The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Could Spicy Soup Stop Your Migraine?

Eating some spicy soup at the first hint of a migraine headache can stimulate TRP channels in the neurons and reverse the pain cascade.
Hot & sour soup.  Chinese lunch with hot and sour soup

People who suffer from repeated migraine headaches are usually very eager to find a way to prevent or abort them. There are prescription medications such as sumatriptan, of course. These can be very helpful, but not everyone responds to them. Some people get great benefit from over-the-counter migraine medicines. Many people would be thrilled to learn, though, that stopping a migraine might be as simple as eating spicy soup at the first sign of a headache.

What Kind of Spicy Soup Would Work?

Q. You have written that some people stop a migraine by eating Chinese hot and sour soup. You implied that the benefit might be from capsaicin, the compound that gives hot peppers their kick.

While hot and sour soup does a great job at clearing the head and sinuses, it does not normally contain chili peppers. The “hot” in this soup comes from rice vinegar and white pepper. Some American-style Chinese restaurants may use dried chilies or black pepper, but the standard is white pepper.

Chilies and white and black pepper come from different species. It may not matter so long as it works, but we should know the difference.

The Difference Between Peppers:

A. You are right: chili peppers, white pepper and black pepper are different because they come from different plants. Nonetheless, they all stimulate the same TRP (transient receptor potential) channels. This may explain why several different types of spicy soup may help.

Both hot and sour soup and hot gumbo with chili peppers seem to work to control migraines, presumably because of their effects on those TRP channels (Journal of Headache and Pain, online, Aug. 13, 2013). Certain TRP channels are especially sensitive to cold, so even the ice cream remedy might be working through these channels.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Not sure what the TRP channels are, but this sounds kinda like the purported possible explanation for why Vicks Vaporub on the soles of the feet works to control coughing. Something doesn’t have to go all the way through the system to stimulate the appropriate nerves, which are arranged in channels such as described in Chinese medicine….yes?

Any ideas or suggestions about a tea that might have the right ingredients in the right quantities (and still be palatable) to accomplish the same purpose?

Some wall-banging migraines can be triggered by really packed sinuses. The peppers/spices MIGHT help release the goop in the sinuses, relieve that pressure and begin relief.I know of folks who stopped a cluster headache by relieving pressure in the sinus behind the painful eye.

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