Getting to the Root of Migraine - Interview

Interview with Michael McIntyre on appearing on television programmes in the 1980's focussing on migraines

Q. In the 1980s, you appeared on two TV programmes showing how Herbal Medicine, and in particular Chinese Herbal Medicine, works. How did this come about?
MM: It started in 1985. I did an hours’ documentary for the BBC, with a programme called the Healing Arts, which was edited by Ted Kaptchuk. In the end, when it was aired, it had a huge positive effect on the number of people coming to practitioners because seeing the reality of how a herbalist works, and the outcomes that can be achieved, was a really good advert for herbal medicine.

To film the episode I was involved in, the BBC came out and spent a week with me, filming me consulting with my patients, and recording the outcomes. I’d never done anything like that before. I had to find patients who would agree to be on film, and I also didn’t know what the outcomes were going to be. It was very stressful, because there was so much hanging on it! They were here from 6 o’clock in the morning to 7 o’clock at night, so it was exhausting as well.

Q: It is amazing that this opportunity even happened! What happened next?

MM: That obviously influenced Channel 4, who also decided to do a programme on complementary medicine. This was different though: Channel 4 started by going to GP practices in various parts of the country. They then asked those GP practices if they had any patients that they couldn’t deal with, or who weren’t doing particularly well on conventional medicine. Then they went to complementary practitioners and said: there you go, here is a patient, would you have a go at seeing them?

In my case, they did ask me what sort of patient I would you like to see, and I said I would see one for skin disease, or I would see one for migraines. These are the conditions which I always thought I did quite well at with my patients. So they went to a local GP practice, just outside my area near Swindon, and provided me with a patient from there who was not benefitting from her standard GP care.

Q: Can you tell us more about this patient?

MM: The patient was a woman of about 45. She had had migraines constantly, for over a year, and was suffering every day with some sort of headache. If not a migraine, she had a headache. She was really eating up the money from her GP practice, because she was on various drugs for the migraine, which worked on serotonin – from memory, I think they cost was about £8 a pill. The net result from that was that she was no better, in fact, she was exactly the same as she had been a year previously. So I said I’ll have a go and see if I can help her.

Q: What happened during the course of the treatment?

MM: The deal with Channel 4 was that I was going to see her over a 3 month period, under television scrutiny. The GPs would still be in charge of the case, they would know what I was doing. So I gave her herbs. I assessed her from the point of view of Chinese Medicine, and I gave her herbs to circulate the blood, and to improve her Qi. She gradually started to get better. It was a slow process, and it was interrupted in the middle of our treatment by the fact that she was just going into menopause, and she had very bad uterine bleeding. She was taken into hospital because of it, and they said they were going to do a complete hysterectomy. This was in the middle of my treatment period, and I was absolutely horrified! I thought, “Goodness, I am never going to get a result with somebody who has just had an operation!” So I gave her a herb that I use for uterine bleeding, which stopped the bleeding immediately. She didn’t have to go back into hospital, she didn’t need to have a hysterectomy, and her headaches also started to get significantly better.

After 3 months, she was taking very few drugs from the doctor. The cost of having her as a patient was hugely reduced, and really, she was doing very well. The intervention had made a huge difference. And as far as I know, she remained well. I haven’t seen her since.

Q: That is wonderful result for this lady. What happened next on the programme?

MM: Well, the last thing the Channel 4 people did was to go the GPs’ practice and interview the GPs concerned, who had been her GPs throughout and had been prescribing the medications for her. They were clearly mortified to find that their patient was so much better with my strange intervention treating her with herbs, and also some acupuncture. I remember the doctors saying to the interviewer: “what do you expect? This is all about placebo”. They implied it was all about me paying close attention to this woman because of the programme over a period of time. I gave her so much of my time, which they were not in a position of giving. And that’s why she got better, nothing to do with the herbal medicines. They were trying to dismiss it, which I thought was outrageous!

Q: It really is a shame that the GPs on the programme were very dismissive of your results. Many GPs I know these days would be very interested in any intervention which leads to a good result for the patient. How can you explain their reaction?

MM: It’s quite difficult for them as far as I can see. If you come across something that is doing the job that you are supposed to be doing, but doing it better, it raises a huge challenge. It makes you question everything about the paradigm in which you are working. Possibly it can make you want to stop what you are doing and retrain, get some different skills. So I can see why some people would want to reject it.

I do liaise with GPs - this week, I wrote to a GP, about a patient whose pulse is virtually imperceptible, and it clearly demonstrated that there was a problem of Qi Deficiency. She is complaining that she is exhausted all the time, and I have no problem believing that that is exactly how she felt as her pulse bears that out. Now I know that most GPs pay absolutely no attention to the quality of the pulse, or the amplitude. They just pay attention to the rhythm. It’s like tongues. Even in the West, doctors used to look at tongues to get an idea of a patient’s health. Now whenever I talk to doctors, they say “well we used to look at tongues. Why did we stop?” It is a great shame that GPs do not have those skills anymore.

Q: It is such a shame that the lack of understanding of the subtlety and complexity of Chinese Medicine mean that people dismiss it. What can be done about this?

MM: It’s a difficult question. What would be good, for example, is having a Chinese Medicine clinic which specialises in migraines. Knowledge of it would get out to the wider public, and it would potentially become quite famous. It would need to be good treatment, as migraines can be quite complex, people get them for different reasons. For example, they can have allergies, or their diet can be all wrong. But skilled practitioners could make a real difference to patients, and this could be one way for us to show the public what Chinese Herbal Medicine can achieve.

Michael McIntyre

Michael McIntyre

RCHM member Michael McIntyre trained in both the Chinese and the Western traditions of herbal medicine. He initially studied in the 1970s in the UK and went on to do further studies in Nanjing, China. As well as teaching herbal medicine both in the Uk and abroad, Michael has campaigned for the stronger recognition of herbal medicine and its statutory regulation for over 2 decades. He is a founding member of the European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA), an umbrella organisation representing various herbal traditions, which the RCHM is part of.