Headaches and migraines can pop up at different phases of the menstrual cycle or during other hormonal shifts, such as pregnancy or menopause. They can cause a mild annoyance or ruin your whole damn day. It makes sense that hormonal changes can cause uterine pain and sore breasts, but how can hormones make your head hurt?
Hormones are signaling molecules released by the endocrine system, they travel through the blood stream and they can effect tissues all over the body, some more than others. Not only can deviations in hormones cause pain, they can also cause changes to mood, mental focus, skin, and digestion.
How are they treated?
Hormone-related headaches are one of the most common symptoms I treat, and they respond really well to acupuncture and herbal medicine.
One of the reasons Chinese medicine is so effective at treating hormonal imbalances is because it helps the body to regulate itself, rather than attempting to externally control hormone levels (usually through birth control) or by relieve pain without addressing its underlying cause.
Another reason is that treatment is customized to each patient's unique-to-her presentation. Especially with hormones that change throughout our lives and throughout the menstrual cycle, what treatment is right for you will really depend on what exactly you're experiencing.
Timing is key
If you get headaches in the week before your period, that's when estrogen dips. If they show up just before your period, that's when progesterone drops off. During your period is when both estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, and during ovulation is when estrogen and luteinizing hormone (released from the pituitary in the brain) are at their peak.
If your headaches are happening during pregnancy, that's when estrogen and progesterone are both on the rise. If menopause is causing headaches that's when estrogen decreases while hormones released from the brain, such as follicle stimulating hormone, increase.
The body is built to be able to handle these shifts in hormones, but modern day life can be tough on the endocrine system, making it a bit harder for us to weather the storm. Especially if you have high levels of stress, don't get enough sleep, or have poor blood sugar control, you may be particularly sensitive to changes in hormones.
So, what can you do?
Acupuncture and herbal medicine are my go-to's for treating hormone-related headaches, but what else?
- Diet can play a huge role, read here about how to eat to restore hormonal balance, from triple board certified clinical nutritionist Miriam Jacobson.
- Your liver is responsible for metabolizing hormones. Stress, lack of sleep, or excessive intake of alcohol, junk food, or other toxics are hard on your liver and can make side effects of hormonal imbalance worse. Try to get on a regular sleep schedule, eat home cooked food, be kind to your liver.
- Adding liver supporting herbs into your routine can help as well, I usually recommend dandelion root or nettle tea for general use.
- Headaches or migraines can be a sign you're pushing yourself too hard. Whichever phase of your cycle you notice your headaches, plan to take those few days easy, don't plan too much for yourself, allow for some time to rest. Especially if you get headaches during your period, I recommend avoiding exercise and eating nutritious food to recover for he first two days of your period.
Want to learn more about how to balance hormones naturally? Take my free e-course: Happier Hormones in 30 days.