A Natural Approach to Preventing Migraines
There is ample anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating a wide range of health concerns such as arthritis, infertility, chronic pain, and more, but the scientific community has also embraced acupuncture as treatment for many conditions as well. Today, we’ll talk specifically about migraine prevention and whether acupuncture can help.
There are many ways the scientific community tries to measure whether our health care treatments actually work. Without getting too technical, the gold standard for evaluating the effectiveness of medical interventions is something called a randomized control trial or RCT. Essentially, an RCT is a scientific study where you can compare at least two groups wherein one group receives an intervention and the other does not. Outcomes are measured and compared, and if the outcomes are different between the groups, you can be more confident that the intervention had an effect.
Sometimes, it is difficult to conduct these kinds of studies, and this is particularly true in health care. Nevertheless, there have been many studies (some RCTs, some not) investigating acupuncture as an intervention for migraines and it can be helpful to examine all these studies in what is known as a systematic review to see if there is any benefit of acupuncture to prevent migraines. One of the most respected journals for publishing systematic reviews is Cochrane, and in 2016, they published a review of 22 clinical trials representing nearly 5000 study participants to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture for migraines. What the review founds is truly compelling.
In the review, acupuncture was compared with drugs as well as sham acupuncture (i.e. a procedure that appears to be acupuncture but actually is not), and here are the most relevant findings:
- Real acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture,
- Acupuncture can reduce the frequency of migraines, and
- Acupuncture is as effective as medications for preventing migraines, yet there are no side-effects to acupuncture.
Now, remember that RCTs are the gold standard for evaluating medical interventions, and a Cochrane review of RCTs would be provide undeniable evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture. Unfortunately, not all the studies reviewed represent RCTs. However, the quality of many of the trials evaluated are deemed “moderate,” which means we are “moderately” certain that acupuncture is effective for preventing migraines. So what can we take from this research? Well, it seems that at least for some people, acupuncture prevents migraines; and since it is a treatment with no side-effects, acupuncture represents a safe alternative or addition to typical medication interventions.