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The Application of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Migraine Prevention and Relief

Acupuncture practitioners around the globe can tell you that migraine sufferers seek help from acupuncture clinics on a daily basis. Many find that this method of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers symptom relief unparalleled by oral medications. This ancient therapy is becoming more widespread and increasingly introduced into mainstream Western healthcare in the 21st century and can replace expensive arsenals of medications including prophylactics, tricyclic agents, muscle relaxants, beta-blockers, and painful injections. Patients who know their onset symptoms can even use acupuncture to avert severe headaches.

Statistics show that approximately 70 millions Americans report suffering from recurring headaches. More than 25 million of these victims have been diagnosed with migraines. Traditional Chinese medicine can supplement or, in some cases, replace Western medicine as a means for these patients to function normally from day-to-day. Another advantage of acupuncture is that it is not linked to any of the unwanted side effects that come with traditional drug prescriptions.

The philosophy behind TCM revolves around the balance of the yin and yang, utilizing our vital energy, known as “qi” as it traverses the system of meridians (channels of energy) in our bodies. The yang energy tends to flow up and away from our core. Since the yang meridians intersect in the head, a deficiency of qi here indicates a blockage of the yang meridians and can cloud our mind and cause pain or headaches. Acupuncture works to clear these blockages, harmonizing our organs, and reestablishing a balance of yin and yang.

A skilled practitioner uses thin needles to apply pressure to various acupuncture points along the skin. Occasionally, a small electric current is applied to one or more of the needles as a non-invasive form of electro-acupuncture. This technique is especially effective for relieving tension in muscles around the neck and shoulders. The treatment is repeated twice a week for a month or so until the pain relief becomes long-lasting. In acupuncture, the consistency and frequency of treatments can make a big difference.

A series of clinical trials that date back as far as 1970 shed some light as to the mechanism behind the relief that acupuncture provides. Researchers have found that acupuncture can be used to regulate serotonin and other neurotransmitters in our body. Low serotonin levels leave patients more vulnerable to migraines, so acupuncture is used to speed the release of serotonin in the brain and spinal cord. Further biochemical studies revealed that acupuncture affects acetylcholinesterase activity in the blood, magnesium concentrations in blood serum, and endogenous opioid release in the central nervous system, all of which reduce the symptoms of migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches.

Additionally, Dr. Jisheng Han discovered the electrically stimulated acupuncture needles release endorphins into the central nervous system. These natural painkillers are responsible for the reduction of headache pain, and are being further studied at the acupuncture research program for Acupuncture-induced Analgesia (AA) in China.

An article published by Capobianco et al in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings of 1996 indicates that migraine headaches are affecting a 60% larger population every decade. Acupuncture has now been established as an effective and drug-free means of managing migraines and the corresponding symptoms. Additionally, TCM offers a combination of acupuncture, herbal, and massage therapies, among others, that can be personalized for each patient, resulting in a more effective treatment of each individual’s condition

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