Migraine and Chinese Medicine

Written by Chris Eddy


A migraine is a chronic neurological disorder, mainly manifested by headache. The underlying cause of migraines according to western medicine is unknown; however it is believed to be a mixture of environment and genetics.

The Chinese medicine diagnosis of migraine is ‘Tou Feng’ which means ‘wind in the head’, which is mainly caused by internal injury by abnormal seven emotional factors leading to overactivity of liver yang.

What does that mean? Basically that we find many patients with chronic migraines have a pretty frazzled nervous system that has

more often than not been contributed to by periods of emotional distress, trauma and personal stress. Beyond that, the body becomes overly sensitive due to chronic illness, accompanying digestive problems, nutritional deficiencies, allergies and poor oxygenation in the body.

Be mindful of food triggers during this time. Here are some to be aware of:

Alcohol — 29-35% of people with migraine are sensitive to mankind’s most consumed poison

Chocolate — 19-22% of the migraine sufferers worldwide are sensitive to the sweet superfood

Cheese — 9-18% don’t tolerate the tyramine which can also be found in other fermented foods

Caffeine — 14% of the patients report that the vasoconstrictive effects of caffeine make the headaches significantly worse

MSG — 12% of the migraine sufferers report that eating high mono-sodium glutamate foods gives them the “Chinese Restaurant Migraine”

Different Chinese medical formulas and their different applications to various types of migraine.

1. Tian Ma Gou Teng Wan : Migraine highlights: temporal and vertical headaches, stiffness and pain in the neck and shoulders, irritability, insomnia.

  • TCM actions: calms the liver, extinguishes wind, clears heat and restrains rising liver yang.
  • Biomedical actions: antihypertensive, sedative to the nervous system, calmative.
  • Indications: live yang rising and liver wind patterns.

2. Tian Ma Wan: Migraine highlights: Vasculature and tension headaches, migraine headaches, stiff neck and shoulders.

  • TCM actions: nourishes liver and kidney yin, nourishes blood, restrains and anchors yang, extinguishes wind.
  • Biomedical actions: antihypertensive, sedative, calmative.
  • Indications: liver and kidney yin deficiency with liver yang rising (less cooling and better for neck stiffness and pain; balanced between replenishing yin and restraining yang).

3. Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan: Migraine highlights: tension and migraine headaches

  • TCM actions: spreads liver qi, quickens blood, softens liver, harmonizes liver and spleen, and corrects the qi mechanism.
  • Biomedical actions: antispasmodic, benefits digestion, carminative, alleviates depression.
  • Indications: Liver qi stagnation with little or no deficiency, pain, distension; GI pain; gynecological disorders from liver qi stagnation, depression..

4. Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan: Migraine highlights: chronic sinus congestion and headaches (migraines), worse with stress.

  • TCM actions: softens the liver, regulates liver qi, nourishes the blood and strengthens the spleen, clears stagnant heat from the liver.
  • Biomedical actions: Regulates the hormones that influence the menstrual cycle, relieves depressions and emotional stress, cools the body.
  • Indications: liver qi stagnation with stagnant heat (menstrual disorders), inflammatory skin disorders with emotional component.

5. Long Dan Xie Gan Wan: Migraine highlights: liver fire rising through the liver and GB channel (migraine headache)

  • TCM actions: clears damp heat from the liver system (heat greater than damp), cools liver fire.
  • Biomedical actions: bitter tonic, depurative, anti-inflammatory, detoxicant, cholagogue.
  • Indications: liver fire or liver and gallbladder damp heat affecting related areas (ears, eyes, flanks, urogenital system).
  • .

6. Da Chai Hu Wan: Migraine highlights: migraine headaches and hypertension.

  • TCM actions: harmonizes shao yang, spreads liver qi, purges heat and stagnation from yang ming.
  • Biomedical actions: hepatoprotective, aids clearance of residual pathogens, laxative, cholagogue.
  • Indications: shaoyang/yangming overlap syndrome #8211; severe fever and GI system, malaise, flulike symptoms, jaundice, chronic damp heat and qi stagnation (gallstones).

7. Xue Fu Zhu Yu Wan

  • TCM actions: invigorates the circulation of qi and blood, quickens blood, and disperses stagnant blood.
  • Biomedical actions: vasodilator, antispasmodic, anti-platelet action.
  • Indications: qi and blood patterns (acute and chronic) #8211; blood stagnation movers, including cardiovascular, liver, head, chest, GI tract, gynecological, psychiatric, connective tissue.

8. Tong Qiao Huo Xue Wan: Migraine highlights: acute and chronic focal headaches, including migraines and cluster headaches, postsurgical, posttraumatic, and headaches associated with drug reaction.

  • TCM actions: invigorates blood and disperses stagnant blood, opens the sensory orifices.
  • Biomedical actions: vasodilator, antispasmodic, anti-platelet action.
  • Indications: blood stagnation affecting the head, purple discoloration of the face and nose.

9. Hua Tuo Zai Zao Wan: Migraine highlights: chronic headaches and migraines that are worse with exposure to cold, facial pain.

  • TCM actions: supplements qi, yin, and blood, dispels wind damp, warms and stimulates circulation of qi and blood through the channels.
  • Biomedical actions: tonic, circulatory stimulant.
  • Indications: wei syndrome with spastic or flaccid paralysis and hemiplegia (qi and yin deficiency following Wing-stroke or wasting disorders), tremors, poor extremities circulation. ASL, MS, and Parkinson’s disease.

10. Qi Ju Di Huang Wan: Migraine highlights: headaches, chronic liver disease and tightness or stiffness of the tendons and muscles, essential hypertension, chronic migraine headaches.

  • TCM actions: supplements liver and kidney yin and brightens the eyes.
  • Biomedical actions: demulcent febrifuge, hematinic, hypoglycemic, antihypertensive, improves kidney function, regulates adrenal cortex.
  • Indications: liver and kidney yin deficiency patterns, visual weakness and eye disorders.

About the Author

If you would like to book in to see us, please click HERE for the Melbourne CBD practice, or HERE, for the Northcote practice.

Chris Eddy has over 17 years clinical experience and 7 years lecturing experience at RMIT university.

Chris Eddy

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