Daith Piercings: Migraine Miracle Cure? Probably Not.

Recently, the internet has been all abuzz with a new idea.  That idea being that daith piercings can somehow cure migraines.  

I happen to LOVE daith piercings.  I write about them maybe way more than I should.  Like here.  And here. And, well now here. I consider myself two degrees of separation from the creator of the piercing: Erik Dakota invented the piercing and apprenticed Ken Coyote. Ken Coyote, in turn, taught me how to pierce daiths.  I think they look amazing.  I have had my daith pierced several times. And I’m not the kind of piercer who says things like this, but I’m saying it -  I’m really good at daith piercings.

So with all of that in mind, believe me when I say: there is no solid evidence to point to any piercing as a cure for any medical condition.  

I’ve got an open mind.  Maybe it’s possible.  I just don’t think it’s likely.

I’ve been a body piercer for a very long time. And I’ve done a lot of daith piercings.  Like a lot a lot.  If you come into my shop and say, “I want a piercing but I don’t know what”... you are walking out of the shop with a daith piercing.

One would assume after all these years of doing daiths, I would have had at least one client say “Y’know I suffered from migraines until recently.  I think the piercing fixed me”!  But of course that never happened.  It never even came up until now.  

I believe this new phenomenon of client’s claiming to get relief from their piercing is a textbook example confirmation bias and a healthy dose of placebo effect.  You get a daith piercing because you heard they cure migraines… and suddenly, voila, no migraines! “Cured”! ...at least until they come right back.

Confirmation bias works like this: you are a piercer and you have a hypothesis (this piercing cures migraines) and you cling to evidence that confirms that hypothesis (my clients overwhelmingly tell me this has helped!) and ignore evidence that doesn’t support your hypothesis (I don't speak to all of my clients, these people may very well be experiencing placebo effect, I'm not even sure if they were properly diagnosed by a doctor to begin with).


Here’s more about confirmation bias.

This is why experiments are built with controls in place.  Placebos are used.  Information gatherers don’t know who got placebo and who got the medication.  Results aren’t sullied by confirmation and experimenter’s bias.  This is why studies are so important!  Anecdotes thrive on biases, and our biases color our perception of everything we experience.  Anecdotes are worthless when it comes to really getting to the truth of the matter.
Keep in mind, I don’t blame anybody for getting excited for the possibility that daith piercings could help with migraines.  The thing that is important to understand is that science reporting is really awful in the US. People who write about health issues aren’t just getting daith piercings wrong, they are getting science reporting wrong from autism to Alzheimer's.  There is a fantastic book you should read called “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre.  If you don’t immediately buy it and read it (you should), please at the very least watch Ben Goldacre’s brilliant Ted Talk:

Where did this iffy science start? it looks like a Huffington Post article got the party started in earnest.  I’ve seen several articles, but the earliest I found was here, published in March 2015 (9 months ago): http://mnphysicalmedicine.com/2015/03/02/migraines-and-daith-piercings/

Since then, lots of people have written about the daith.  Good Housekeeping (seriously?) posted about it.  They also managed to find the worst daith I’ve maybe ever seen:
View image on Twitter

(Yes. this photo was published by Good Housekeeping, not an 8th grader’s science report. As an example of a daith piercing.   Someone got paid to publish this out of focus photo of a hatchet job in an article. There are piercers like Luis Garcia and Courtney Jane Maxwell in the world, but piercings like this make it into articles about our industry.  There truly is no justice.)

Pretty much every article I find says the same thing “Some people say it works!  It hasn’t been studied.  Good luck”!

This sort of science writing is deplorable.  These bloggers and journalists should be ashamed of themselves.

Do you suffer from migraines? Not occasional little headaches when you don’t eat enough or you get stressed out.  I’m talking real deal “blackout the room, the fan is too loud, I can’t open my eyes except to vomit” migraines.  No? You don't get those? Yeah, me neither.  But we should count our blessings every day that we don’t because migraines are just awful.  They have about as much in common with headaches as stubbing your toe has in common with having your foot cut off.  Worse still, migraines are extremely challenging for doctors to treat.  I’d venture to say for most people who get migraines, they are merely managed, not cured.

