Q&A: Migraine Relief

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, problems with the gallbladder can cause migraine pains.

| March/April 2001

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.

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