Migraine SOS: The Root Cause, Functional Medicine Way to Ease Your Migraine Misery Now

How to find the root cause and say goodbye to migraine pain

If you suffer from migraines, you already know they’re far more than just a headache.

They can be extremely painful, striking without warning, forcing you to bed and making you feel like the world is about to end.

Coho Functional Medicine approach to migraines blog flyer showing woman on an orange background holding her head

The conventional medicine approach has limited tools to help, which is why a more comprehensive Functional Medicine approach to migraines can be life-changing.

Unlike a normal headache, migraines are a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system.


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Migraines affect more than 1 billion people globally, and while they can affect people of any age, it’s most common in women.

Lasting anywhere from four hours to three days, migraines are often accompanied by other symptoms too, such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Common migraine root cause triggers include food and lifestyle factors, which are often not discussed or investigated by conventional medical doctors.

Treatment for migraines varies depending on the severity of the symptoms and how frequently they occur.

Over-the-counter pain medications may provide some relief for mild migraine headaches, however, what we hear from our clients, is that often these pain medications make little to no real difference.

The exact cause of migraines is still unknown, but there are several theories about what may trigger them.

Migraine signs and symptoms

If you suffer from migraines, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms so that you can recognise the triggers manage your condition effectively.

The most common symptom of migraines is a throbbing headache on one side of the head.

This pain can be intense and may last for several hours or even days.

Other symptoms may include:

In some cases, migraines may also be accompanied by an aura – a series of visual disturbances such as flashing lights or zigzag lines in the field of vision.

It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences migraines will have an aura.

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What’s the conventional medicine approach to migraines?

The conventional medicine approach to migraines involves several different, mostly useless treatments.

One option is over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (paracetamol).

However, stronger prescription medications may be necessary if these do not provide relief.

Triptans are a class of drugs specifically designed to treat migraines by constricting blood vessels in the brain, that are considered when pain medication isn’t helping.

Other prescription drugs include beta blockers and antidepressants which can help prevent the onset of migraines in some cases.

The Coho Functional Medicine approach to migraines

There are several common underlying root causes of migraines including nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, food triggers and gut dysfunction.


A key aspect of the Functional Medicine approach to migraines involves identifying and addressing inflammation within the body.

Inflammation has been linked with various chronic conditions including migraines.

In the Coho Functional Medicine approach to migraines, we’re working to understand the root cause of the inflammation – what’s triggering it, and how can we resolve it.

This in turn can reduce or even completely resolve migraines.


Some other common triggers for migraines include stress, and stress hormone imbalances

At Coho Health we frequently test adrenal stress hormone levels, which can provide an amazing level of insight into how the stress hormone system is working and what needs to be done to optimise hormones. 

The rebalancing of adrenal hormones such as cortisol, DHEA and aldosterone, can completely resolve migraines, if the underlying reason for migraines is stress.

While stress reduction would be extremely beneficial (i.e. taking away the trigger), we also completely understand that this isn’t always possible.

We can’t simply erase all stress from our lives!

But we can help our body, at a physiological level, to cope with it better and that’s where the Functional Medicine approach to migraines can be so powerful.

Food triggers

A number of food triggers are linked to migraines and this is backed by a substantial amount of evidence. 

At Coho Health we provide bespoke nutritional protocols for each client, that meets their unique nutritional requirements and best supports how their body functions.

Something we always consider when helping clients resolve their migraines, is understanding if there are particular foods that trigger the symptoms.

One type of food that has been linked to migraines are tyramine-containing foods, and it’s important for us to rule this out with all our clients struggling with migraines.

Tyramine is a naturally occurring compound found in foods that have been aged or fermented.

This includes:

For people who are sensitive to tyramine, consuming these types of foods can trigger a migraine attack.

Since there may be a delayed reaction to tyramine foods, with the onset of a migraine being several hours later or the next day, it can be less than straightforward to make the connection. 

It’s important to note that not everyone who suffers from migraines will be affected by tyramine-containing foods.

Specific nutrient deficiencies

A survey that took place between 1999 and 2004, and included over 11,000 people who suffer with migraines, was published in the Journal of Head and Face Pain in January 2023. 

The survey found that women with the lowest zinc intake were more likely to have migraines and severe headaches, compared to those with the highest zinc intake (1).

In addition, there are other nutrients that can be hugely beneficial for migraine sufferers.

