly be life-changing in every sense.

It’s so amazing and rewarding because it’s a lot of work to try to figure everything out. When people do it successfully, it’s just so amazing to hear those stories. As practitioners, these success stories remind us why we do this work. It’s not just about treating a condition; it’s about helping people reclaim their lives.

Healing from Migraines: Long-Term Benefits

The process of healing from migraines isn’t just about solving the immediate problem. It’s about learning how to take care of your body so that you don’t develop autoimmune diseases, you don’t have a bad menopause because your hormones are so out of whack, and you don’t have migraines.

This holistic approach to health is one of the key benefits of working with a naturopathic doctor. We’re not just looking at your migraines in isolation; we’re looking at your overall health and how everything is interconnected. By addressing the root causes of your migraines, we’re often improving your overall health in many ways.

The goal is for each person to understand how their body is working, where their weaknesses are (either genetically or otherwise), and then we can give them the tools they need to help them through those. This allows people to open their lives back up, their diets back up. Their bathtubs are essentially drained so they can have fun and enjoy themselves.

This empowerment is a crucial part of the healing process. It’s not just about following a treatment plan; it’s about gaining a deeper understanding of your own body and health. When you understand why certain things trigger your migraines and how to support your body’s natural healing processes, you’re better equipped to maintain your health long-term.

The Power of Listening to Your Body

As we heal, we learn to listen to our bodies better. Dr. Tanya shared that she’ll sometimes forget that she has to do a good job and might take things to the extreme. But then her body gives her a little warning sign – a small pain in the back of her neck. That’s her warning that if she doesn’t behave herself in the next 48 hours, she’s going to have a headache that will probably progress.

This ability to tune into our body’s signals is a valuable skill that often develops as part of the healing process. It allows us to catch potential problems early and take action before they become full-blown migraines.

We can learn to back off, do some sauna work, do some detoxing, eat some really healthy food, drink a lot of water. Then the migraine never manifests. We can waver back and forth – we don’t always have to be super good. But once we learn how to recognize that we’re pushing too far, we can stop it before it becomes a problem.

This approach allows for more flexibility in life. It’s not about rigid rules or constant restriction; it’s about understanding your body’s limits and respecting them. It’s about knowing when you can push a little and when you need to pull back and take care of yourself.

The Importance of Hope

Many women feel like they’ve tried everything. Their neurologist isn’t able to offer them a solution anymore, they’ve exhausted all the medication options, and they feel like this is just their life.

This feeling of hopelessness is common among chronic migraine sufferers, especially those who have tried multiple treatments without success. It’s easy to feel like you’re doomed to a life of pain and limitation.

But that’s not true. We know a lot about migraines – not as much as we need to yet, but we’re getting there. Unfortunately, conventional medicine approaches don’t really look at things this way. There is hope, no matter how bad you feel your case is. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to continue living like this.

This message of hope is so important. When you’re in the midst of chronic pain, it can be hard to believe that things can get better. But both Dr. Tanya and I are living proof that it’s possible to overcome chronic migraines, even when they’ve been a long-standing problem.

The Healing Potential of the Nervous System

The nervous system can heal. Somehow, there’s this belief that the nervous system is just set the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. But that’s really not true. Dr. Tanya and I are also proof that the nervous system can absolutely heal, and it’s a beautiful thing.

This understanding of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and adapt – is relatively new in medical science. It opens up exciting possibilities for healing, not just from migraines but from many neurological conditions.When we approach migraine treatment with this understanding, we open up many more possibilities for healing. Instead of just trying to manage symptoms, we can work on actually changing the underlying patterns in the nervous system that contribute to migraines.

Next Steps in Your Healing Journey

Migraines don’t have to be a life sentence. With the right approach, it’s possible to not only manage migraines but to significantly reduce their frequency and severity, and in many cases, to eliminate them altogether.

This journey requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to look at your health holistically. It’s not always easy, but the rewards are immense. Imagine a life where you’re not constantly worried about the next migraine, where you can make plans without fear, where you can fully engage in your work and relationships without the shadow of pain hanging over you.

That’s the kind of transformation that’s possible when we approach migraines from a root-cause perspective. It’s not just about treating symptoms; it’s about true healing. And that healing extends far beyond just resolving migraines – it often leads to improved overall health, more energy, better mood, and a renewed zest for life.

I’m so grateful to Tanya for her work and our connection. If you would like to learn more about how Tanya can help you check out her website. You can find her on Instagram @naturalmigrainedoc and Facebook @Migraine Mastery Online Program.

I am living proof that it is possible to heal from migraines and eliminate the effects of stress, trauma, anxiety and depression by resetting our stress hormones and helping our body and mind to recover. I help patients with to do this in my practice every day – by phone and zoom, anywhere in the world. You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.

To learn more about my approach to healing from migraines using my Stress Recovery Protocol which involves optimizing cortisol and adrenaline levels to heal the adrenals, as well as neurotransmitters, using nutrients, herbs and C.A.R.E.™ – my proprietary program to support clean eating, adequate sleep, stress recovery and exercise – I encourage you to read all about it in my latest book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.

Thank you all for listening to this episode of How Humans Heal. Please reach out if you have any other questions about how we can help with migraines. And please like and subscribe so that you don’t miss the next episode of How Humans Heal. Remember, healing is possible, and you deserve to live a life free from the burden of chronic migraines. 

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