Migraines and the Biology of Joy: It requires a healthy biological system to fully experience the

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Published: 07th July 2010
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Every day and never give it much thought until it breaks down. Though lacking it's amazing complexity, many have used the metaphor of computers to explain the brain. The brain, that mysterious organ that rests inside our skull, is like a computer loaded with multiple programs that function together through an operating system, the autonomic nervous system. This biological computer, via our server"the spirit, gives us our online access to God. Why would we think we could ignore our computer and expect it to operate optimally? We go through each day loading the computer with food, drugs, and stress that slow down the system, much like computer trojans. The brain is capable of running millions of programs instantly, while simultaneously sending and receiving electrical impulses. The nerves connect with one another not by touching, but by releasing certain chemicals that cause a reaction in neighboring brain cells. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters.2 The brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, responsible for our biology of joy are called serotonin and adrenaline. 3 Serotonin and adrenaline are two of the most important chemicals in the biology of the emotional and physical stress response system. This stress response system is the autonomic nervous system and is responsible for generating the fight or flight response.2 The center of the autonomic nervous system located in the hypothalamus is our stay alive software.

The Physiology of Joy

Serotonin is the calming chemical and adrenaline is the excitatory chemical" together these neurotransmitters modulate brain cell activity. When the two neurotransmitters are balanced and functioning normally in the emotional A part of the brain, the limbic system, and in the thought-processing part, the frontal lobe, we experience joy. The frontal lobe, limbic system and dorsal raphe"the pain control system and sleep/wake system both located in the brain stem"are interlinked through the hypothalamus. Serotonin and adrenaline modulate neurotransmission in each of these areas of the brain. When this neurochemistry is balanced and functioning normally, the body is able to make all the necessary physical adjustments needed to handle a stressful event. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain which forms and processes thoughts and behavior. It is our right and wrong software and is linked to the memory centers of the brain.

The frontal lobe is linked to the hypothalamus and limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for generating emotion. Because it is linked to both the old and new memory areas of the brain, we are capable of generating certain feelings with specific memories. The limbic system is linked with the hypothalamus, which causes changes in the body, such as increased heart and respiratory rate, perspiration, and nausea with different emotions.2 Where the brain is the computer, the hypothalamus is the stay alive software. It regulates all the automatic functions of the body via connections to every body part via the autonomic nervous system. The cardiovascular system, hormonal system, respiratory system, sleep/wake system, pain control system and immune system are all regulated by the hypothalamus. It automatically controls vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and respiratory rate. It ensures normal blood glucose levels to prevent brain cell damage and serves as the bodys internal clock by regulating hormones and sleep/wake cycles.2 The hypothalamus controls the bodys physical reaction to emotional stress, physical stress, and pain. It receives large amounts of blood and is one of the few parts of the brain where substances in the blood can directly enter the brain. Via the entire autonomic system, the hypothalamus interfaces between the body and the brain.

It coordinates internal stimuli and responses with external ones. It has been described as a need detector and response generator.2 It is responsible for initiating the immediate physical reaction to a threat or stress called the fight or flight response. This reaction stimulates the release of adrenaline not only in the body, but also throughout the brain, including the brain stem, frontal lobe, limbic system and in the hypothalamus.2 After the hypothalamus, the stay alive software initiates the fight or flight response levels of adrenaline increase in the brain and blood stream. Adrenaline causes the blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and blood sugar (glucose) to increase. The frontal lobe and the limbic system are activated. The release of adrenaline in the brainstem causes increased levels of alertness in the sleep/wake system and pain suppression in the pain control system. Caffeine increases this response and is frequently added to pain pills for this very reason. These biological reactions prepare the body for the fight or flight response.

What Are Migraines?

Migraines are a genetic disease of the hypothalamus involving serotonin neurotransmission. The migraine is the disease and the headache is only a symptom. Migraines are characterized by attacks in which people will experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Sufferers often complain of mood changes such as anxiety, depression and irritability. They may also have difficulty concentrating and many suffer from fatigue. A few migraine sufferers may experience brain symptoms such as abnormal sensations, loss of balance or movement, speech problems and visual disturbances. These abnormal sensations, called aura, often occur before the headache and may take place without the presence of a headache. Frequently, when an aura is not present, a misdiagnosis of tension headaches or sinus headaches is made. This may result in the use of analgesics, tranquilizers or sinus pills, which cause more headaches by changing serotonin neurotransmission that initiates further trouble"medication overuse headaches or rebound headaches.7,8 These drugs may aggravate anxiety disorders, depression and other serotonin related diseases by changing the serotonin receptor on neurons as they do with headache disorders.9 Migraines are a process with fairly consistent symptoms experienced over several days. This process has been described like acts of a play.10 Not everyone will experience all of the symptoms, and individuals may experience different symptoms with each migraine attack.

