Migraine in Ayurveda

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Migraine is a severe disorder without a permanent cure according to modern science. The exact mechanism of a migraine is unclear. However, it is co-related with abnormal brain activity.

Migraine attacks may be triggered by any of the following:

  1. Hormone disturbances
  2. Irregular sleep patterns
  3. Alcoholism
  4. Exercise or other physical stress
  5. Loud noises or bright lights
  6. Active or passive smoking
  7. Irregular meals, Missed meals
  8. Caffeine withdrawal
  9. Perfumes, Air fresheners etc.
  10. Stress and anxiety

There are primarily 3 disorders n Ayurveda that resemble migraine. But before trying to understand them, we should try to decode the concept of dosha, esp vata dosha.

It is said that dosha are the systems that work in harmony to run the body metabolism. Now these dosha are said to be invisible, however their effects can be seen.

All ancient Indian sciences are based on the concept “yatha pinde tatha brahmande” – the particle is like the universe. For this reasons, one sanskrit word is used can have innumerous meanings depending on the context.

This sutra helps indian sciences to extrapolate the concepts of one science in the other. Let’s us remind ourselves that these sutra are by the sages who formulated the decimal system, the value of zero and pi.

The whole truth is never a fact, it is a context. I can try to explain the concept of dosha with the replicating it in a more material context.

What is dosha?

The dosha system is everywhere. Let us take the context of an organization for a lucid understanding.  Most of us must have worked in some or the other organization. All the modern organizations have these departments which work in coordination to run the organization. Every organization has a finance, sales and marketing and HR department. These are the basic ones.

However, it is important to note here that the marketing or any other department is not a section of the building or a block of some cubicles. It is not a bundle of files or a set of computers either. The marketing people, the machines and the place together constitute what we can call a marketing system. Thus it is not a physical thing, it is a concept. Similarly vata is a conceptual system that is supposed to be responsible for certain functions in the body. It is not visible but its functions can be experienced.  

What dosha do?

Dosha is a universal phenomenon. Its effect also can be seen everywhere. Every entity, living or non-living is said to work under the dosha. The 3 dosha are responsible for motion related to change in kinetic energy (vata), chemical transformation and heat generation (pitta) and inertia/stability (kapha). This is one of the dimensions of dosha.

Let’s again take a very simple example of an automatic car.

The first condition of the car is when it is moving. All 3 dosha work in harmony to get the car moving. There is the combustion which provides the energy to run and the steering motion that guides the overall movement of the car. At the same time, car also has a certain degree of inertia, which keeps it moving in a single direction. The body works in a similar but more comprehensive manner.

One dosha becomes dominant in certain conditions. In this manner, there can be 3 possible conditions for a car –

Let’s take the first position to be stationary. When car is standing in one place, inertia is the dominant force working on it. It is a certain amount of force that has to be overcome in order to get the car moving. This is the same force that provides stability to a standing car. This is kapha dominant position of the car – stable. Stability is one of the many functions of a very comprehensive system called kapha. In a living entity, kapha also promotes anabolism and growth.

Another position of the car is when it is in the process of getting started. The primary force working in this situation is the combustion engine which produces the energy to overcome the standing inertia of the car. Right now the car is not moving and it is not stationary either. It is in a transformation state with respect to its physical position. This transformation produces a change – chemical change (combustion), and heat change that leads to the movement. This position is dominated by pitta. In a living being, pitta changes the food into energy and provides fuel and building blocks to the body.

In the 3rd position, the car is running. While driving, we change the speed of the car, change directions etc. Here, dominant force is change in its kinetic energy as it moves from one place to the other.  All these are mechanical changes are backed by the chemical combustion. However, what the energy produced will do is governed by the system of vata. Vata is related to vayu or the wind. It is the initiator and controller of all kinds of movements in the body, right from the batting an eye-lid to fast running.  

In all the 3 conditions, all 3 dosha work together. But the condition is dominated by a single dosha. Now we are sitting in this automatic car that works on its own. Our body works every second to produce the comprehensive experience called life.

This concept of dosha is not applicable to only human beings; it is applicable to all living being. For this reason sister sceiences of Ayurveda – vrikshayurveda (Tree healing science), Ashwaayurveda (veterinary science focused on treatment of horses), goayurveda (focused on treatment of cows) and many more sciences that were lost with the time.

The concept of steering wheel is interesting in the sense that a hand is there for occasional control. This hand has over-riding power over the systems of the automatic car.  This hand resembles the mind. Vata dosha is directed related to the mind. When the hand on the wheel is not able to handle driving, it can lead even an automatic car astray. When we are anxious, stressed or frustrated, vata is the first dosha that gets vitiated.   

Let’s focus on vata as it is the dosha which is said to be responsible for migraine according to Ayurveda.

Vata in Migraine

Every dosha has a special place the body. Let’s take the example of the car again. There is a specific central point for every activity, engine for the combustion to take place, wheels to run and brake to stop the car. Similarly, dosha also has abodes or specific physical departments in the body. They work all over the body, but they have a specific part which is their centre of all functions.

