Salt For Migraines: Good Or Not?

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Salt For Migraines

Migraine is supposedly caused by the narrowing and dilating of blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. Serotonin, which is dependent on sodium and chloride (salt) to get in and out of cells, causes such an effect. Ayurveda claims that migraines are caused by an imbalance in the pitta dosha, which is made worse by salt. If you are prone to migraine attacks, having salt is not a very good idea.

We have seen quite a few Web sites claiming that if you have migraine, you ought to treat it by having salt mixed with lemon juice. Some even claim that it takes just a few minutes for the pain to subside. Let’s find out if this is at all true.

Why Do You Get Migraines?

Changes in the circulating levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is related to migraine.

The cause and pathophysiology of migraines is debatable and is still being extensively researched. Migraines are caused by several factors like:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal shifts
  • Fatigue and changes in your sleep pattern
  • Weather changes
  • Exposure to intense light or smells
  • Certain food sources

The brain is surrounded by three membranes and encased within the protective skull, the cranium. Several extracranial arteries supply blood to the brain and the dilation of these extracranial arteries during an attack is related to migraine pain.

Salt For Migraines: Good Or Not?

If you are victimized by recurring intolerable migraines, keep your salt intake to a minimum. Research suggests that salt will most likely worsen your migraines. Here’s why.

Migraines Are Linked To Change In Serotonin Levels

It has been found that during the phases of a migraine attack, there are changes in circulating levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter, found primarily in the brain, in the tissue cells lining the gut, and in blood platelets – and its metabolites.1

Serotonin can both narrow and dilate blood vessels.

Serotonin can cause both dilation and constriction of blood vessels.2 As mentioned earlier, the dilation of blood vessels has been traditionally believed to be the cause of migraines. The serotonin-releasing agents also have the ability to induce migraine-like symptoms.3

Common Salt Aids In The Uptake Of Serotonin

Sodium and chloride, which make up common salt, are essential for the transportation of serotonin into neurons and platelets.

It has also been proved that high levels of sodium and chloride (common salt = sodium chloride) are associated with migraines.4

Serotonin is co-transported by sodium chloride–dependent neurotransmitter transporters called serotonin receptor transporters (SERTs) into neurons and blood platelets.5 Blood platelets utilize SERTs to obtain serotonin from the environment because they cannot synthesize it themselves. The uptake of serotonin by blood platelets is, thus, dependent on sodium and chloride.6

Change In Serotonin Levels Make Blood Vessels Dilate

When serotonin makes arteries dilate, they push against the skull, producing the painful throbbing characteristic of migraine.

There are two principal migraine phases – prodromic phase and painful phase. During the prodromic phase, due to high levels of sodium and chloride in the body, serotonin is taken up by blood platelets from the surrounding plasma and causes narrowing of blood vessels.

During the painful phase, serotonin is released by platelets into the plasma causing dilation. The dilated or expanded arteries pressing against the skull produce the throbbing pain characteristic of a migraine.7

New Research Suggests Pain Pathway Theory

While it was previously believed that the dilation of the extracranial arteries was what caused migraine, a recent clinical study on 19 women found that their extracranial arteries were not at all dilated during a migraine attack; the intercranial ones were, but only slightly dilated. The study suggests that there’s need for further research on “the peripheral and central pain pathways rather than simple arterial dilatation.”8

Though in the light of this paradigm shift in understanding migraines, the role of common salt in aggravating migraines too needs to be researched, you can put your trust in Ayurveda and stay off salt if you are prone to migraines.

Ayurveda Blames Salt For Migraines Too

Salt disrupts the pitta dosha balance, which leads to migraine.

According to Ayurveda, migraines are caused because of an imbalance in our pitta dosha. This imbalance disrupts the flow of blood to the brain, resulting in throbbing. Imbalance in the hot pitta dosha causes a burning, severe, and sharp pain. These manifestations can be associated with light sensitivity and visual sensations.

Ayurveda suggests that migraines are triggered by digestive imbalances, accumulation of digestive toxins, exposure to environmental pollution, and excess stress. Salt disrupts the pitta dosha balance.

Ayurvedic Tips To Prevent Migraine

  • To free yourself of migraines, follow a pitta-pacifying diet and lifestyle.
  • Add more sweet, bitter, and astringent foods to your diet.
  • Avoid acidic, pungent, sour, and salty foods. Avoid tomatoes.
  • Avoid exposure to strong sunlight.
  • Meditate to eliminate stress.
  • Adopt lifestyle practices that will strengthen your digestion.

References   [ + ]

1, 3. Johnson KW, Phebus LA, Cohen ML. Serotonin in migraine: Theories, animal models and emerging therapies. Progress in Drug Research.
2. Frishman WH, Huberfeld S, Okin S, Wang YH, Kumar A, Shareef B. Serotonin and serotonin antagonism in cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular disease. J Clin Pharmacol. 1995.
4. Campbell DA, Hay KM, Tonks EM. An investigation of the salt and water balance in migraine. British Medical Journal. 1951.
5. Hochman DW. Methods and compositions for treating conditions of the central and peripheral nervous systems using non-synaptic mechanisms. United States Patent. 1999.
6. O. Lingjaerde, Jr. Uptake of serotonin in blood platelets: dependence on sodium and chloride, and inhibition by choline. The University Aychiabic Clinic. 1969.
7. Van Nueten JM, Janssens WJ, Vanhoutte PM. Serotonin and vascular reactivity. Pharmacol Res Commun. 1985.
8. Amin, Faisal Mohammad, Mohammad Sohail Asghar, Anders Hougaard, Adam Espe Hansen, Vibeke Andrée Larsen, Patrick JH de Koning, Henrik BW Larsson, Jes Olesen, and Messoud Ashina. “Magnetic resonance angiography of intracranial and extracranial arteries in patients with spontaneous migraine without aura: a cross-sectional study.” The Lancet Neurology 12, no. 5 (2013): 454-461.