Mother Earth Living

Q&A: Migraine Relief

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, problems with the gallbladder can cause migraine pains.
By Terry Willard
March/April 2001
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Our nine-year-old daughter has migraine syndrome. The headache part only lasts a couple of hours. The ensuing nausea and vomiting last from one to four days and require IV rehydration. These episodes occur about every two weeks. We’re changing her diet and are trying supplements and herbs, acupuncture, and a drug called Periactin. Her doctors feel the next step should be beta-blockers. We’re not in favor of this therapy but don’t want our daughter to suffer any more than she has already. I’d like to try herbs but am concerned about drug/herb interactions.
—K. F., South Kingstown, Rhode Island

Willard responds: There are many causes of migraine syndrome, but the most common cause I see is related to gallbladder/liver interaction. This type often shows an association with nausea and vomiting. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture meridians flow over the body in an almost electromagnetic grid. The meridians associated with the liver and gallbladder both flow into the head region. From the symptoms involved, I presume the problem is associated more with the gallbladder. If there’s a problem with the gallbladder, it often sends out a warning “alarm” along the meridian. This usually causes pain in the neck, going over the head, possibly to the side of the head, and ending up over or behind the eyes. This is the classic case of migraine—severe headaches associated with nausea and seeing auras.

Use three phases to help work through this problem—none of which have a drug-interaction problem associated with Periactin.

Phase 1: Relieve pain, nausea, and vomiting. The best herb to start with is feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium); choose a product with at least 0.5 percent sesquiterpene lactones. Take 500 mg twice daily for the first month. After the symptoms are gone for one month, reduce to 250 mg twice daily. After another month, the maintenance dosage is 250 mg daily. Feverfew usually has to accumulate in the body for three to twenty-one days before it works, so you’ll be taking it for a migraine that may occur in a week or more. Along with the feverfew, take fresh gingerroot (Zingiber officinale) tea to reduce vomiting and nausea.

Phase 2: Find the food or environmental trigger. The two most commonly associated problems are oily/greasy foods and weather changes. The gallbladder will often react to oily food, causing nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Some people are quite sensitive to barometric pressure changes. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), 2 to 3 capsules twice daily, works best. Sometimes, hormonal changes can also cause this problem. Even though your daughter’s only nine, she could be going through puberty, especially as migraines tend to affect her every two weeks. In this case, I usually add 250 to 500 mg of dong quai (Angelica sinensis), twice daily with the ginger tea.

Phase 3: Fix the gallbladder. Although the ginger mentioned above will often fix this problem by itself, other herbs I commonly employ are black radish (Raphanus sativus), dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium lappa), and milk thistle (Silybum marianum). A formula made up of a combination of these herbs is very effective.

One more thing to consider: I’ve seen a few cases with the above symptoms caused by a bad candida infestation. You should rule out that possibility. I hope this helps your daughter and all will be better in short order.

Stansbury responds: In searching out the trigger for the migraines, I look for accompanying symptoms. Does your daughter have any constipation, tummy aches, bowel problems? Work on digestion and diet, and give acidophilus. Is she an allergic person, or do allergies run in the family? Give antioxidant vitamins, flaxseed oil, and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Is there evidence of circulatory disorders? Give anti-allergy nutrients and botanicals, especially those specific for the circulatory system: ginkgo, quercetin, garlic (Allium sativum), magnesium, and feverfew. Do the head-aches occur when there’s a lot of stress, excitement, or stimulation? Give nerve-calming, adrenal-support herbs such as passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and linden (Tilia ¥europaea).

If none of these symptoms is evident, I would still try the therapies I’ve listed. Magnesium has natural, mild beta-blocking effects. Garlic supports nitric oxide content of the blood vessels, a compound that prevents blood vessel spasm and resultant inflammation. Ginkgo has anti-allergy effects and improves circulation. I’ve also had good results with homeopathic medicines chosen for the specific type of head pain, pattern, and accompanying symptoms. Although it’s safe to take homeopathics with pharmaceuticals, it’s best to work with a professional to select the appropriate formula.

Last, keep up the good work with improving her eating habits. Dietary factors are a common migraine trigger, so by all means continue on with your changes. Foods containing the amino acid tyramine are known to trigger migraines for some people, but virtually any food may be the offender. In my experience, it’s often something the individual loves and eats quite a bit of; dairy products, wheat, sugar, chocolate, and citrus are common offenders, as are food colorings, flavorings, sulfites, and preservatives. As you experiment, aim for a very clean diet—one without chemicals, pesticides, and so on, and eliminate the previously mentioned common food allergens. Consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water. Low blood sugar may also trigger headaches. You can treat this by eating many small, high- protein meals each day and avoiding sugar, breads, and grains.


Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal (Follgard CD Visions, 1998).

Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battle-ground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.


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