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Headaches: CAM Therapies for Specific Conditions

  • Behavioral medicine is effective with headache patients. It is particularly effective for tension headaches, which are generally caused by a maladaptive reaction to stress.

  • Biofeedback, a training program used to improve a person's control over autonomic body functions, is used to treat headaches. Headache is one of about 150 conditions that appear to respond positively to biofeedback. It is often considered to be more scientific than other relaxation techniques.

  • Acupuncture is used as an effective treatment for headaches. In a 1984 study by Dr. Leng Loh of 48 migraine patients, 59 percent reported benefits from acupuncture, compared to 25 percent who benefited from drug therapy. Most recently in 1997, the National Institutes of Health indicated that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for headaches.

  • Herbs are often used as a treatment for headaches. According to a 1997 Prevention magazine survey, 22 percent of all medicinal herb use in America is used for the treatment of headaches. Herbs generally have a milder effect than pharmaceutical drugs, and often have fewer side effects.

  • Feverfew is an herb in the daisy family that is frequently used in England for migraine prevention, arthritis treatment, as well as fever and menstrual problems. Usual dosage is to gradually increase up to 125 mg daily to prevent migraine headaches and upwards of 250 mg per day to prevent arthritic pain. Any feverfew product should be standardized to contain at least 0.4 percent parthenolide. Feverfew should not be used during pregnancy since it may stimulate uterine contractions and should not be used with anticoagulants such as Coumadin since feverfew acts as an anticoagulant. Although studies indicate that it can prevent and decrease the frequency and intensity of migraines, there is no evidence of a positive effect once a migraine is in onset.

  • Naturopathic treatment of headaches can be effective. Headaches are one of the conditions naturopaths most commonly treat, using a wide, eclectic array of treatments including nutritional therapy, MindBody therapies, homeopathy, and herbal therapies.

  • Herbs are used to treat migraine headaches. A 1988 study demonstrated reduced symptoms in migraine patients who used herbal medications.

  • Chiropractic treatment of headaches may be effective, but results are equivocal. In a number of clinical studies, chiropractic was found to be at least as effective as medication and massage.

  • Brahmi is valued in the treatment of headaches. This Ayurvedic herbal preparation is an anti-anxiety substance, and can be applied in conjunction with yoga and dietary therapy.

  • Maharishi Ayur-Ved interventions show significant success in the treatment of headaches. In a 1989 pilot study of 126 people who used these interventions for a variety of conditions, including headaches, 79 percent of the participants showed improvement, 14 percent showed no change, and 7 percent became worse. This suggests that the approach has merit.


Caution: Homeopathy appears not too effective for migraine headaches. Two well-controlled studies on the homeopathic treatment of migraines did not show that homeopathy was more effective than placebo. One study, conducted in 1997, was very well designed and showed no effect.

Caution: Effectiveness of chiropractic interventions for headache is promising, though not clearly effective, based on the findings to date. Relief of common headache would be significant if it resulted in long-term relief. Studies do not confirm that long-term relief occurs in the presence of chiropractic manipulation.

Caution: Approximately 10 percent of people using the herb feverfew may experience mouth ulcers. Other reported side effects are gastrointestinal upset, anxiety, and actually inducing headaches. Feverfew interacts with blood thinners, or anticoagulants, so consult with your doctor if you are using blood-thinning medications.



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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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