A 2022 study demonstrated that vitamin B12, magnesium and high intensity interval training (HIIT) had a beneficial effect on inflammatory signalling pathways, leading to improvements in migraine (2).

Inflammation as a potential root cause was discussed earlier in this article, and this is just one of many studies, that corroborates the inflammation hypothesis in migraines.   

Additionally, magnesium is vital for muscular relaxation, and levels of magnesium have been found to be lower in migraine sufferers.

Supplementing with magnesium alone may also reduce migraine frequency and relieve symptoms.

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But with thousands of magnesium supplements available, it’s important to seek advice on the best form and dose for you, and do remember that supplements may also negatively interact with medications. 

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant, and can help to drive cell energy metabolism.

A dose of 600mg has been shown to reduce migraine frequency and severity in women (3).

Vitamin D deficiency (and insufficiency) is so common it was last estimated that almost 16% of the worlds population likely doesn’t have enough of this critical vitamin (4).

In a 2020 study, 80 participants who struggled with migraines received either a placebo or 2000 IU of vitamin D supplementation daily for 12 weeks. 

Those who received the vitamin D supplementation experienced improved migraine headaches (5).

In another study, 600mg of PEA (palmitoylethanolamide) given to children (5-17 years of age) for 3 months, reduced the frequency of migraine headaches by over 50% (in more than 60% of the patients) (6).

In our clinics, we assess nutrient needs for all our clients, paying particular attention to nutrients that might help improve specific symptoms.  


Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating our body’s natural rhythms and functions, including pain sensitivity.

When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies become more sensitive to various triggers that can lead to migraines, such as stress, dehydration, or changes in weather patterns (7, 8, 9).

Additionally, lack of sleep can also interfere with our ability to manage stress effectively, which can make us more prone to migraines.

To prevent migraines from disrupting your life it’s essential that you take steps towards improving your sleep habits!


Recent research has pointed towards a possible link between migraines and the microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that reside in our gut.

Studies have shown that individuals who suffer from migraines have different gut bacteria compared to those who do not experience these headaches.

In particular, there seems to be an increase in bacteria that produce nitric oxide, which can trigger inflammation and blood vessel dilation – two key factors involved in migraine development.

A study which assessed nitrate affecting genes from bacteria, found a significantly higher level of these bacteria, in those suffering with migraines, compared to those who don’t (10).

Furthermore, it has been suggested that changes in diet, or antibiotic use, may also impact the microbiome and contribute to increased susceptibility to migraines.

The Coho team frequently run advanced gut function and microbiome testing with our clients – in our clinical experience gut testing is arguably the single most beneficial Functional Medicine test for all chronic conditions.


Migraines, especially in women, have been linked to the female hormone oestrogen.

Oestrogen controls chemicals in the brain that affect the sensation of pain.

A change in oestrogen levels can trigger a headache or migraine.

Some common hormonal headache triggers include:

As hormone levels fluctuate during these times.

To understand if migraines may be associated with your menstrual cycle, start tracking your symptoms and menstrual cycle days to see if you notice a pattern. 

Oestrogen levels fluctuate throughout the month, higher in the first half of the cycle, and a sharp drop in levels just before menstruation.

Environmental chemicals / toxins

Poor detoxification of environmental chemicals or toxins can be an underlying reason for migraines. 

Supporting phase 2 liver detoxification pathways (‘conjugation’ reactions), can help the liver to detoxify for more efficiently.

Detoxification negative consequences

Genetics can play a role too, by altering how these detox pathways (specifically how the enzymes controlling detoxification) work. 

Genetic testing can identify ‘weaker’ detox pathways, which can then be supported through a targeted Functional Medicine approach to migraines.

Book your free 15 minute Discovery Call with Dee Brereton-Patel now

The wrap...

Migraines can be all consuming, from the physical and emotional symptoms, to the affect they have on your day to day life.  

With such a huge time, energy, emotional and financial (if migraines affect your ability to work) cost to frequent migraines, a comprehensive Coho Functional Medicine approach is vital as conventional medicine options are so limited and don’t always work.

Migraines have a root cause, they do not mysteriously develop, and therefore working with a practitioner who can help you figure out the unique root causes in your case, can quite simply be life changing.

Once the potential root causes are identified, a carefully designed, evidence-based protocol, can help you on the path to being migraine-free.

To your optimised, healthy future,

Dee & the Coho Health team

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