Acupuncture for Headaches

Headaches occur both as isolated phenomena, and as symptoms of a wide variety of acute and chronic conditions. Headaches that are symptomatic to a specific disease will generally disappear with effective treatment of that disease. Here we will consider conditions in which headache is the major symptom, including those caused by neurosis, hypertension, migraine and traumatic injury.

Acupuncture for Headaches

The Western Medical View of Headaches:

In Western medicine, headaches are part of the diseases and conditions addressed by neurology, psychology, ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology and their extensive range of pharmaceutical drugs.

Acupuncture for Headaches:

Recent research, historical research and clinical experience by practitioners have all found that acupuncture can be very effective for people suffering from headaches.

The Chinese Medicine View of Headaches:

Generally speaking, headaches are caused by stagnation of qi and blood. This may result from invasion of external evils or internal disruption of the exchange of energy between the organs and bowels.

Headaches from external attack are short in duration and are caused by wind, cold, dampness or heat, with wind being the most prevalent external factor.

Headaches from internal disruption are generally persistent and involve the liver, spleen and kidney. The rise of liver yang, deficiency of qi and blood or depletion of kidney yang, yin or essence are involved.

Based on varying combinations of the above factors, in traditional Chinese medicine there are ten typical headache types, each with specific symptoms of tongue color and coating, pulse differentials, skin tones, descriptions of the pain and other symptoms (constipation, fever, thirst, etc). Each headache type calls for treatment of specific acupuncture points and one or more of a variety of herbal combinations.

While exact therapies, diets, and medications cannot be prescribed without a more specific personal diagnosis, following are some general dietary suggestions that may be helpful.

Specific Foods for Headaches:

Mineral Imbalance

Plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet – whole grains, legumes (beans), vegetables, seaweed, nuts and seeds – will go a long way toward helping to overcome the stress and neuromuscular tension that often contribute to headache pain.

Chlorophyll rich foods are valuable in balancing and improving absorption of important minerals. Certain algae, especially the micro-algae spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green algae contain more chlorophyll than any other foods. They are helpful for treating many health conditions, but are contra-indicated for those with signs of coldness accompanied by water retention or other forms of dampness (mucus, yeasts, cysts) in the lower abdomen.

Digestive upset or a mild frontal headache from micro-algae usually indicates a beneficial healing reaction caused by the release of a layer of toxins in the body, although in some cases too much is being taken. In either case, take less for a few weeks. The more unbalanced or toxic the person, the less micro-algae should be taken in the beginning.


Allergies are often a cause of headaches, including migraines, and frequently represent poor immunity and a major malfunction in the antigen-deactivating capacity of the liver.

Common foods to eliminate are wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, chocolate and foods containing preservatives. Psychologically, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, the most important remedy for allergies is to work toward fewer feelings of separation and self-importance. Then, if one consistently follows a simple, high-quality diet, the liver will gradually be rebuilt and its ability to neutralize allergenic substances restored. Chlorophyll-rich foods will help hasten this process.

Worry, Excessive Thought

Energy from excessive thought and worry races through the head while the heart is impoverished. In general, the dietary cure for this condition involves improving the yin of the heart, so that spirit is held in the heart by a protective barrier of yin essences, while heat and qi are restrained.

A simple diet with occasional light fasting goes a long way toward creating deep, peaceful thinking. One should avoid food habits which scatter the mind or overheat the body and thus deplete the yin fluids. Too many ingredients in meals, very spicy or rich foods, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, late-night eating, and large evening meals can lead to insomnia, as well as a profusion of mental chatter during the day, both of which may contribute to headaches.

The following substances reduce nervousness, treat insomnia, and improve mental focus:

mushrooms; oat-straw tea; cucumber; celery; lettuce; mulberries; lemons; dill; basil; the herbs chamomile, catnip skullcap or valerian.

Liver Stagnation

Migraines especially relate to heat in the liver, which often reflects over-consumption of intoxicants, fats, meats, cheese, and eggs. In this case the first remedy is to eat less. One should also eliminate or greatly reduce foods which obstruct and/or damage the liver. These include foods high in saturated fats, excesses of nuts and seeds, chemicals in food and water, prescription drugs (only discontinue after consulting with your physician), all intoxicants, and highly processed, refined foods.

Foods which stimulate the liver out of stagnancy include moderately pungent foods, spices, and herbs: watercress, all members of the onion family, mustard greens, tumeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, cumin, fennel, dill, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, rosemary, various mints, and lemon balm. Too much extremely pungent food such as fiery hot peppers can cause damage.

Other anti-stagnancy foods that are not pungent or are only mildly so include beets, taro root, sweet rice, amasake, strawberry, peach, cherry, chestnut, pine nut, and vegetables of the Brassica genus – cabbage, turnip root, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Tomato relieves liver heat and accompanying symptoms including headache. The cooling nature of radish benefits occipital headache and other heat-induced conditions.

Raw foods – sprouted grains, beans and seeds, fresh vegetables and fruits – stimulate liver energy flow, and along with other complex carbohydrates, are ideal foods for long-term liver harmony.

Vascular Induced Migraines

Vascular system problems including migraines call for an increase in fatty acids. For alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (an omega 3), use seeds or fresh seed oils of flax, chia, and/or pumpkin, soy foods, dark-green plants, cold-climate crops. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is produced in the healthy body from linoleic acid, which is found in the essential fatty-acid sources listed above; it is available directly from spirulina, and oils of borage seed, black currant seed, and evening primrose seed. EPA and DHA are found in fish, especially tuna, sardine, salmon, anchovy, or fish oil.

To schedule your free consultation for Headache Treatment in Asheville, call us at the Blue Ridge Acupuncture Clinic: 828-254-4405.


Healing With Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition

Practical Therapeutics of Traditional Chinese Medicine

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