Headache and migraine pain affects 25% of all people and can impact every aspect of their lives. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a natural, safe, and effective way to offer relief from migraine headaches permanently!
What are migraines? A migraine is a recurrent, usually one-sided headache, characterized by sudden acute onsets of throbbing, pounding, or pulsating pain. The more intense pain is usually concentrated around the temple(s) and commonly lasts from 6 to 48 hours. Migraines may be accompanied by visual or gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea and vomiting, dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines, temporary blind spots (loss of your peripheral vision or blurred vision), eye pain, and extreme sensitivity to light (called photophobia).
Migraines occur as a result of changes in the diameter of blood vessels to the brain and surrounding structures. Initially, the blood vessels constrict (narrow), reducing blood flow to their areas and leading to visual disturbances, difficulty speaking, weakness, numbness, a tingling sensation in one part of the body, or other similar symptoms. When these symptoms start before the actual headache, it is called an aura. Minutes to hours later, the blood vessels dilate, leading to an increased blood flow and a severe headache.
What causes migraines? Western science is still investigating the causes of migraines. They suspect that there may be a genetic predisposition to the disease since many sufferers have a family history. The following are some common triggers for the attacks:
- Alcohol, caffeine, smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke. Foods such as those containing the amino acid tyramine (found in red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, some fruits (like avocado, banana, and citrus), foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG – an additive in many foods), onions, dairy products, meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats), and fermented or pickled foods.
- Stress, physical or emotional (the headache often occurs during the period of relaxation just following a particularly stressful time).
- Fluctuations in hormones (for example, menstruation).
- Low blood sugar (for example from missing meals).
- Certain odors (such as perfume), allergic reactions, bright lights and/or loud noises, sleeping too little or too much.
- Prolonged muscle tension (for example, a tension headache can lead to a mixed migraine-tension headache).
How does Western Medicine treat migraines? Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for migraine headaches in conventional medicine. The many pharmaceutical medications are not free of adverse side effects and basically only treat the symptoms temporarily. In addition, the patient may often become unresponsive to drug treatment after time. The following are the most commonly used conventional drugs for migraine treatment:
- Over-the-counter analgesics and/or prescription NSAIDs are the first level of treatment. Unfortunately these drugs are not always strong enough to give relief and have a tendency to upset the stomach, which may already be affected by the attack.
- Stronger pain treatments (such as sedatives or opioids) have associated side effects and the possibility of inducing a dependence.
- Drugs (Ergotamine, DHE) which cause the blood vessels to constrict directly treat the disease. Because they are vasoconstrictors, they are contraindicated for patients with ischemic heart disease, uncontrolled hypertension, peripheral artery disease, and a number of other conditions. Recently, a class of drugs known as selective serotonin receptor agonists has been used, and while better, some patients experience dizziness, nausea, palpitations, myalgia and many other adverse reactions. These drugs are still contraindicated for patients with ischemic heart disease or uncontrolled hypertension.
- Drugs have been used to prevent the occurrence of migraines. This group of drugs includes antidepressants, beta blockers, anticonvulsants, and calcium channel blockers. These drugs, with all their adverse side effects, have been effective in only a small number of cases. In general, the best that can be expected is fewer but equally severe attacks.
Chinese Medicine for migraines
Chinese medicine has been used for over 4,000 years and involves acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, acupressure massage, and nutrition & lifestyle recommendations. Chinese medicine aims to treat the root cause of an illness and not only the symptoms. The number one reason why physicians refer their patients to Chinese medicine doctors is for headache treatment. The greatest advantage of Chinese medicine for migraines over pharmaceutical medications is that it does no harm. Headaches are also included in the list of conditions recognized by the world health organization (WHO) for which acupuncture is effective.
More about Acupuncture: Using thin needles, the acupuncturist applies light stimulation to various points on the lower arms and legs, and/or on the face, neck, and earlobes, to activate a number of organs and systems, including the liver and digestive system. In Chinese medicine, migraines are attributed to “over-activity” of certain chemicals or systems and “under-activity” of others. During a migraine attack, the over-activity is most obvious. Between attacks, the under-activity, or susceptibility, to migraine triggers is what is treated.
How Acupuncture works: The basic foundation of Acupuncture is that there is energy flowing through the body, termed Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). This energy flows through the body on channels (known as meridians) that connect all of our major organs. Illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced. For migraines, acupuncture stimulates specific points which helps your body regulate the blood flow in the small vessels that typically become constricted in a migraine attack. It also helps the body balance levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter). Scientists have found that low serotonin levels make people more vulnerable to headaches. In addition, acupuncture releases endorphin compounds (natural painkillers) in the central nervous system. This is the most commonly cited mechanism to explain the effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving pain. Lastly, acupuncture generally relaxes tense muscles, which can also help to relieve migraines. A typical Acupuncture treatment lasts from 30 minutes to an hour and is a very comfortable and relaxing experience.
Acupressure Massage: I often follow a typical acupuncture treatment for migraines with massage in order to relax the tense muscles that may contribute to the migraines and provide relief for the patient.
Chinese Herbal Medicine and Nutrition: If acupuncture is so effective, then why would I need herbal medicine? This is a question you may be asking yourself. Chinese Herbal Medicine is very effective in treating the underlying cause of the headache and works very well along with the acupuncture. The herbs come in capsule and powder form and are very easy to ingest. I also advise the patient on nutrition and lifestyle issues, making Chinese medicine a “complete” medicine.
Research: Several clinical trials of acupuncture therapy support the effectiveness of its treatment. A randomized clinical study involving thirty participants was conducted in the Department of Neurology at the University College Hospital of London, England. The results showed that there was a significant reduction in pain intensity and medication intake for patients who received acupuncture treatments. In another study led by Dr. Baischer of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vienna, the results showed that the improvements achieved by acupuncture therapy are stable over a long period of time. The frequency of migraine attacks was significantly reduced over a five-week observation period immediately after treatment, and also during a three year follow-up period.
“I have been suffering with migraines for about 20 years. Sometimes the migraines are so debilitating that I miss work. I find that advil takes sometimes a whole day to take effect and am apprehensive of taking stronger pain killers as I am aware of the potential side effects. I have recently started getting acupuncture and chinese herbs from Dr. Mahanian and have found it to be so helpful. Being on the herbal medicine, I find that I don’t get the migraines as often anymore and it has benefitted my overall energy level and health as well. The acupuncture is quite amazing in that it can actually immediately take the tightness and pain away during a migraine attack. I now encourage my family and friends to try acupuncture & chinese medicine too”.
PM, 37 years old, Vancouver BC