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This morning, at 4.45am almost three hours before I normally get out of bed, I was woken from a great deep sleep to the sound of glass crashing.  The crash was from two very nice wine glasses, that we received as wedding gifts, one of my cats knocked over.  I couldn’t go back to sleep.  Running on about five hours and forty five minutes of sleep is not enough for this eight hour a night woman.  I managed to get to work alright, almost fell asleep on the subway twice, and started to feel a migraine headache coming on.  I immediately began my step-by-step migraine “plan” and was back to normal within 3 hours and the worst that I felt was an aura, slight nausea, and a headache that was not quite at the vice-grip/cotton stuffing phase but more at the slight piercing phase.

Migraines, in TCM, can be rooted in several different imbalances.  Today I’m focusing on symptomatic relief versus long-term root-causes.  I hope to have an in-depth look at Migraine headaches written some time in the near future.


Acute Relief:

1. Make a very very strong cup of chamomile tea (1oz by weight of herbs -about two large handfuls- per 1 pint of boiling water, or 5 teabags per mug of boiling water, cover the mug/vessel and let it steep for 20 minutes then strain and drink.)  If you happen to have fresh ginger around, put two or three thin slices of ginger in with the chamomile.  Strain, and drink.

This method helps relieve the nausea that is often associated with migraines, as well as the headache itself.

2.  While some people have not had success with this herb, I feel it is a great migraine-reliever (especially when taken at the first sign of a migraine) – feverfew.  It is best fresh, but I use it in powdered form in capsules from the healthfood store.  Take 2-3 capsules at the first sign of the headache, then 2 capsules every 20-30 minutes thereafter (until relief is achieved.)  Likewise, if you can get the fresh herb, chew one leaf every day as a preventative measure.

This herb helps “cool” the body down, and reduce the upward piercing pain that’s often associated with migraines/headaches.

3.  Take herbs that are known to cleanse the Liver.  Yogi Tea’s Green Tea Antioxidant has served me well in the past, and is easily purchased at the grocery store: place 2 teabags in a cup of boiled water and let steep, covered, for 20 minutes.  This tea has both burdock and dandelion, two Liver cleansing herbs.  Taking dandelion tea (or burdock tea) will also work well.

4.  Get peppermint or lavender essential oil, depending on which scent you prefer if you can handle a strong scent at all.  Dilute the essential oil (1 drop of essential oil mixed with 10 drops of a “carrier” oil such as jojoba, apricot kernel, olive, coconut, sesame, etc) and gently massage into the temples, between the eyebrows, and the tragus area of the ears.  You can also rub this mixture into the base of the skull, gently massaging it.  Those four areas cover a lot of points/areas that can offer relief for migraines. 


For long-term help/relief:

1. Re-examine your diet.
Eliminate known migraine triggers: canned foods, pickled/heavily vinegared foods and vinegars, citrus, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol (especially red wine), artificial sweeteners, nitrates/nitrites and sulfates/sulfites,  MSG, benzoates, nuts, soy, fermented soft cheeses (blue, Brie, cheddar, “moldy” cheeses, hard cheeses like Parmesan.)

If eliminating these foods does nothing for you, you might consider a food elimination diet.  Eliminate all dairy and wheat/gluten from the diet for 6 weeks, then re-introduce one of the two items into the diet.  Ingest those items two to three times per day for at least three days, note your reaction and then add the other item(s) back into the diet the same way – for a total of 6 weeks.  Then repeat the elimination and note how you feel.  This ensures that the initial elimination results are not placebo effect.

Examine what foods you are craving, oftentimes a craving for something (say a giant glass of orange juice when you normally don’t ever drink or eat oranges) is an indication not only of a vitamin/mineral deficiency but that a migraine is on the horizon.  When this happens, take steps to ensure you are eating a balanced diet, and get plenty of rest for the next few days.

Take a quality multi-vitamin, vitamin D3 supplement (at least 1,000IUs/day), and a magnesium supplement (NOT magnesium oxide.)  If you are under, and feel, considerable stress take a B vitamin complex.  Many, many, migraines are caused from vitamin and mineral deficiencies – hence the need to supplement and eat whole, unprocessed, foods.

2.  Ensure that you are getting adequate rest, sleep, and exercise.
Most migraine sufferers are lacking in work/life-relaxation/action balance – make sure you are balancing your life with not too much work, not too much rest/relaxation, not too much sleep, not too much exercise but moderate amounts.  Try adjusting your routine and priorities list for a period of time, to see if that affects your migraines.

3.  Learn to effectively manage stress and become resilient to it.
Begin a meditation, yoga or Tai Chi/Qi Gong routine to help you regain your center and balance, which will then help you manage your stress levels more effectively during stressful times.  If this does not help, seek the guidance of a therapist.

4.  Pay attention to the weather.
That’s right!  Pay attention to the weather forecast.  You might be surprised with how many people get migraines the day after it rains and it is bright, clear and windy!  By paying attention to the weather, and barometric pressure in particular, you can effectively plan for how you might feel and be proactive.  On days like the above, be sure to get adequate sleep, plan for extra rest, avoid stressful situations, and eat especially well!

5.  Avoid fluorescent lighting.
Some migraine sufferers are extremely sensitive to fluorescent lighting, if this is you, do your best to avoid it.  Work in an office?  Move your desk close to a window and get an incandescent or halogen desk lamp to offset the fluorescent lights above you.  Better yet, don’t use the overhead fluorescent lights if possible.

If you can’t avoid this type of lighting at work, try to take breaks and get outside whenever possible (at least once per day for 20 minutes mid-day.)

6.  If you have not seen a doctor about your headaches, especially if they are frequent and/or severe, please go see one.  If you’ve been unable to manage your headaches with diet and lifestyle changes, something else may be going on.

7.  Consult with a qualified herbalist.
You’d be surprised what a daily herbal, diet and lifestyle protocol can do for migraine relief.  Oftentimes, migraines are tied with other health issues that are not viewed as connected by medical doctors.