Migraine – Complementary approaches


Many methods of stress management have been shown to be effective in preventing migraine attacks because stress can be a big trigger. It’s up to everyone to find the method that suits them best (see our Stress file).




Acupuncture, butterbur

5-HTP, feverfew, autogenic training, visualization and mental imagery

Spinal and physical manipulation, hypoallergenic diet, magnesium, melatonin

Massage therapy, traditional Chinese medicine


 biofeedback. The vast majority of published studies conclude that biofeedback is effective in relieving migraines and tension headaches. Whether accompanied by relaxation, combined with behavioral treatment or alone, the results of numerous research1-3 indicate a superior efficiency to a control group, or equivalent to the medication. The long-term results are equally satisfactory, with some studies sometimes going so far as to show that the improvements are maintained after 5 years for 91% of patients with migraines.

Migraine – Complementary approaches: understand everything in 2 min

 Acupuncture. In 2009, a systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat migraine4. Twenty-two randomized trials including 4 subjects were selected. The researchers concluded that acupuncture was as effective as the usual pharmacological treatments, while causing less side effects harmful. It would also prove to be a useful complement to conventional treatments. However, the number of sessions must be high enough for optimal effectiveness, according to another systematic review published in 2010. The authors indeed recommend 2 sessions per week, for at least 10 weeks.43.

 butterbur (Petasites officinalis). Two very good quality studies, lasting 3 months and 4 months, looked at the effectiveness of butterbur, a herbaceous plant, in preventing migraine5,6. Daily intake of butterbur extracts significantly reduced frequency of migraine attacks. A study without a placebo group also indicates that butterbur could also be effective in children and adolescents7.


Take 50 mg to 75 mg of standardized extract, twice a day, with a meal. Take preventively for 2 to 4 months.

 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). 5-HTP is an amino acid that our bodies use to make serotonin. However, as it seems that the serotonin level is linked to the onset of migraines, the idea was to give 5-HTP supplements to patients suffering from migraines. Clinical Trial Results Indicate 5-HTP May Help Decrease Frequency and Intensity of Migraines8-13 .


Take 300 mg to 600 mg per day. Start at 100 mg per day and increase gradually, to avoid possible gastrointestinal discomfort.


The use of 5-HTP for self-medication is controversial. Some experts believe it should only be offered with a prescription. See our 5-HTP sheet for more information.

 Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). In the XVIIIe century, in Europe, feverfew was considered one of the remedies most effective against headaches. ESCOP officially recognizes the effectiveness of leaves feverfew for the prevention of migraines. For its part, Health Canada authorizes migraine prevention claims for products made from feverfew leaves. At least 5 clinical trials have evaluated the effect of feverfew extracts on the frequency of migraines. The results being mixed and not very significant, it is for the moment difficult to confirm the effectiveness of this plant.44.


Consult the Feverfew file. It takes 4 to 6 weeks for the full effects to be felt.

 Autogenic training. Autogenic training makes it possible to modify pain response strategies. It does this through its immediate effects, such as reducing anxiety and fatigue, and its long-term effects, such as improving the ability to deal with negative thoughts and feelings. According to preliminary studies, the practice of autogenic training would be effective in reducing the number and severity of migraines and tension headaches.14,15.

 Visualization and mental imagery. Two studies from the 1990s indicate that regular listening to visualization recordings could reduce symptoms of migraine16,17. However, this would not have a significant effect on the frequency or intensity of this condition.

 Spinal and physical manipulations. Two systematic reviews28,46 and various studies30-32 evaluated the effectiveness of certain non-invasive treatments for treating headaches (including chiropractic, osteopathy and physiotherapy). The researchers conclude that spinal and physical manipulation can help reduce headaches, but in relatively small ways.

 Hypoallergenic diet. Some studies indicate that food allergies could contribute or even be directly at the source of migraines. For example, a study of 88 children with severe and frequent migraines found that the low-allergen diet was beneficial for 93% of them.18. However, the effectiveness rates of the hypoallergenic diet are highly variable, ranging from 30% to 93%.19. Foods that cause allergies include cow’s milk, wheat, eggs and oranges.

 Magnesium. The authors of the most recent study summaries agree that current data are limited and that further studies are needed to document the effectiveness of magnesium (as trimagnesium dicitrate) in relieving migraine.20-22 .

 melatonin. There is a hypothesis according to which migraine as well as other headaches are caused or triggered by an imbalance of the circadian rhythms. It was therefore believed that melatonin could be useful in such cases, but there is still little evidence of its effectiveness.23-26 . In addition, a trial conducted in 2010 on 46 patients with migraine concluded that melatonin was ineffective in reducing the frequency of attacks.45.

 Massage therapy. By improving the quality of sleep, it appears that massage therapy may help reduce the frequency of migraines27.

 Traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition to acupuncture treatments, Traditional Chinese Medicine often recommends breathing exercises, the practice of Qigong, changes in diet and pharmaceutical preparations, including:

  • tiger balm, for mild to moderate migraines;
  • le Xiao Yao Wan;
  • the decoction Xiong Zhi Can Xie Tang.

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