Dr. Zorba Paster: Yoga may help with headaches

Dr. Zorba Paster: Yoga may help with headaches


Dear Doc: I have migraines, have since I was 5 years old. I take medications, beta blockers, to help control them. They work, but not all the time.

I know certain foods, some wine and beer will kick them off. I wonder if there is anything I can do, naturally, to get them under control. — J.R., from Spokane, Washington

Dear J.R.: I, too, have migraines. One of the advantages of old age is that migraines tend to decrease or disappear. Today, I have fewer migraines but more joint aches. Ah … life.

Now on to the answer. According to research published in the journal Neurology, yoga just might reduce migraines.

Nearly 120 people ages 18 to 50, regular migraine sufferers who had four to 14 headaches every month, were put into two groups — medication only, and medication and yoga. Now, as you can imagine, you can’t double-blind this study, so it’s not a gold standard but it does still give us some useful data.

The people in the yoga group were taught a one-hour yoga practice, with breathing, relaxation exercises and postures such as downward dog. They went to yoga classes three days a week and practiced at home over a two-month period.

Both groups were counseled about how to take their medications, about life triggers such as diet and sleep and about the importance of regular exercise. Then they kept a headache log.

The yoga group went from nine headaches per month to five per month, a nearly 50% decrease, while the control group only had a 12% decrease. Additionally, the yoga group needed nearly 50% fewer “rescue” medications, and when they did get migraines they weren’t nearly as strong.

My spin: Try yoga. It just might work for you.

Gentle readers: I get lots of questions about medical marijuana. Unfortunately, there are federal obstacles to studying weed — it’s put in the same category as heroin when clearly it should not be.

That means good scientific research is greatly hindered. Nonetheless, there are a few researchers who are willing to jump through all the hoops, the red tape, to see what marijuana does.

Researchers at Rutgers University looked at hospitalization rates for IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, for cannabis users. These were people who had serious IBS — symptoms that included abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, often with an inability to empty their bowels and an urgent need to defecate. Serious stuff.

The group researchers looked at included 6,800 people, with 357 using medical marijuana — that’s 5% who were users. Those who used medical marijuana for their symptoms reduced their hospital readmission rate by nearly 13%, and when they did go in the hospital they stayed for a shorter period. These were seriously ill IBS sufferers since most IBS is treated on an outpatient basis.

My spin: This is one example that needs to be followed with a double-blind study to see if this data holds up, if it’s real. The time has come for the federal government to release its stranglehold on cannabis research. You may have seen the newly minted drug, Xifaxan, advertised on TV for IBS with constipation. It clocks in at $700 a month. You can get medical marijuana for a fraction of that cost. We physicians are hamstringed by the feds not allowing head to head research for this.

Now their answer is pretty much always the same. If you jump through the hoops you can do the research, we’re not hampering you. The problem is the hoops are so high, so big, so difficult that researchers simply don’t jump. And then there is the stigma “Oh you’re doing research on Pot? Really? How quaint.” At the same time we continue to allow research on dangerous addictive opioids for pain therapy.

Let me clarify this stupidity for the moment. The feds classify Oxycodone, OxyContin, and hydrocodone as a Class II narcotic – while marijuana is classified in the same group as heroin. So they’re saying, in fact, that OxyContin is safer than marijuana. I have a word for this that begins with the letter B. You can fill in the rest. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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