10 Reasons Why the Wim Hof Method Freezes Migraines
1. A new study published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice used cold therapy to significantly reduce migraine pain and frequency (study link). The group that received cold therapy went from an average of 10.65 headaches per month down to only 2.0 headaches per month. The control group received only medication and experienced the poor success rate that is typical of migraine medications. The study suggested that cold’s ability to affect the autonomic nervous system was responsible for this breakthrough in migraine prevention.
2. Migraines sufferers have a weak autonomic nervous system. Migraineurs generally have norepinephrine levels—a measurement of the autonomic function—that are less than 60 percent of the levels found in healthy individuals (study link).
Individuals trained in the Wim Hof Method have higher levels of norepinephrine (study link). The Wim Hof Method improves the same autonomic function that migraine sufferers are missing.
3. The Wim Hof Method fights the inflammation associated with migraines. Science regards the autonomic nervous system and the immune system as systems that cannot be voluntarily influenced. However, this was disproven in a 2014 study after Wim Hof taught his method to a group of twelve people that were injected with a toxin. The trained group showed that they could control their autonomic nervous system response. This control led to increased levels of anti-inflammatory markers, less inflammation, and fewer flu-like symptoms than the control group (study link). Migraines are associated with inflammation and nearly all migraine triggers are associated with oxidative stress, which turns into inflammation (study 1, 2).Photo credit Norfolk Migraine Clinic (edit by Jeremy Orozco)
4. Poor autonomic function can activate the trigeminal nerve, which is located in the face and is associated with triggering migraines (study link). Cold therapy may prevent migraines by slowing down the activation of the trigeminal nerve (study link).
5. The trigeminal nerve is found to be oversensitive in migraineurs and triggers migraines by rapidly releasing something called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) (study link). A new drug that blocks CGRP is shaping up to be the most successful migraine medication ever developed (study link). It was recently discovered that CGRP is released to regulate inflamed tissue, noxious heat, and pain from the cold! The Wim Hof Method reduces inflammation, controls the pain from the cold, and was even used by Wim Hof to set a world record by running a full marathon in the noxious heat of the Namib Desert without water. This suggests that the Wim Hof Method can control the very mechanisms that release CGRP and trigger migraines.
6. Stanford doctors are now preventing migraines with a new treatment called cryoneurolysis. This treatment uses a tiny ball of ice to numb a nerve that is associated with migraines (news link). Cyroneurolysis is known for treating nerve inflammation (neuralgia), which is associated with migraines (study link). The problem is that this procedure requires cutting open the skin, only a small portion of one nerve is targeted, and the effects are temporary. Furthermore, the procedure has not been validated with clinical research for migraine use.
We know from migraine treatments such as botox that treating multiple nerve sites is more successful because migraines can be triggered by multiple nerve locations. The Wim Hof Method treats the entire body with cold therapy, no surgery is required, and the benefits of reduced inflammation and a strengthened vascular system only get better as time goes on.
7. Electrical stimulation prevents migraines with small electrical shocks to the nerves in the face, neck, and back of the head. Electrical stimulation devices can be implanted through high-risk surgery or worn externally with devices such as the Cefaly (study 1, 2). New research is showing that cryotherapy may have the same effect as electrical stimulation (study 1, 2, 3).
8. Migraines are associated with poor metabolism and obesity may increase migraine risk by 81 percent (study link). Cold weather can quadruple your metabolism and increase brown fat (Study 1, 2). Brown fat is found is skinnier individuals and may reduce body fat and glucose problems by burning calories during cold temperatures (study 1, 2, 3).
9. Muscle tension, particularly muscle tension in the neck and face, increases oxidative stress, which is associated with triggering migraines. For example, migraine is present in 55.3 percent of patients with muscle tension around the jaw (research link). Muscle tension can put pressure directly on the trigeminal nerve in the face and occipital nerve in the neck, as well as raise the oxidative stress and inflammation levels that are associated with triggering migraines (study 1, 2).
High levels of oxidative stress release CGRP—the peptide that triggers migraines—and are associated with a four-fold increase in migraine risk (study 1, 2). The most popular form of cryotherapy to reduce oxidative stress is the ice bath. The ice bath is used by numerous athletes to decrease muscle recovery time by reducing oxidative stress (study 1, 2, 3, 4). The Wim Hof Method may reduce muscle tension, oxidative stress, CGRP, and migraines.
10. The Wim Hof Method uses a controlled breathing technique similar to the techniques used in biofeedback where a number of sensors measure your stress levels in the form of heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, brain waves, and muscle tension. Biofeedback helps you control stress and has been found to be just as effective as medication for both preventing and reducing migraine pain in over 55 studies (study 1, 2). According to Harvard, simple relaxation techniques such as breathing are just as effective as biofeedback (study link). Stress is the top migraine trigger and both cryotherapy and breathing techniques help control it, making the Wim Hof Method two treatments in one (study 1, 2).
There are also a number of conditions that are associated with migraines and successfully treated by cold therapy:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – 80 percent have migraines (study 1, 2)
- Fibromyalgia – 55.8 percent have migraines (study 1, 2)
- Multiple sclerosis – is three times more likely in migraine sufferers (study 1, 2)
- Asthma – doubles the risk for chronic migraines (study 1, 2)
- Depression, anxiety, stress – suicide is 2.5 times higher in migraine sufferers (study 1, 2)
Why Wim Hof?
The Wim Hof Method may reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, CGRP, and strengthen the autonomic nervous system that is dysfunctional in migraine sufferers. In addition, the Wim Hof Method provides a powerful breathing technique that combines the migraine success rates of biofeedback with cryotherapy. This suggests that the Wim Hof Method will affect the root cause of migraines.
There are no prevention medications made specifically for migraines. Instead, a variety of anti-depressants and heart medications are prescribed to only a small portion of migraine sufferers, the success rates are low, and they often come with heavy side effects. The Wim Hof Method, on the other hand, may eliminate migraines and comes with the beneficial effects of cold therapy: improved mood, memory, and increased energy (study link).