New drug-free treatment for migraines

The newly FDA-approved Cefaly device is a drug-free migraine treatment that may offer Ottawa residents relief.

Dominick Hussey, an osteopathic manual practitioner from the Ottawa Holistic Wellness Centre, which focuses on holistic care in Centretown, says that Ottawa’s extreme climate changes contribute to migraines in his patients.

The FDA promotes public health in the U.S. and approved of the device a couple weeks ago. Hussey says that weather that affects migraines are low temperatures, changes in temperature, barometric changes and high humidity. Ottawa has a climate that supports these changes.

The device, worn on a migraine sufferer’s head, sends low-frequency electrical impulses to the trigeminal nerve. The frequencies stimulate the nerve, which creates endorphins, and changes the trigger threshold for migraines. This creates fewer attacks for the user. The electrical frequencies are said to be safe with no serious side effects. The device was created by the Belgian company, Cephaly Technology.

Cefaly was the first device to be approved by Health Canada as a drug-free alternative to migraines, being cleared for use two years ago. The product also aired on season six of the Canadian reality show Dragons Den, which offers financial investments to competing business pitches.

The test that led to its approval was from a clinical trial with 2,300 participants. The test was done with participants in Belgium and France and the results showed Cefaly users had a significantly lower number of migraines compared with a group using placebo devices. Fifty-three per cent of participants were satisfied with the product and said they would buy it.

The product has a retail value of about $300 in Canada.

The product looks promising, but some professionals in Ottawa think its positive effects are limited.

Dr. Joseph Lawrence, who practices chiropractic neurology at the Broadview Spine & Health Centre, says the device is a “one-size-fits-all treatment.” He says there can be “habituation issues with something like that. If they continuously use it, it can potentially become less effective.”

But as an alternative to drug treatments, Lawrence says, “it’s a step in the right direction. Anytime someone makes roads into a no-drug treatment I’m all in favor of that.”

Hussey is open to drug-free alternatives and uses them in his holistic-based practice. His specific approach to treating migraines looks at the cause first. He reconditions the body to not react to certain migraine triggers using treatments such as acupuncture. Common triggers for migraines are certain foods, the weather, and stress.

Hussey says this treatment isn’t mainstream in Canada, but it is well known in Europe.

He explains that treating migraines by starting with the cause allows the body to heal itself. He warns that using technology to treat problems alters the physiology of the body and the cause of the initial problem is never discovered. Self-healing, he says, is a “much better thing to do. We weren’t born with these gadgets on our heads.”

Haley Guttin is a former Ottawa resident who suffers from migraines that can last up to a week. Advil is her primary treatment for the condition, along with avoiding certain food triggers she’s aware of, such as cherry-flavoured candies and yellow dye such as found in Kraft Dinner.

Guttin is enthusiastic about drug-free alternatives that would give her a different way to treat her pain. “I like the sounds of drug-free (treatments), as I take so, so, so much Advil for my migraines.”

The device is only available with a prescription in the U.S. but can be purchased without one in Canada from certain online retailers such as Costco and the Cephaly company website.