Several minutes to several hours of a headache, sensitivity to light, smell, or touch, or nausea and vomiting are all tell-tale signs of a migraine. Taking over-the-counter ibuprofen does little or nothing to thwart a migraine attack, especially since they don't always come with headaches. Now, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests acupuncture may be effective in reducing migraine frequency and prevalence of future attacks.

"While migraine preventive medications exist, they are not necessarily effective for all patients and can cause serious adverse effects," said Dr. Amy Gelfand, assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, who provided commentary for the study.

Read More: Everything You Need To Know About Headaches And Migraines

No single treatment works for everyone who suffers from migraines. Typically, those with chronic migraines are prescribed prevention drugs to alleviate symptoms. Beta-blockers propranolol (Inderal) and timolol (Blocadren) are the most popular to get relief. They work to relax and open up blood flow in blood vessels, although it's unclear how they prevent migraine symptoms. When beta-blockers don't work, calcium channel-blockers might do the trick. They are believed to prevent migraines by interrupting the action of serotonin, which can lead to contracting, tightening of the blood vessels in the head, and also reduce pain tolerance.

Since there is no optimal therapy for migraines, researchers are continuously looking for different ways to try and control this debilitating brain disorder. A research team in Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Sichuan, China, sought to test the efficacy of acupuncture on migraine attacks by recruiting 250 adult patients (189 who were women) who had migraine, without aura, and an attack frequency of two to eight per month.Migraine patients were separated into three groups: real acupuncture, sham acupuncture, and a wait-list control group after an initial 4-week baseline period.

Those in the real acupuncture group received treatment for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 4 consecutive weeks. Needles were placed at four specific points to evoke the "Deqi" sensation, or the feeling of soreness, numbness, distention, or radiating that shows effective needling. Patients in the sham group had needles inserted at points considered to be inactive, with no attempt to elicit Deqi.

The findings revealed the real acupuncture treatment saw a greater reduction in migraine attacks without aura (3.2) than sham acupuncture (2.1), and the wait-list control (1.4). Migraine days were also significantly lower in the true acupuncture group than in the sham group (2 versus 3.1 days), and the same was seen for headache intensity (3.4 versus 4.2). Moreover, the researchers noted there were no serious adverse effects, which is common in migraine medications.

Gelfand does caution there are several limitations to the study. Patients who experienced Deqi have had a placebo effect from the sensation of “numbness, soreness and distention." However, she does tout the benefit of acupuncture over medications, including a lack of serious adverse events and a persisting benefit.

"It is probably safe to try — it is not clear it is effective," said Gelfand.

Read More: Migraine Headaches Are More Frequent Among Women Going Through Perimenopause, Approaching Menopause

Migraines have different causes, but there are some other natural remedies that could reduce how often they occur.


Up to half of migraine patients have a magnesium deficiency, since many people don't get enough magnesium through their diets. Magnesium, specifically magnesium oxide, can sometimes be used to treat and prevent migraines. A study in Cephalalgia found that regular intake of magnesium reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by 41.6 percent.


Butterbur is an herb with the most evidence that it prevents migraine. An extract of butterbur root (petasin) is believed to contain anti-inflammatory and vasoactive properties, leading researchers to study its efficacy for migraines. In the 2012 migraine prophylaxis guidelines by the American Headache Society and American Academy of Neurology, butterbur extract (petasin) was noted as the only natural supplement listed as having Level A evidence "established as effective and should be offered for migraine prevention."

Feverfew And Willow Bark

Feverfew and willow bark contain powerful properties that can alleviate headaches. Feverfew contains parthenolide, which potently inhibits NF-kB, which trigger migraines, while willow bark contains a chemical similar to aspirin (salicin). A study in Clinical Drug Investigation found attack frequency was reduced by 57.2 percent at 6 weeks and by 61.7 percent at 12 weeks in nine of 10 patients.

Source: Zhao L, Chen J, Li Y et al. The Long-term Effect of Acupuncture for Migraine Prophylaxis: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2017.

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