Migraine Relief: Holistic Approaches to Ease Your Pain

Do you need relief from migraine headaches? Consider holistic approaches to ease your pain.

Traditional Drug Therapies

If you get migraines, chances are you may have been treated with: acetaminophen (Tylenol), NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naprosen), triptans (serotonin activators such as sumatriptan/Imitrex) or anti-nausea meds. Perhaps your doctor prescribed even stronger medications. All these remedies work best when given at the earliest signs of migraine onset.

While drugs may work well for you, they can have side effects. Consider treating your migraines using holistic, non-drug approaches.

Holistic Therapies

Take these steps to prevent a headache before it happens:

Step #1: Identify and modify or remove headache triggers including:

  • Sleep – Too little or too much
  • Stress – Combat stress with MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), exercise, yoga or Tai Chi
  • Dietary – Caffeine, chocolate, aged cheeses, alcohol, nitrites in processed foods, monosodium glutamate/MSG, artificial sweeteners, ice cream, irregular eating patterns
  • Hormonal – Menstruation, birth control pills
  • Environmental –Perfumes/scents, weather changes, bright light
  • Medication overuse – Chronic use of pain meds can cause recurrent headaches

Keep a headache diary to help identify your triggers.

Step #2: Use therapies to prevent migraines from occurring. Consider:

  • Magnesium (Mg) – Taking Mg has been shown to help prevent headaches. Typical starting doses are 250-400mg. Mg glycinate (chelated Mg) is easiest on the gut. It may take one to two months to notice optimal results. If you have kidney problems, avoid Mg or talk to your doctor.
  • Herbals and vitamins – Butterbur, feverfew and riboflavin (Vitamin B2) have all been shown to decrease migraine frequency. Migralief is an over-the-counter (OTC) product that combines all three.
  • Acupuncture – This traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique – where fine needles are inserted into specific points in the body – has been shown in Cochrane reviews (these are the most powerful studies) to decrease frequency and intensity of headaches. Acupuncture appears to be at least, if not more effective, than prescription drugs and with fewer side effects.
  • Mind-body approaches (MBSR, biofeedback, breath work, guided imagery)

Step #3: Knock out the headache when it occurs. At the earliest sign of your headache, try:

  • Ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or prescription medications recommended by your doctor. Studies have shown Naprosen given along with sumatriptan is more effective than either medication alone.
  • Aspirin 1000mg. A single dose has been shown to be as effective as sumatriptan 50mg.
  • Acupuncture – see above. Often helpful for stopping a headache when it occurs.
  • Rest and hydration. Always a good idea.

Migraine headaches are painful and can adversely affect your quality of life. If the natural and preventive approaches described above don’t help, prescription medications can often knock out a headache. Work with your health care provider to confirm that your headache is truly a migraine, and to find the right therapy for you.



Meet the Author

Kristen H. Reynolds, MD is the Medical Director at Aurora Wiselives Center for Wellbeing and the Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Aurora UW Academic Medical Group in Wauwatosa, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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