I was working an office job about 20 years ago with a nice guy about ten years my senior. We were getting to be friends, and this helped break up the dreary routine of the place. Then he started missing work. A day here and a day there, at first. Then a few days at a time. Then he was absent more days than he showed up. I assumed something was wrong, but I didn’t want to pry. Finally, he told me he had been having severe migraine headaches. They were so crippling, he was considering quitting his job. This was just before I started school in Chinese medicine. I didn’t have anything useful to tell him. I just remember feeling bad for him, and being surprised to find out that migraines could be that bad.
I wish I knew then what I know now. My attitude toward migraines has changed quite a lot. Nearly every case is completely treatable with natural medicine. In this article, I’m going to share a handful of key approaches that can make a huge difference. Here they are:
These aren’t the only things that are helpful for migraines, of course. I had a patient who used to stick Q-tips up her nose – the whole way up – and felt that made a huge difference. Others like essential oils, cold compresses, or decapitation. I encourage you to give my suggestions a try. Then let me know what happens, or share your own favorite remedies, on our blog.
- Acupuncture. I’d estimate I can control 80% of migraine cases with acupuncture alone. Other acupuncturists may fare better or worse than that. Ask if this is an area of focus for your acupuncturist. If not, you might consider someone else.
- Massage. Get regular deep tissue massages. Have them focus on the base of your skull, the front, sides, and back of your neck, and especially the upper back, between your spine and shoulder blades. Between massages, or instead, get a lacrosse ball, lie on your back on a carpeted floor with bent knees, and place the ball under you, against the inside edge of your shoulder blade. Find every tender spot, put the ball there, relax for about 2 minutes, then go to the next one.
- Hydrate. Drink half the number of pounds you weigh as ounces of water each day, evenly over the course of the day. (For instance, if you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water a day.)
- Avoid Caffeine. Even though caffeine is an ingredient in some headache medications (because it constricts the blood vessels in the head), it is a known trigger of migraines. Many migraine cases improve when caffeine is cut out.
- Figure Out What Foods You’re Sensitive to, and Avoid Them. The only reliable way to figure out your food sensitivities is by doing an elimination diet (ask a natural healthcare provider knowledgeable in this area for guidance) and then systematically reintroducing foods, one at a time, to see what your reaction is. It’s a good idea to reintroduce foods at least 2 days apart, since the migraine may be delayed by a day. Figuring out your sensitivities and eliminating those foods is often a total cure for migraines. It’s worth the work.
- Clean Up Your Diet. Cut out processed foods and eat more live, fresh, healthy, chemical-free foods, prepared by you or someone with a good heart.
- Avoid Getting Hypoglycemic. Many migraines are triggered by a drop in blood sugar. This is common a few hours after eating a meal with lots of simple carbs or sugar. In some folks, the blood sugar goes way up and then comes crashing down, in what is known as “reactive hypoglycemia.” Besides potentially triggering migraines, reactive hypoglycemia can be an early precursor to diabetes, so there are multiple reasons to get this under control. Each protein with every meal, and eliminate juice and sweets.
- Avoid Aspartame (Nutrasweet). Some migraines are triggered by this toxic stuff. Avoid it even if it doesn’t give you migraines.
- Reduce Your Stress Level. Exercise, breathe, do yoga, have fun, get counseling, take breaks, get acupuncture and massage . . . just do whatever you have to do to reduce the impact of your stress.
- Avoid MSG. While not a trigger for all migraine sufferers, many people have fewer headaches when they cut MSG out of their diets. Anyway, it’s not good for anyone, so it’s worth avoiding.
- Try Magnesium. Many migraine sufferers have low levels of magnesium. Try taking 600mg (you can gradually go up to 1000mg) in divided doses over the course of each day. (Watch out for bowel loosening. If it gives you loose bowels, reduce the dose or spread it out more evenly over the course of the day.)
- Try Direct Pressure on Your Head. One study had participants with migraines wrap an elastic band (with Velcro at the ends, so that it could be secured tightly) around their head, covering the most tender spots. They would then place soft rubber discs under the head band at the places of greatest discomfort to apply extra pressue in these areas. Eighty percent of the headaches were improved by more than fifty percent. Of these, seventy-three percent improved by more than eighty percent.
- Take a Good B Vitamin Complex. Several of the B vitamins have been shown to be useful for migraines. Just take all of them in one capsule, once or twice a day.
- Try a Chinese Herbal Formula. This should be not just any Chinese herbal formula, but one chosen specifically for you by a practitioner of Chinese medicine. The only thing I’ve seen consistently work as well as acupuncture is Chinese herbal formulas I’ve made and ground myself for my patients. They may not be the tastiest thing in the world, but they’re effective.
Dr. Peter Borten