Anyone writing about a condition like this needs to understand the tremendous power they wield. And piercers have even more strict ethical standards to follow.  People in this kind of pain need to be well protected by rigorous, skeptical journalism and the highest piercing standards.  Suggesting anything might help with migraines, especially on the basis of “I dunno maybe, give it a whirl!” is playing with desperate people’s emotions.  

Have you ever had a health condition that hurt a ton? And doctors helped a little but didn't make it completely go away? What wouldn’t you do to fix that? You don’t throw ideas at a wall and see what sticks with people in a position that vulnerable.  If you are pretending to be a journalist, or even just a decent blogger, you base what you write around real evidence and real science.  Frankly, the more interesting story is that ideas like this catch on in the first place, and they produce testimonials that convince other vulnerable people.

If you are a piercer, it is of the utmost importance that you approach this issue with the highest ethical standards in mind.  It is unprincipled to suggest daith piercings can heal migraines in the absence of real, scientific evidence. Please, don't try to make a profit off of the desperation of people with chronic migraines.

Spider-Man taught us this in the 1960's! Will we ever learn? Excelsior!

I am genuinely hoping that a study will be conducted, and if that study yields positive results I’d be elated.  Any piercing science undertaken at all, I’m thrilled by and wholeheartedly support.  No matter what the results, we’d have some answers, and not just reckless conjecture.

“Jef! I'm a scientist! How can I help”?


Here's how:
  1. coordinate a study on daith piercings.
  2. Remember to get the placement correct on these piercings.
  3. Get qualified piercers to perform the piercings (contact www.safepiercing.org we will point you in the right direction.)
  4. Remember to pronounce Daith correctly. Daith is pronounced DOTH and not DAYTH.  Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.
Awww you guys are cute with your lab coats and eye wash stations.  

“Jef, I'm a fan of piercings and I have migraines, what should I do”?

Do you like the way daith piercings look?


You should do it! It'll look awesome!

But what about my migraines?

“Sorry, it's unethical and maybe even illegal to tell you I can treat an illness. Truth is, I’d love to pierce you but the only thing I'm promising is a clean, safely performed piercing that will look really cool. And is pronounced doth not dayth.”

Jef! I'm a piercer! What do I do?
(I could tell you were a piercer, your arm is tattooed black)
  1. Always remember daith is pronounced DOTH and not DAYTH.  Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.
  2. Make sure you are placing your daith piercings correctly
  1. Never make claims of treating illness. It's unethical, potentially illegal, but more importantly it's preying on people with a legitimately awful health condition. Don't do that.

Piercers- we are going to have clients that swear that nothing has helped their migraines until our amazing work has cured them.  And that when people tell us that, it feels GREAT. But I remind you of the huge responsibility you have to people: until this has been studied, any personal experience you and your clients have cannot be trusted. You need to assume these anecdotes are all fool’s gold. If and when a therapeutic effect is confirmed, well, that's a different story and let's talk about it when it happens. Until then, let’s do our absolute best to remember we should look out for people in this vulnerable position the way we'd want to be looked out for in a similar position. When people ask, be honest: this would be an unprecedented first in the history of piercing and medicine. Which means it’s unlikely.

Well that’s it folks.  Maybe not what you were hoping to hear but honest nonetheless.  Whether you are a piercer, a client, a blogger, a journalist, someone who suffers from migraines or just a fan of body piercing - it’s important that we approach this situation with our critical thinking hats on.  The big question is this: Do daith piercings have a therapeutic effect or not? That question is, as of yet, unanswered.  Until then, no matter who you are, the answer to that question should be: “I don’t know, and no one really knows yet.” Even if that’s not what anyone wants to hear.
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Daith Piercings: Migraine Miracle Cure? Probably Not. by Jef Saunders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Additional thoughts:
Keep in mind that if daith piercings can "cure" a disease, and that is accepted without evidence, other health remedies or maladies can be attributed to other piercings without evidence. What happens if Buzzfeed decides navel piercings "cause obesity"? Navel piercings will die. We really don't want that. We can't have it both ways, you see. Body piercing as we know it could very well die by this sword.

As of 2017 I now pierce full time at Gamma Piercing in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Please visit our website or stop by and say hello!