The main centres of vata are –

Basti – Urinary bladder

Pureeshaadhaana – rectum,

Sakthi – waist,

Padau – thighs, legs,

Asthi – bones

Pakvashaya – colon

All these organs are basically movement based organs. There is no major chemical change that happens in them.

Both the sensory reception and motor response is attributed to vata dosha. Since vata controls the movement of the body, nerves are under controls of vata. Therefore,  health or disease in the nervous system is  under the control of vata.     

In case of migraine, vata is the dominating dosha we can look at. According to most of the modern research on migraine, the main reason appears to be excitable nerves and brain cells. Hyperactivity of nervous system appears to be the main contributing factor to migraine. At types blood supply, hormones, and other chemicals present in the body fluid might contribute to the pain and duration of migraine. Hyperactivity, over-excitation or any kind of abnormal activity in the body is said to be due to vata vitiation.

Stress is also on eof the main contributing and triggering factor for migraine. Stress is an influencing factor for vata.

Shiroroga (head disorders) in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, there are 4 disorders that resemble the symptoms of migraine. These 4 disorders are the 4 prominent diseases of the head (Shiro-roga). It is interesting that 3 out of these 4 diseases are said to be easily curable.

They are –

Ardhavabhedaka

This disorder resembles migraine without aura. Vata alone or in combination with kapha is the dosha responsible for this disorder.

In this disorder, vata dosha effects half part of the head and causes terrible pain (described as pain caused by friction equivalent to that produced by rubbing of two wooden planks (arani manthan) in the back of the neck (manya), region around eye brows, temporal region, ears, eyes, forehead. Since this disorder affects half of the head, it is called ardhavbhedaka (piercer of half the head).

If this disease gets complicated, it can cause loss of vision or hearing power.

Causes of Ardhavabhedaka

  • Excessive consumption of dry food items
  • Eating again without proper digestion of the previous meal
  • Excessive exposure to easterly wind
  • Exposure to morning dew
  • Excessive indulgence in sex
  • Forceful control of natural urges like urination cough burping at cetera
  • Physical labour beyond individual stamina
  • Excessive exercise

One or a combination of several of these factors lead to vitiation of vata Dosha in the body and this vata Dosha combines with kapha Dosha and affects the half part of the head, manya (back of the throat), bhukuti(region in the middle of two eyebrows), temple, ear, Eyes and forehead on one side of the head.

Suryavarta

This disorders has most of the symptoms of migraine with aura. Vata and impure blood is responsible for this disorder.

This disorder is related to the movement of the sun. this disease increases with the sun rise and increases with the heat of the day. The pain and other symptoms begin to decrease as the sun goes down and ends generally with the sunset.

This disorder causes redness, inflammation, extreme pain that starts gradually and stays for first half of the day. It can result in black-outs, impaired vision and hearing sensation.

Some researchers in modern medicine believe that migraine happen because of fluctuations in the blood supply to the brain. This type of migraine should be researched more for suryavarta symptoms.

Causes of Suryavarta

The causes for suryavarta are almost same as the those of ardhavabhedaka.

Unnatural control of natural urges like urination, fecal excretion, cough, burping etc seems to be the primary cause of suryavarta. Vata vitiating reasons like indigestion, constipation etc. also can cause this disease.

All these all the above reasons cause vata vitiation in the body. This vitiated vata vitiates rakta dhatu (blood) . This contaminated blood and vata pollute marrow of the brain. According to Acharya charak the day heat causes destabilized majja Dhatu (brain marrow) to melt (decrease in solidity and stability.) as the day progresses. This causes increasing pain during the daytime.

Anantavat

This disorder resembles the migraine without headache. It is primarily caused by vata dosha.

In this disorder, there is extreme pain that generally starts with neck region. This pain increases and spreads to eyes, eye brows, and temporal region and stabilizes there. After that, there can be distortion in vision, or jaw-locking might occur as complications.

Causes of Anantvata

  • Excessive fasting starvation
  • Excessive misery/ sorrow
  • Consumption of excessively dry, cold and little amount of food

Because of the above factors all three dosha get vitiated and cause pain in throat region initially. However, vata is the primary dosha in this disease.

All the above disease descriptions are in line with Charak Samhita.

Another head based disorder that is described along with the above 3 is –

Shankhaka

This is a terminal disorder that is said to be able to kill a patient in a duration of 3 nights. The classical symptoms as described in Charak Samhita are –

Extreme pain,  inflammation, redness, and excessive swelling in the area around the temporal bone. This swelling increases rapidly and disrupts the normal functioning of the brain and throat region.  According to Charak Samhita, a patient with this disorder cannot survive more than 3 nights. If the patient survives after 3 nights, the physician can have some hope of recovery.    

These symptoms might occur due to accident or as a complication of severe head trauma.

This description of Shankhaka needs some research and evidence base.

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