Did you know that migraines are the third most prevalent illness in the world? Or that 12% of the population in America (including children) suffers from them? Migraines are elusive and are minimally understood. One fact that’s well known is acupuncture can be amazingly effective at not only reducing the symptoms of a migraine but potentially getting rid of them. This is because Chinese Medicine works with the “roots” and the “branches”. A big difference between Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine is how they treat. Western diagnosis and treatment protocol is often centered around alleviating symptoms (the branches), and for many issues, it doesn’t look at the main cause (the root). Chinese Medicine sees the symptoms, and then treats the root of the problem. This isn’t a jab at Western Medicine, it is a product of how the two philosophies evolved, and there are many exceptions to both sides. Philosophy aside, lets’s take a look at the different views of migraine headaches, and how sufferers can find relief.
What is a migraine? It occurs when the blood vessels under the skull which supply blood to the brain constrict and expand, giving the sensation of a throbbing headache. In Western medicine, the direct cause of migraine headaches is unknown, but through research, different theories for their existence have come up. One link that scientists have found is genetics, since 50% of migraine sufferers also have family members who get them. Along those lines, many researchers believe they are due to a vulnerable nervous system that responds radically to internal or external shifts in the environment. This causes serotonin metabolism to rapidly drop in the body during a migraine. Other causes include foods such as red wine, nitrites/nitrates in cured meats, MSG, and tyramine. Stress, anxiety, fluorescent lights, and even weather can also bring about a migraine.
Chinese Medicine looks to the liver. One of the roles the liver plays in regards to our energetic body is to make sure qi is flowing through all of the meridians smoothly. When that qi becomes stuck in the liver resulting from pent up emotions, excessive stress, or certain dietary/lifestyle habits it can result in liver heat. All that qi in one place is making the liver too hot, and the heat wants to rise. As we look at the liver channel, we see that its pathways open into the eyes and head. As the excess heat rises it causes patterns of symptoms associated with a migraine. So how can Chinese medicine help? By finding out the reason for the stuck qi in the liver. Through lifestyle recommendations and acupuncture, Chinese medicine practitioners can get the qi flowing smoothly again. Because everyone is different, the reason for the qi stagnation could be anything, so acupuncturists are trained to find out what could be causing it. This is what treating the root of the problem means, and why it is remarkably effective for less understood medical conditions such as migraines.
(I try to keep my articles as short, informative, and easy to understand as possible. The body is incredibly complex and I could easily write 15 more paragraphs. If you are thirsty for more, here is my resource list! Stay tuned for more!)
Flaws, B., Sionneau, P. (2001). Blue Poppy Press. Boulder, CO. The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases With Chinese Medicine: A textbook and clinical manual. 365-366.
Maciocia, G. 2012. Elsevier, ltd. The Practice of Chinese Medicine: the treatment of diseases with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. 515.
Mayoclinic stafff. (2013). Diseases and Conditions: Migraine. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/basics/definition/con-20026358.
Stephenson, C. 2011, Elsevier, ltd. The complementary Therapist’s Guide to Conventional Medicine. 297-298.
Zhao, L., Liu, J., Zhang, F. … Liang, F. (2014). Effects of long-term acupuncture treatment on resting-state brain activity in migraine patients: a randomized controlled trial on active acupoints and inactive acupoints. 10;9(6). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099538.