Non-pharmaceutical Approach to Migraine Headaches

There are many classes of drugs used for migraine which affects estimated 38 million Americans. Medications fall under several categories: analgesic, B-blockers, calcium channel blockers, anti seizure medications, and the triptan drugs (e.g. Imitrex, Maxalt) which are serotonin agonists. Generally speaking, drugs work well for many migraine sufferers, however, pain relief may be modest. Some may not tolerate the side effects of medications, or even sometimes drugs are contraindicated in some patients due to other medical diagnosis. From the point of integrative medicine, several alternatives and complementary therapies do exist. In addition to acupuncture, I’ll discuss the following:

  1. A good eating habit and avoid food triggers. Eat regularly and eat a moderate amount at each meal. Try to avoid too many carbohydrates. Recognize food triggers, common ones are alcohol, caffeine and chocolate. Artificial flavoring agents, fragrances, and MSG may also be the culprit.
  2. Optimize blood vitamin D level. Get a serum25 (OH) VitD level and use that as a guide. If you do not know your blood level and you do not get much sun exposure, take at least 2,000 units of Vitamin D3 a day.
  3. Other vitamins, minerals and supplements: B vitamins, B2 or Riboflavin, and Magnesium maybe added. Please note that many Magnesium-containing OTC medications are laxatives, meaning Magnesium is not absorbed in the intestine a whole lot. My personal preference is Mg++Glycinate 400mg at bedtime. Feverfew and Butterbur are commonly used herbs in the western world for migraine. Aromatherapy may be considered for relaxation and a smooth “energy flow”.
  4. Traditional Chinese herbs tailored to each individual: This is the best example of personalized therapy.  How can we possibly give everybody the same thing (such as triptan drugs) and ask for 100% satisfaction. I typically mix different formulas and single herbs for each individual based on the Yin-Yang, cold-heat, interior-exterior, and deficiency-excess imbalance. While symptomatic treatment is important, to get to the root cause and re-establish internal energy balance and harmony is more important.
  5. Acupressure: Massaging or applying pressure to certain acupuncture points may reduce the intensity of headache or even abort a migraine attack.  GB20 (Feng, Chi), GB31 (Feng Shi), HT8 (Shao Fu) are just a few examples.
  6. Learn to improve your emotional balance and to distress: Different forms of meditation and relaxation techniques ought to be part of your armamentarium fighting migraine and other forms of headache.

Dr. Peter Sheng
Cincinnati Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Therapy, Integrative Medicine & Holistic Health Care