Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Migraine

When your doctor kind of shrugs his shoulders or scratches her head, it might seem like you’re out of good options for treating your frequent Migraine attacks or headaches. Not so. In fact, there are over 200 documented therapies for Migraine, many of which you may not hear about during your bi-annual seven-minute appointment with your doctor.

Many of these options are natural ways to get rid of migraines, known as “Complementary and Alternative (CAM)” therapies by doctors.

Why People Seek Out Natural Ways to Get Rid of Migraines

A variety of motivations lead to people seeking out CAM therapies and natural ways to get rid of migraines, including:

  • Interest in a more natural, organic approach to healthcare
  • Aversion to side effects from some prescription medications
  • Safety concerns among children and women of child-bearing age
  • High deductible insurance plans, which produce a focus on effective treatment value vs. prescription reimbursement
  • Failure to respond to most doctor-recommended therapies

Even if your doctor isn’t aware of all the Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies for Migraine and headache, several options have relatively strong evidence for effectiveness. You may want to share these with your doctor and see if they’re right for you.

If you’re skeptical about using anything your doctor doesn’t recommend, that can be both wise and limiting. According to International Headache Society Chairman David M. Dodick MD and the World Health Organization (WHO), most doctors get little to no training in med school in headache medicine be it traditional (usually pharmacological) or complementary and alternative therapies. That’s especially ironic given the fact that headache disorders, including Migraine, tension type, and medication overuse headache, are now deemed to be the 3rd most disabling disorder on the planet, according to WHO (1).

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Often, that relentless pain leaves patients like us to find effective therapies anywhere we can.

Why Your Doctor Rarely Prescribes Alternative Therapies

The main reasons you may not hear about natural ways to get rid of migraines from your doctor: familiarity and safety, according to Andrea Harriott M.D., headache specialist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston during her 2017 interview on The Migraine World Summit (2) “We have a lot of experience with [pharmaceutical therapies], so there’s familiarity.”

Even for headache specialists like Harriott, who have the option of attending one of the sessions on CAM therapies at the annual American Headache Society Scientific Conference, there’s a lurking concern around safety. Dr. Harriott continues, “In general, there tends to be much better evidence for pharmaceutical therapies than there are for nutritional supplements. We know a little bit more about their effectiveness and their dosing, we know a little bit more about how they’re regulated and what’s in them, when we prescribe them and there tends to be some fear about the nutritional supplements in terms of what’s actually contained in that pill when you buy it off of the shelf.” Supplements in the United States are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s essential to choose a high-quality brand from a reputable distributor.

Nutritional supplements are just one of several types of CAM therapies featured on the 2016 Guideline Recommended Treatments for Complementary Therapies issued by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Headache Society (AHS), and reviewed by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) (3).

The Best Complementary and Alternative Therapies

CAM Therapies Reviewed by AAN or AHS

First, we will address those CAM therapies reviewed by AAN/AHS for preventive use, and then other therapies not included in the review but widely used by people with Migraine, headache, and cluster.

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Several herbal preparations, vitamins, and minerals are used for preventing Migraine.

– Butterbur (Petasites): An herb with strong evidence for migraine prevention. While it’s been controversial in the past due to concerns with PA contamination, certain brands with “PA-free” on the label are now believed to be safe.

– Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): A vitamin with moderate evidence for Migraine prevention. Top headache specialist Richard B. Lipton MD called this the “great free swing” because it’s very affordable and safe.

– Magnesium: A mineral with moderate evidence for Migraine prevention, recommended in oral form as a preventive supplement. Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin in an Epsom Salt bath or as a topical cream or ointment. Some hospitals also administer IV magnesium for migraine emergencies.

Feverfew (MIG-99):  An herb with moderate evidence for Migraine prevention. It’s available in liquid, tea and capsule form, taken daily or at the first sign of an attack.

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Not all Complementary and Alternative Therapies that people use were reviewed by the AHS/AAN committee.

Other Popular CAM Therapies for Migraine

Many natural ways to get rid of migraines offer intriguing evidence but are unlikely to have the same rigorous double-blind placebo studies that pharmaceutical and devices subject to FDA approval require.

What makes them attractive to people seeking a more natural approach to Migraine management is a low side effect profile. Among the most popular alternative, non-medical therapies that people with Migraine report using include:

– Cold Therapy: From wearable ice packs and headache hats to machines that circulate ice-cold liquid through wearable pads, ice and cold are the most popular form is an incredibly effective, economic and reusable form of acute self-care for many.

– Menthol and Mint: The cooling sensation from topical menthol rubs is comforting to many people in the early stages of a migraine attack. In the past decade, four positive studies have examined the use of the herb peppermint and its active ingredient menthol for Migraine. It can be inhaled, applied or ingested to abort a migraine attack.

Daith Piercing: tiny puncture of the upper ear cartilage is the latest drug-free therapy many have tried to prevent migraine attacks with mixed results. It has not been reviewed by the FDA for safety and has no clinical trials. Reports of injection site infection are not uncommon.

– Acupuncture and Acupressure:  Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese medicine practice of inserting needles along key meridians has been used for migraine prevention. A recent meta-analysis indicated acupuncture produced a 50% reduction in attack frequency – as good or better than most prescription therapies (4). Acupressure works in a similar way, with at least eight identified pressure points to abort an attack.

natural ways to get rid of migraines

There is no clinical evidence to suggest that chiropractors help with Migraine.

– Chiropractic Manipulation: Until recently, little research supported the use of Chiropractic techniques to move, stretch and manipulate the spine. Yet many people who see chiropractors for Migraine prevention swear by their results. A new Norwegian study is gathering evidence (5).

– Oxygen Therapy: While it is clear that inhaled oxygen therapy is a very useful therapy in cluster headaches, its utility in Migraine is less well documented. Several studies since 1939 show potential but not solid proof, according to a report by the National Headache Foundation (6). Absence of side effects make it an attractive option to many.

Ginger: This Asian plant is often ingested to reduce nausea in supplement or tea form. One study even indicated that ginger was as effective as sumatriptan to abort a migraine attack, without any adverse effects (7).

– Medical Marijuana: Now that it’s legal in many states, medical marijuana or CBD is an intriguing treatment option for many with migraine and cluster headache pain. Evidence is still preliminary, but promising, especially for migraine pain reduction and cluster if attacks began in childhood.

Looking for even more? Each year, the Migraine World Summit team updates its Migraine Treatment Directory, with over 200 medical and non-medical, alternative treatments used by people in the community. In addition, the Directory includes a worldwide summary of guideline-recommended treatments reviewed by leading medical bodies, including American Academy of Neurology, American Headache Society and European Headache Federation.

Because many alternative and complementary therapies aren’t FDA-regulated, it’s wise to proceed with caution before investing your time and money in any new therapy. Even if your doctor doesn’t suggest them, it’s important to discuss any new preventative or abortive therapies with your doctor first.

Just when you thought you were out of options – there’s always hope.

Comments? What natural ways to get rid of migraines have you tried?

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The post The Best Natural Ways to Get Rid of Migraines appeared first on Migraine Again.



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