Dr. Deena Kuruvilla explains what patients should know about complementary treatments and how to incorporate them into a migraine management plan
Holistic treatments, otherwise referred to as complementary and integrative treatments, can be particularly beneficial for people living with migraine. However, there is currently not enough evidence to recommend them as a patient’s primary form of treatment, says Dr. Deena Kuruvilla, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine.
Alternative migraine treatments with some proven efficacy include meditation and mindfulness training, acupuncture, essential oils and nutraceuticals, or vitamins and minerals thought to have medicinal benefits, says Dr. Kuruvilla. Research shows that up to 80% of patients living with migraine and headache disorders tried alternative treatments. In fact, many turn to holistic treatments because mainstream treatments have not been effective, may have caused side effects, or they have yet to try them, Dr. Kuruvilla says.
Holistic treatments are to be used in conjunction with mainstream therapies, not serve as a solo approach to migraine treatment, Dr. Kuruvilla says. “There is no substitute for traditional mainstream medicine.”
Risks Associated with Natural Treatments of Migraines
There are some risks associated with holistic treatments. For example, spinal manipulation—a type of integrative treatment—doesn’t have strong evidence supporting its efficacy. Side effects can include dizziness, worsening of headache, neck or muscle tightness, and stroke on rare occasion.
Dr. Kuruvilla adds that there are risks associated with nutraceuticals—including magnesium, riboflavin and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)—as these vitamins do not fall under the FDA’s purview and do not receive FDA approval. “For that reason, we have to be careful with what we’re recommending, and be very cautious when we proceed with recommending nutraceuticals,” she says.
How to Find the Best Treatment for Your Migraines
To determine if a holistic treatment is right for you, Dr. Kuruvilla recommends speaking with your primary care provider or headache specialist, as several factors need to be taken into consideration. Some supplements may interact with standard medications or be contraindicated with other medical conditions.
“The best way to explore integrative options safely is to first discuss them with your health care provider,” she says. “Talk about the risks and the benefits with your doctor. And then, if it’s a good fit, you can move forward with the treatment.” Although it varies from person to person, many people living with migraine have found relief from holistic treatments, Dr. Kuruvilla says.
“If you are somebody who experienced side effects from a lot of mainstream medications—or if you haven’t received complete relief from mainstream treatments—an integrative treatment approach may be helpful for you,” she adds.
Use our Find a Doctor tool to search for a headache specialist in your area, who can develop an individualized treatment plan for you. You can also visit our doctor-verified resource library for additional information on migraine treatment options.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.