This past weekend, I experienced my first migraine ever--and it was, ah, intense. I've helped to manage patients with migraines before, and obviously understand the physiology of this type of headache, but nothing could prepare me for the debilitation that ensued over multiple days. The pain was literally real.
I suppose the first thing I should note is that when it happened, I was confused and terrified, because I had no idea what it could be. I was out on a walk with my wife, my BFF, her husband, and our pups post-dinner party, and two blocks in, began smelling what I thought were some odd flowers, then an odor like gasoline. About a minute later, I was hit with an overwhelming, interminable nausea and a vice-like pain around my head. Several terrifying ideas immediately began swirling in my head: 1-I'm having a stroke! 2-My blood sugar is sky high and I'm going into a diabetic coma! 3-The salmon I served tonight was not cooked properly, and I have poisoned us all! Thankfully, none of these were the case, and despite the pain, I was able to tease out the actual problem eventually.
Managing My Migraine
So, how did this naturopath handle this headache? First things first, I got myself to a quiet and dark room, turned on the HEPA air filter (in case this was triggered by my environmental allergies) and my Himalayan salt lamp (decreasing free radicals in the air around me can't hurt, right?), wrapped myself in my favorite blanket, and placed a cool compress on my head. My sweet wife dissolved a packet of powdered minerals into some cold water for me to drink, then smeared my belly with castor oil and covered it with a hot pad (a makeshift "castor oil pack," if you will) to help ease the nausea.
After forty-five agonizing minutes, I managed to fall asleep for the night, and when I woke the next morning, the nausea was nearly gone, and my head, 75% better. I knew my body was craving more magnesium, but I don't absorb the mineral too well, so instead of force-feeding myself and potentially triggering more nausea, I decided to take an epsom salt bath--a great source of bioavailable magnesium, which stabilizes brain vasculature and can prevent migraine episodes.
Mindful that major temperature extremes might trigger another episode, I prepared a warm (not hot!) bath with three cups of epsom salt, and freshly cut mint from my garden. Topical peppermint has been shown to reduce the nausea and photophobia associated with migraine*, and I was curious to see what a fresh herb bath would do for the lingering abdominal discomfort and headache. Soothed by the gentle glow of candle light and trance-like melodies of East Forest (I'm kind of obsessed), the remainder of my symptoms melted away.
Because I'm not typically a person who develops migraines, I realize that this migraine was likely a direct result of my high-intensity acute stress load, combined with the sub-par coping mechanisms I've chosen to utilize thus far. It was a call to action from my body, reminding me to care for myself and take the time to rest, replenish, and reflect, especially when the going gets tough. It was also an exercise in creativity and accessing long-neglected info in my memory bank, reminding me of the abundance of healing herbs just outside my kitchen door.
From lemons to lemonade, I'm transforming my olfactory migraine into a reminder to my friends--and myself--to stop and smell the mint leaves! Take time to nourish and rest your body today, and don't be afraid to splish splash your way to health. Consider inexpensive epsom salts (available in the pharmacy section of any big box store), fresh herbs, and the power of some time out to meet your self care needs.
Finally, some random last thoughts: if you're going to use dried herbs in your bath, wrap them in a tea bag or cheesecloth, as they will definitely stick to your body far more than fresh herbs do. If you have essential oils on hand and want to use those instead, be sure to dilute them in a carrier oil like sweet almond oil or coconut oil before you bathe with them, as water does not dilute essential oils, and they can cause chemical burns.
Thanks for reading! Peace, love, and baths.
*Int J Clin Pract. 2010 Mar;64(4):451-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2009.02215.x.
Cutaneous application of menthol 10% solution as an abortive treatment of migraine without aura: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossed-over study
Borhani Haghighi A1, Motazedian S, Rezaii R, Mohammadi F, Salarian L, Pourmokhtari M, Khodaei S, Vossoughi M, Miri R.
About the Author
Sarah Ouano is a naturopathic doctor and writer. A fierce advocate for health equity and rights of the marginalized, she frequently writes about the intersection of naturopathic medicine and public health, throwing in personal anecdotes and tasty (and practical) recipes along the way.