There's scientific evidence that acupuncture may help migraine sufferers.

In a clinical trial involving patients with acute attacks of migraine, real acupuncture proved more effective than two different types of sham acupuncture in reducing the discomfort of acute migraine headache two and four hours after treatment, researchers from China report in the medical journal Headache.

Real acupuncture is also "clearly effective" in preventing migraine relapse and aggravation, report Dr. Li Ying from the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and colleagues.

Although acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat migraine, "convincing evidence of its efficacy in alleviating pain has been inadequate to date," the study team points out.

Ying and colleagues studied the effect of real versus sham acupuncture in 175 patients who were having one or more migraine attacks per month for at least 1 year.

During an acute migraine attack, the subjects were randomly assigned to one session of real acupuncture or sham acupuncture followed by observation for 24 hours. In the real acupuncture group, needles were placed at genuine acupoints, while in the two sham groups, needles were inserted at predesignated nonacupoints.

According to the investigators, there were statistically significant differences between each sham acupuncture group and the "real" acupuncture group in pain scale scores at 2 and 4 hours after treatment.

More patients in the real acupuncture group than in the sham groups experienced complete pain relief (41 percent vs 17 percent), and most did not experience recurrence or intensification of pain (80 percent), the investigators report.

"These findings support the contention that there are specific physiological effects that distinguish genuine acupoints from nonacupoints," Ying and colleagues conclude.