Getting to the Root of Migraine - Research

A selection of relevant research into treatment of migraine with Chinese Herbal medicine, collated by Alison Seymour.

Chuan Xiong

Wu, B., Rao, H., Yang, S., Cai, S., Tan, L., Feng, Z. and Mei, Z., 2020. Efficacy and safety of the classic Chinese herbal prescription Sanpian decoction on migraine: A meta-analysis. EXPLORE, 16(5), pp.318–327.

The skillful prescribing of a Chinese herbal formula for beneficial effect is illustrated by this recent meta-analysis published in the evidence-based science and healing journal EXPLORE. The Chinese herbal medicine formula Sanpian decoction was examined for its potential in the treatment of migraine symptoms. The authors concluded that the formula may have a significant beneficial effect on both the relief of migraine symptoms and the frequency of attacks. The study found these effects were comparable to the prescribed drugs used in control groups of the included randomised controlled trials. Furthermore, Sanpian decoction was reported to be safe, with no significant adverse effects reported.

Whilst the underlying mechanisms for the beneficial effects are not yet fully understood, some herbs in Sanpian decoction are known to have anti-inflammatory actions. Elevated levels of inflammation is thought to be a cause of some migraine symptoms. Whereas some herbs have also been found to have pain relieving properties by improving blood circulation to the head.

Huang, Y., Ni, N., Hong, Y., Lin, X., Feng, Y. and Shen, L., 2020.
Progress in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Treatment of Migraine. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 48(8), pp.1731–1748.

This recent article explores how highly skilled Chinese herbal medicine practitioners are successfully managing symptoms for patients who experience migraines. The article emphasises the fundamental importance of tailoring the treatment to each individual for maximum beneficial effect. Experienced professionals use this complexity of diagnosis in each and every case. The authors examined the nuances of forming a diagnosis to meet an individual’s needs, and which herbal formulae are being used by expert practitioners in these cases. Additionally the article also highlights several studies which have been conducted on the properties of component herbs to investigate the potential beneficial effects.

Shan, C.-S., Xu, Q.-Q., Shi, Y.-H., Wang, Y., He, Z.-X. and Zheng, G.-Q., 2018. Chuanxiong Formulae for Migraine: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of High-Quality Randomized Controlled Trials. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 0(JUN), p.589.

Chuan Xiong is the root stem of the lovage plant, and is a herb widely used by Chinese herbal medicine practitioners as part of a treatment for migraine symptoms. Statistically significant benefits from using Chinese herbal formulas containing the herb Chuan Xiong, were reported by the authors of a 2018 systematic review, and published in Frontiers in Pharmacology Such beneficial effects may result from compounds in the herb which are shown to have pain relieving actions and anti-inflammatory properties.

The authors of the review examined 19 high quality randomised controlled trials where Chuan Xiong was included as part of the formula. They found that migraine symptoms were significantly reduced in pain severity, duration and frequency when compared with placebo. Additionally similar results were reported when using combined herbal formulas with medication, as compared conventional medication alone.

Fu, C., et al, 2012. Efficacy of Chuanxiong Ding Tong Herbal Formula Granule in the Treatment and Prophylactic of Migraine Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Multicenter, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 1–9.

The research concluded that the use of the Chinese Herbal formula studied could reduce the days and frequency of migraine attacks and relieve pain intensity, especially in the prevention of migraine. In addition further research could be conducted on the mechanism of CXDT-HFG for migraine prophylaxis.

Previously examined in Getting to the Root Pain campaign, May 2021.

Shi, Y.H., Wang, Y., Fu, H., Xu, Z., Zeng, H. and Zheng, G.Q., 2019.
Chinese herbal medicine for headache: A systematic review and meta-analysis of high-quality randomized controlled trials. Phytomedicine, 57, pp.315–330.

The authors of this systematic review used the stringent Cochrane guidelines to ensure that the 30 randomised controlled trials included in the study were of high quality. The review looked at the research evidence for the safety and efficacy of Chinese herbal medicines in the treatment of headaches, the majority of which specifically evaluated migraines. While the trials researched different herb formulas, which made direct comparisons difficult, the findings supported the use of herbal medicines in such cases. Trials of both stand alone treatment using Chinese herbal medicine, or adjunctive with other medications were included in the review, and the positive findings were similar in most cases. Several studies demonstrated significant reduction in pain intensity, duration and frequency when using herbal medicine. In common with other studies, the active compounds in many of the herbs were seen to act on pain and anti-inflammatory pathways. Frequently used herbs were found to be Chuan Xiong, Gou Teng, Bai Shao and Bai Zhi.

Alison Seymour

Alison Seymour MSc, BSc (Hons), MBAcC, MRCHM.
RCHM member Alison Seymour is a Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture practitioner with an avid interest in research. She has recently completed an MSc research project evaluating how Chinese herbal medicine is being used to treat depressive symptoms in the West. She practices from Eight Branches Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in North Hykeham, Lincoln.