The first phase of a migraine attack, the Prodromal Phase, or Act I, lasts 12-24 hours. During this time period, one will experience changes in appetite, either decreased or increased. Some will experience cravings for certain foods. Hands and feet may swell and constipation may be a problem. Mood changes are frequently present during this phase. One may feel anxious or depressed. Difficulty concentrating is very common. There may be difficulty spelling, doing simple mathematics, or completing word-finding problems. Many will feel tired and find themselves yawning excessively. The next phase of a migraine attack, Act II, is the Aura Phase. This phase will have transient or temporary neurological symptoms that disappear within 24 hours. The aura usually lasts 30-60 minutes and precedes the headache by 20-30 minutes. Usually, these symptoms are visual disturbances. One may experience momentary spots of color, black spots, or bright flashes of light. Others may start to have a change in their central vision. It may be total loss of vision or a visual distortion like looking through broken glass or a kaleidoscope. Often there will be bright silver zigzag lines surrounding the area of vision loss.

The area of visual loss may expand gradually over 20-30 minutes. Infrequently, objects may appear to move or change shape or size. Instead of visual disturbances, some may experience a tingling sensation in the arm or around the mouth. Others may experience difficulty speaking, vertigo, or loss of balance. The next phase, or Act III, is the Headache Phase. The headache is frequently one-sided but can be located anywhere on the head. It is typically described as a throbbing pain, however, may be experienced as a steady or squeezing pressure, burning sensation or sharp pain called ice-pick pains. The headache may last hours to days. Typically, the headache is of shorter duration in children. The final phase, Act IV, is the Postdromal Phase. Many describe this as a migraine hangover. It lasts 12-24 hours. The most common symptoms are mood changes such as depression or euphoria, increased urination, diarrhea and/or food intolerance. When migraine attacks occur frequently, many of the symptoms may go unrecognized by some physicians and can lead to unnecessary testing and treatment.

Holistic Migraine Treatment

At the Valley Neurological Headache and Research Center, we offer a comprehensive program that emphasizes treatment of the disease, not the symptom. Built upon the knowledge of brain function that Ive outlined herein, headache sufferers are guided to change their lifestyle to avoid over-stimulating the autonomic nervous system. Since certain drugs, food, food additives and anxiety deplete serotonin, headache sufferers must demonstrate their compliance with dietary restrictions, daily exercise, and stress management before medications are started. Patients are provided educational materials and instruction about how certain food and stress deplete serotonin and how exercise and time spent with God increases serotonin levels. They are encouraged to incorporate faith-based counseling into the treatment program to help them grow emotionally and spiritually. This growth also helps sufferers stop wasting their serotonin, their precious peace chemical. To give patients something concrete to better understand their neurobiology, they are asked to think of their serotonin neurochemistry as a credit card. They are taught that certain food and food additives use up their serotonin by stimulating the release of adrenaline. 11, 12 They learn to think of each food as a charge on their credit card. During dietary sessions, they are counseled regarding dietary changes and given a list of food and food additives to avoid. The migraine diet can be found on my website. Patients are encouraged to strictly adhere to dietary restrictions until the disease is well controlled, only then can they cautiously add back certain foods.

They are to continue to avoid food additives. Anxious thoughts and overcommitted lifestyles are seen as serotonin credit card charges, as well. They are instructed to spend 30 minutes a day in prayer or mediation and asked to do a 30-minute daily walk to stimulate the release of serotonin. These behavioral changes are to be seen as payments on the serotonin credit card. As stated previously, medication management of migraine and other headache variants is only initiated after the patient demonstrates compliance with lifestyle changes. Headache sufferers are taught that medications such as analgesics, tranquilizers and muscle relaxants change the serotonin receptor and inhibit the normal function of this neurotransmitter. 9 Each patient is guided in an appropriate medication program to help them restore normal serotonin function. With time, each patient is withdrawn from the medication used to prevent headaches. This would not be possible if patients did not comply with entire treatment program. Web counselor plays a vital role for the welfare of society.

This treatment program is not a 12- step program to achieving the biology of joy, nor is it a roadmap to that holy mountain. It is a comprehensive program that has helped thousands of headache sufferers better understand their biological system, one that enables them to physically experience joy and regain control of their headaches. It helps them better understand how they use food, thoughts and behaviors to manipulate their neurochemistry to create a false peace, a counterfeit joy, by stimulating the release of adrenaline. This counterfeit joy depletes the natural chemistry of the real joy, serotonin. It requires a healthy biological system to fully experience the joy that comes from God. Cleansing the hard drive is never easy. There is no brain spy-ware program that one can simply drive through a physician or counselors office and erase the years of food, drugs and anxiety to clean the serotonin system. It is possible, however, to treat serotonin diseases and have more joy. Finally, with determination, wisdom, and the healing power of Christ, migraine sufferers and others with serotonin related diseases will be in a place where peace transcends all understanding and the serotonin waters flow. As a Christian physician, I am honored to help others find that healing path and commence that joyful journey.

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