As a child, I suffered from migraines, and they were not a result of my oversized 80's hairdo. Migraine headaches remain a common problem for kids these days. In fact, about 10 percent of U.S. children (7.5 million kids!) suffer from migraines, with an average loss of eight school days per year — twice the number missed by children who are migraine-free.
Here are a few facts about the mighty migraine:
Symptoms include throbbing pain, nausea, sound and light sensitivity, blurred vision, dizziness and blind spots. Boys and girls suffer equally until puberty, after which more girls experience migraines than boys, a discrepancy largely attributed to female hormones. About 60 percent of migraine sufferers experience symptoms 24 hours in advance, and many people have an identical symptom pattern every time.
Migraines are thought to have distinct triggers, such as low blood sugar; dehydration; lack of sleep; bright lights and loud noise; hormonal changes; stress; food allergies; chemical additives such as MSG, aspartame and sulfates; molds and environmental contaminants; and caffeine.
Foods that are recognized migraine triggers include aged cheeses, cured meats/nitrites (hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami), fatty and fried foods, wheat, chocolate, citrus, nuts, pork and alcohol.
Collective studies continue to indicate that migraines can also be the result of sensitivities or allergies to other foods such as wheat. A study at a children’s hospital in London asked 88 patients with severe and frequent migraines to limit their food allergen intake, and 93 percent became headache-free. Low nutrient levels in the body, especially depleted magnesium and B vitamins, can also be a hidden precursor.
If your child suffers from migraines:
• Work with him to identify the early warning signals so that he can respond quickly and perhaps stop the headache in its tracks by going straight to sleep.
• Help her keep a migraine journal of the foods she ate and other potential triggers leading up to the headache. The journal should include the symptoms of the migraine and the duration. This will help reveal any patterns and provide clues to hidden triggers.
• Eliminate potential allergens for one month to see whether migraine frequency and intensity declines.
• Ask a pediatrician to do simple food and environmental sensitivity testing.
Because few drugs have been approved for children with migraines, try these simple and natural preventive measures:
• Make sure your child gets enough sleep and goes to sleep the moment symptoms arise.
• Feed her regularly to prevent low blood sugar.
• Try giving him salmon, walnuts and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to prevent and treat migraines. In a recent study, 60 percent of migraine sufferers who took fish oil reported a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the frequency and severity of their headaches, so ask your pediatrician whether fish oil might help your child.
• Include foods with magnesium, such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans and avocados, in your child’s diet.
• Also be sure her diet offers enough riboflavin, or B2, which can be found in foods such as leafy greens, eggs and edamame.
• Watch for more studies on alternative treatments.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, May 26, 2016.