Carl Cincinnato

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we’ve all tried a promising new treatment that just left us disappointed. If you’d like to ensure that you don’t lose your hard-earned money on the next so-called cure, be sure to check out the interview with Dr. Elizabeth Leroux, a respected headache neurologist, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Calgary, and the president of the Canadian Headache Society.

Dr. Leroux is the director of the Headache Clinic at Notre Dame Hospital affiliated with University of Montréal, and she is the leader of the University of Calgary CHAMP program. She is also a member of the American Headache Society and serves on the scientific advisory board for the American Registry for Migraine Research. An advocate for headache patients, Dr. Leroux founded the websites Migrainequebec[dot]org and Migrainecanada[dot]org to help people with migraine get better control over their disease. She authored Migraines: More Than a Headache, a guidebook for migraine management that’s published in three languages.

Why do people with migraine sometimes fall victim to “snake oil” cures, pseudoscience, and quackery?

Dr. Leroux: “I think it’s wishful thinking. We all know people with severe migraines. I have patients who have tried 15 different medications, or sometimes medications don’t work or they have side effects. They’re like, ‘What can I do that can make my life better?’ And I think that’s a very normal thing: to try to get better. So I think that it’s important to hear the patient when people come to us in medicine. Sometimes we have this kind of traditional medicine and pills compared to alternative medicine that can be supplements, that can be behavioral interventions, or sometimes injections or all kinds of things, manipulations. So how do we sort out what is scientific, what is not scientific? I think we have to go over this opposition between a doctor that prescribes pills and the world of alternative medicine. I think every treatment should be considered with a scientific approach.”

What things should we look for to separate a legitimate, evidence-based treatment from such quackery or pseudoscience?

Dr. Leroux: “As a human society, we have evolved so much that people are not ready to believe anything now. Pseudoscience usually relies on exaggerated claims of success, and people who promote pseudoscience are not very prone to accept criticism, or to refute their theories, or to really make good studies to prove themselves wrong. What they will do, though, is to try to prove everything they say as right with a lot of very questionable methodologies. So it’s sometimes difficult to separate pseudoscience first from science and sometimes a theory that was pseudoscientific will be studied in a correct way and will be proven true. There’s also this little gray zone, but there’s a rule of thumb: If anyone tells you 95 percent cure for migraine, it’s very suspicious. It’s the same category as ‘eat what you want and you’re going to lose 10 pounds’ or ‘stay in your living room and make a million dollars,’ right? We all want to believe it. So if you see that kind of claim, be very, very suspicious, and remember that sometimes beautiful theories — if they are not proven by strong methods — they don’t mean much.”

Is it fair to say that only those treatments that can be studied are worth trying?

Dr. Leroux: “No, because if we look at the perfect example of the scientific method: the sugar pill — easy to study. Fine, we can study those, but there are plenty of other approaches that have also been demonstrated: cognitive behavioral therapy; mindfulness; sleep hygiene and sleep routine; exercise for migraine — there is some evidence. So I think we should really remind ourselves that absence of proof is not proof of absence.

We have to be very careful about quackery and claims, but we should not discard options because they are difficult to study. I think we should just look at them with scientific glasses and say, ‘Well, are there risks? Is there a harm possible?’ Because sometimes something that’s alternative can actually be linked to some harm.”

Watch the full interview to find out:

What are some of the migraine treatments tried in ancient times and what do they show us about the pursuit of migraine cures?
What is pseudoscience?
Why is it sometimes difficult to use the scientific method to study the efficacy of a treatment?
What is the placebo response and how strong is it?
How much should we trust social media reports about treatments?
Is cannabis a proven effective treatment for migraine?
Is the ketogenic diet safe?
How can the use of alternative treatments lead to our neglect of scientifically proven treatments?
What are some evidence-based alternative treatments?
Why are nerve blocks used in North America, even though only one of two studies showed that they are effective?
Why are some treatments listed in guidelines while others are not?
What are the problems with migraine surgeries?

Watch Dr. Elizabeth Leroux’s interview preview here or order it as part of the Migraine World Summit package from this page >>

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Posted in: Migraine Education

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