Many factors contribute to headaches in both men and women, including family history, age, lifestyle and psychological factors. Women, however, often notice a relationship between headaches and hormonal changes.
The hormone primarily responsible for these headache-inducing fluctuations is estrogen. Regardless of a woman’s stage of life-whether she is menstruating, pregnant or entering menopause-estrogen fluctuation can be the cause of debilitating headaches.
Having steady estrogen levels may improve headaches, while experiencing estrogen levels that dip or change can make headaches worse.
What’s the Link Between Hormones and Headaches?
Headaches in women, particularly migraines, are tied to shifts in the levels of the female hormone estrogen during her menstrual cycle. A decline in estrogen concentration is an important factor in triggering migraine in women.
Estrogen levels drop right before the start of your menstrual flow. Premenstrual migraines regularly happen during or after the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, drop to their lowest levels.
Epidemiological studies suggest the existence of close, but complex relationships between estrogen and migraine in women.1
What Triggers Estrogen Associated Migraines In Women?
Estrogen-associated migraine refers to migraine headaches that occur when there is a decline in estrogen concentration after exposure to high levels of the hormone for several days (estrogen priming), as in the following settings:
- Natural decline in endogenous estrogen, such as at the beginning of the menstrual cycle or postpartum (the period beginning immediately after the birth of a child and extending for about six weeks).2
- Scheduled withdrawal from exogenous estrogen-containing products, such as during the hormone-free interval in users of cyclic estrogen-progestin contraceptives (pills, trans-dermal patch, ring) or with interruptions in estrogen therapy. Birth control pills as well as hormone replacement therapy during menopause can trigger migraines in some women.
- Unintentional estrogen withdrawal, such as from missed doses of estrogen-containing products or as a result of drug interactions that reduce bio availability.3
Natural Treatment options
Treatments without medication include biofeedback, relaxation techniques, changes in diet, stress reduction and regular sleep/wake schedules.
Limiting caffeine intake, eating regularly to maintain blood sugar levels and avoiding known triggers such as red wine could be helpful to alleviate headaches.
Too much sleep and too little sleep can both be problematic for your body and may aggravate headaches.
Make sure that your body isn’t retaining tension, as that can trigger headaches, such as from clenching your jaw. Massages can also melt away stress. Massage with essential oils like sandalwood, eucalyptus or peppermint on the forehead. The aroma of these oils helps your mind stay calm and relaxed.
This works like one of the powerful tonics for pain. Meditate and concentrate on breath when you breathe-in and breathe-out. The more you do it, the better it helps in undermining the pain.
Rosemary is useful for alleviating headaches, as it blocks the effects of estrogen hormones. Add a cup of Rosemary in boiled water and inhale the steam, twice a day for better results.4
Other Causes and Triggers of Headaches
Although hormonal imbalance is the primary cause of headaches for women , there are other factors that can either trigger or exacerbate headaches. Below are some triggers that can cause headaches.
Common Headache Triggers
- Bright lights, loud noises, or strong odors.
- Stress and anxiety, or relaxation after stress.
- Weather changes.
- Alcohol, caffeine (too much or withdrawal).
- Lack of or too much sleep.
- Skipped meals or fasting.
- Food that contain nitrates (hot dogs and lunch meats), monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG (fast food, Chinese food, seasonings), and tyramine (aged cheese, soy products, fava beans, hard sausages, smoked fish, Chianti wine).
- Aspartame, common in sugar-free sweeteners.
Though migraine can interfere with your social as well as personal life, you can still curb the symptoms and lessen the intensity by using these natural remedies. Moreover, the severity and frequency of menstrual headache can also be controlled by taking a proper course of medication and nutritional supplements.
|↑1||Somerville BW. Estrogen-withdrawal migraine. I. Duration of exposure required and attempted prophylaxis by premenstrual estrogen administration. Neurology 1975; 25:239|
|↑2||Women and Headaches, Dr. Rose Giammarco, M.D., F.R.C.P|
|↑3||Scharff L, Turk DC, Marcus DA. Triggers of headache episodes and coping responses of headache diagnostic groups. Headache 1995; 35:397|
|↑4||Zhu BT, Loder DP, Cai MX, et al. Dietary administration of an extract from rosemary leaves enhances the liver microsomal metabolism of endogenous estrogens and decreases their uterotropic action in CD-1 mice. Carcinogenesis. 1998;19:1821-1827|