Migraine Prophylaxis: A Chinese Medicine Perspective
What are Migraine Headaches
Migraine is a complex and multifactorial brain disorder affecting approximately 18% of women and 5% of men, costing billions of dollars annually in direct and indirect healthcare costs and school and work absenteeism. To date, there have been no medications that were designed with the specific purpose to decrease the number of migraine attacks.
Migraine headaches are a bit of a mystery. Researchers have identified possible causes, but they don’t have a definitive explanation. Potential theories include:
- An underlying central nervous disorder may set off a migraine episode when triggered.
- Irregularities in the brain’s blood vessel system, or vascular system, may cause migraines.
- A genetic predisposition may cause migraines
- Abnormalities of brain chemicals and nerve pathways may cause migraine episodes.
What Can Trigger a Migraine?
There is no clear cause for migraine, however, the best way to avoid migraines is to prevent them from happening in the first place. There is a list of known trigger, the most common of with include: food, skipping meals, alcohol and caffeine, preservatives and artificial sweeteners, sensory stimulation such as bright lights, etc. hormonal changes, hormone medications, other medications such as vasodilators, mental stress, physical stress, sleep disturbances and weather changes. Factors such as age, family history and gender can increase the risk for migraine.
How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view Migraine Prevention
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, migraine can be caused by internal and external factors. For internal factors, common patterns of migraine are Liver Qi (body’s bio-electricity) deficiency, Liver blood deficiency, blood stagnation. Chronic conditions caused by functional disorders of the Kidneys, Liver or Spleen can result in migraine as well.
For external factors, there are six external forces invade the human body to cause diseases. They are called the six external pathogens in Chinese medicine, namely Wind, Heat, Dampness, Fire, Dryness and Cold. The most common external factors of migraine are Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat and Wind-Dampness.
The treatment approach with Chinese medicine will differ from patient to patient, depending on the underlying cause (as listed above). Every person is different so there’s no ‘one-fits-all’ approach, however, several studies have shown that acupuncture used to prevent migraine headache is an effective and safe method of treatment.
In order to prevent migraines, it is important for the practitioner of Chinese medicine to establish what pattern is underlying the recurring migraines. Once this has been established the prevention of migraine headaches focuses on eliminating the underlying issue, which in turn will reduce the frequency, and in most cases the severity of the migraines.
Identification of triggers is and important aspect of preventing migraines. It is important for the patient to recognise and then avoid exposure to such triggers.
At Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre we aim to help patients to identify the triggers that may lead to migraines and work on addressing the underlying TCM pattern causing their migraines. We then work out a treatment program which is specifically designed to prevent migraine headaches.
What You Can Do to Help Yourself
Life-style choices are one important aspect of reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. The following are examples of how to minimise headaches:
- Regular cardio-vascular exercise: by improving your circulation and overall health of the cardio-vascular system is one way to help balance the circulation of blood to the head
- Relaxation/Meditation: regularly engaging in meditation and relaxation is beneficial to the mind-body interaction and will help in reducing both physical and mental stress, either of which are known triggers for migraines
- Adequate and good quality sleep: set a regular time to go to bed and get up in the morning. Do not take work to bed and do not use your phone or tablet when in bed. The bedroom is for sleeping, not an office. Start winding down about 30 minutes before going to bed by reading a book or listening to some soothing music. Make sure you get about 7 hours of sleep each night.
- Eat wisely: reduce or eliminate processed food from your diet. Eat seasonally available food and if possible grow some of your own vegetables. Working in the garden is a relaxing and fulfilling activity and will also help you with managing stress.
- At the first sign of a headache stop what you’re doing, turn off lights and site quietly. Some patients find if they drink a cup of coffee or eat a little dark chocolate they can prevent a migraine from coming on. Using hot and cold may help to stop a migraine. Place an ice pack on the back of the neck and put your feet into very warm water (as hot as you can stand). This forces blood to your feet; away from your head and thus helps with preventing the throbbing and reduces the pain in the head.