(Article previously published on the women’s wellness site Blood + Milk.)
How much time have you lost because you’re on your period and stuck lying in bed with a cold towel over your eyes, wondering how long before this head-splitting migraine will go away?
Half a day?
A whole day?
Or maybe even days?
You’re not alone.
Sixty percent of women who get migraines suffer from what’s called menstrual migraines. These migraines are brought on by a drop in our estrogen and progesterone levels just before the start of our periods.
HOW PERIOD MIGRAINES ARE TRADITIONALLY TREATED
Once a month, I could look forward to losing an afternoon or even a full day to my period migraine. And even though my doctor told me that being on the Pill would lessen the severity of the migraines, that wasn’t the case. In fact, sometimes they would worsen while I was using the Pill.
It would have been great if my doctor had told me that each woman’s body is different and that the levels of estrogen within birth control pills vary. So while a woman like me might find that being on the Pill made my menstrual migraines worse, another woman might find that they helped her migraines diminish.
A visit to a traditional western doctor about your menstrual migraines may result in one of these three approaches:
- An immediate dosage of triptan (a medication used to treat migraines) in combination with an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen; or you can inject triptan with a needle or a needle-free syringe (which works faster than swallowing a pill but sounds horrifying); or you can use a nasal inhaler. This option, although less terrifying than injection and faster than a pill, is still not fast enough if you are nauseated and vomiting as a result of your migraine.
- A preventative approach of taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), triptans, hormones, or magnesium a week before and after your period.
- Or a long-term treatment in which you are treated with hormones via the Pill or vaginal ring.
Not a fan of prescription meds, injections, or any of the remedies mentioned and seeing that over-the-counter painkillers did nothing for the pain I was in, I wondered about natural alternatives for bringing my hormones back into balance and, hopefully, getting rid of my migraines.
After reading up on herbal remedies, I came across two herbs that were said to be particularly beneficial for women: Black Cohosh and Angelica.
WHY BLACK COHOSH IS A GREAT NATURAL REMEDY FOR YOUR MENSTRUAL MIGRAINES
Black Cohosh has an ancient history of use among Native American women for menstruation and menopausal health issues. Western research has yet to conclude if Black Cohosh is effective in the use of treating symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. But there is evidence that black cohosh is effective in treating issues related to Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
It is the root of Black Cohosh that is used medicinally and it has been reported to regulate estrogen. At times, estrogen can overstimulate the tissue of the uterus, leading to pain and swelling. Black Cohosh counteracts this overstimulation by acting as an anti-inflammatory and an antispasmodic reducing pain, swelling, and cramping.
Because of its ability to even out estrogen levels, it can mitigate the drop in estrogen that triggers period migraines.
ANGELICA, BLACK COHOSH’S WONDER TWIN IN TREATING PMS AND PERIOD MIGRAINES
Angelica is another herb with an ancient history. There are several varieties; however, the type that is good for women’s health is the specimen used largely by doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) called Dong Quai. It is a flowering plant whose roots can be used as remedies for soothing muscle spasms and other symptoms that coincide with menstruation. Like Black Cohosh, Angelica is used for a slew of reproductive issues from painful menstruation to infrequent or irregular periods to PMS.
The active ingredients in Angelica/Dong Quai, coumarins, are said to increase blood flow, dilate blood vessels, and stimulate the nervous system. Also, the plant produces phytoestrogens that can bind to estrogen sites on human cells, which means that it functions as an estrogen replacement, although a weaker version.
Taken together, Angelica and Black Cohosh balance estrogen levels and decrease migraines associated with drops in hormone levels.
USING THESE HERBAL REMEDIES DURING YOUR PERIOD
Both Black Cohosh and Angelica/Dong Quai are available as supplements. Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, impurities and inconsistencies can occur. So do some research to ensure you are buying a high-quality product.
At the time that I was using angelica, I picked it fresh from a friend’s garden. In TCM, the root is prescribed. I used the leaves, which I dried then ground along with the black cohosh using a mortar and pestle then prepared as a tea. The black cohosh I ordered online from a trusted herbal supplier.
I’d start drinking the tea on the first day of my period.
You’ll want to talk to your primary care provider about whether these herbs are right for you and how much you should use.
What I know for sure is that these herbs helped get rid of my period migraines, and I recommend it repeatedly to women who tell me how much migraine pain they experience during their periods.
Our cycle is a given but debilitating pain doesn’t have to be.