Q: I am a 41-year-old man and I exercise regularly. I do not smoke but drink occasionally.
I have been having regular headaches and they have been happening almost every week since my teenage days.
Initially, I took painkillers that were bought off the shelf.
During my early adulthood, I consulted doctors and was prescribed different types of medicine used to control migraine, so I presumed that I have migraine. I have been taking medicine for about two decades.
Most of the time, I take it when I feel the pain starting. Thereafter, the pain is controllable and I can bear with it for the rest of the day to work.
Sometimes, it is unbearable and doctors will give me medical leave to rest at home.
As I am constantly taking the medicine, I am not sure whether I will be immune to it later and whether it will lose its effect.
I am also concerned that prolonged usage of the medicine will harm my internal organs.
Can traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) prevent and treat this type of illness?
A: In TCM, migraines are probably due to deficiencies in the functions of the liver, kidneys and spleen.
Good flow of sufficient qi (energy) and blood, as well as a balance of the aspect of yang (linked to heat and dryness) and the aspect of yin (linked to coldness and moisture) are required for good health.
The liver harmonises the emotions, regulates the circulation of qi and stores blood. When the liver is weak - due to insufficient blood or negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, anger or depression - it will slow down qi and blood circulation.
When qi has stagnated for a prolonged period in the liver, it will create "fire" and yang there. These will go up to the head and trigger a migraine with distending pain in the head, eyes and ribs, and insomnia.
The kidneys produce marrow to fill up the brain. When the kidneys are weak - due to a weak constitution and chronic diseases - and unable to produce sufficient marrow, it will cause a headache with aching pain in the knees and loins, dizziness and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
The spleen absorbs and converts nutrients from food into qi and blood. When the spleen is weak - due to tiredness, irregular meals or a poor diet such as cold, oily and spicy food and alcohol - it will transform the nutrients into phlegm and "dampness" instead.
When these go up to the head, the person will develop a headache with an oppressive sensation in the head and chest, nausea and a poor appetite.
When qi and blood are insufficient, external pathogenic (disease-causing) factors such as "wind", "cold", "heat" and "dampness" can invade the head and trigger a migraine.
For instance, "wind" and "cold" can trigger a migraine with aches all over the body, chills or fever and stiffness of the neck. "Wind" and "dampness" can trigger a headache accompanied by a feeling of heaviness in the head and body.
Chinese medicine, acupuncture, cupping (placing heated cups on the skin to enhance qi and blood circulation) and orthopaedic tuina (TCM massage with bone alignment) can help improve your condition by strengthening your organs and dispelling the pathogenic factors.
Chinese medicine such as Chinese angelica, milkvetch root, white peony root and Sichuan lovage rhizome increase qi and blood levels.
Chinese thorowax root, nutgrass galingale rhizome and peppermint enhance qi and blood circulation and strengthen the liver.
Rehmannia root, common yam rhizome, barbary wolfberry fruit and Asiatic cornelian cherry fruit strengthen the kidneys.
Largehead atractylodes rhizome, atractylodes rhizome, pinellia tuber, fresh ginger, dried tangerine peel, bamboo shavings and Indian bread strengthen the spleen and dispel phlegm and "dampness".
Dahurian angelica root and Manchurian wildginger dispel "wind" and "cold". Kudzuvine root and chrysanthemum flower dispel "wind" and "heat".
You should identify and avoid triggers of your migraine, which can include a poor diet, negative emotions and environmental factors (such as a change in temperature or bright or flickering lights).
Regular exercise (such as swimming, brisk walking and taiji), listening to music and meditation help enhance qi and blood circulation.
Sleeping and waking up early, and at the same times each day, will also help manage your migraine.
MS LIM LAY BENG
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic
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