Understanding Alternative, Drug-Free Migraine Remedies
For a long time, the world of migraine treatment was divided by a wall. On one side, there was conventional medicine, such as prescription and over-the-counter pain medications. On the other side, there was alternative medicine: acupuncture, meditation, herbal supplements, etc.
But many people asked: Why do these two approaches have to be separated? What if a combination of treatments, lifestyle changes and natural migraine remedies is the best way to feel better?
An integrative approach to migraine treatment takes a holistic view that includes mind, body, spirit and community. “Integrative medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically,” explains the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. It’s a healing-focused approach that considers the whole person.
Elements of Integrative Treatment for Migraine
An integrative treatment approach could include some or all of the following:
- Prescribed treatments, such as abortive, rescue and preventative medications
- Over-the-counter treatments such as CEFALY DUAL, an FDA-cleared external eTNS device that’s clinically proven to treat migraine and is available without a prescription
- A migraine-friendly diet, which seeks to eliminate migraine-triggering foods and additives. Examples include alcohol, chocolate, nuts, citrus fruits, processed meats and fresh-baked breads.
- Dietary supplements, which may be vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, or enzymes. Read more: The Simple Guide to Migraine Supplements
- Acupuncture: “There is growing evidence that acupuncture is just as effective and has fewer side effects than many of the standard pharmaceutical agents that are currently used” for migraine prevention, according to a systematic review of data from existing randomized trials. [i]
- Biofeedback, which lets you view your vital signs in real time and then learn how to consciously change them
- Mindfulness/meditation, which “may be as effective as pharmacological treatment for medication-overuse headache after the offending medication is withdrawn,” one study found.[ii]
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help someone change thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to migraine[iii]
- Massage and/or physical therapy to ease muscle tension in the head and neck
- Yoga, which can benefit mind and body alike
- Green light therapy: Exposure to a specific frequency and intensity of green light may help reduce headache days and pain intensity.[iv]
Talking to Your Healthcare Provider about Integrative Migraine Treatments
Many doctors have hesitated to recommend complementary or alternative medicine for migraine because these approaches haven’t always been scientifically proven to work. Prescription medications, on the other hand, are extensively researched and tested before they’re brought to market. The same is true of CEFALY: many high-quality clinical studies have proven that CEFALY can significantly reduce the number of migraine days and relieve migraine pain.
Providers are now beginning to be more open about discussing integrative medicine with patients, Dr. Deena Kuruvilla said at the 2021 Migraine World Summit.[v] Dr. Kuruvilla, who is a neurologist and director of the Westport Headache Institute, offers providers a “CARE” mnemonic to help them start the conversation.
- C stands for "conventional therapies”: discussing someone’s experience with migraine medications and other prescribed treatments.
- A stands for "avoid judgment": refraining from criticizing or commenting on alternative migraine treatments someone has tried in the past.
- R stands for "reviewing": going over integrative medicine approaches with the patient and reviewing the evidence, as well as potential limitations and adverse effects.
- E stands for "explore”: ask questions to better understand why someone is interested in an integrative approach to migraine.
If you’re considering trying an integrative approach to treating migraine, do your research. Talk to other members of the migraine community. Read Dr. Kuruvilla’s Evidence-Based Integrative Treatments for Headache. Track your treatments and symptoms in the free CeCe migraine management app, so you can see what’s working. And if you have questions about how CEFALY fits into your treatment plan, contact us!
[i] Zhang N, Houle T, Hindiyeh N and Aurora SK. Systematic Review: Acupuncture vs Standard Pharmacological Therapy for Migraine Prevention. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. 2020; 60: 309-317. https://doi.org/10.1111/head.13723
[ii] Wells RE, Beuthin J, Granetzke L. Complementary and Integrative Medicine for Episodic Migraine: an Update of Evidence from the Last 3 Years. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019;23(2):10. Published 2019 Feb 21. doi:10.1007/s11916-019-0750-8
[iv] Martin LF, Patwardhan AM, Jain SV, et al. Evaluation of green light exposure on headache frequency and quality of life in migraine patients: A preliminary one-way cross-over clinical trial. Cephalalgia. 2021;41(2):135-147. doi:10.1177/0333102420956711