Migraine Headache Remedies

Herbs

Current scientific data support the use of feverfew, butterbur, magnesium, and riboflavin for migraine prophylaxis. And results of studies are promising regarding pain relieving effect. The New York Headache Center recommends to use the following supplements for migraine prevention, in decreasing order of preference: magnesium, Petasites hybridus, feverfew, coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, and alpha lipoic acid.


Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

Feverfew, a member of the sunflower family, has been used for centuries in European folk medicine as a remedy for headaches, arthritis, and fevers. The term feverfew is adapted from the Latin word febrifugia or "fever reducer." Feverfew has been proven to reduce headache severity and frequency, nausea, vomiting, and photophobia when taken regularly. The leaves of feverfew contain an active ingredient called parthenolide, which inhibits the production of substances that dilate blood vessels and cause inflammation. Feverfew is extremely bitter and can cause mouth or tongue irritation.

Feverfew gained popularity in Great Britain in the 1980s as an alternative to conventional medications for migraines. A survey of 270 migraine sufferers in Great Britain revealed that more than 70% of individuals felt substantially better after ingesting an average of two to three fresh feverfew leaves daily.

Several studies have evaluated the effectiveness of feverfew for the prevention and treatment of migraines. For example, one study examined the use of a feverfew extract or a placebo in 170 people with migraines. There was a significant decrease in migraine frequency with feverfew, which decreased by 1.9 migraines per month, compared to the placebo, which decreased by 1.3 migraines per month.

One of the more positive studies was published in 1997 (Palevitch, D. G. Earon, and R. Carasso. "Feverfew as a prophylactic treatment for migraine..."). This was a well controlled study which showed feverfew to not only significantly reduce pain, but also nausea and sensitivity to light and noise.

However, not all studies have shown that feverfew is effective. A critical review of five studies, involving a total of 343 people, concluded that results were mixed and did not convincingly establish that feverfew was effective for preventing migraine.

Warnings: Do not use feverfew if you are pregnant or nursing.

Occasional mouth ulcerations have been reported with the use of fresh leaves, but have not been reported with the use of dried leaves in capsules. This herb may cause occasional gastrointestinal upset or nervousness.

  • Pittler MH, Ernst E. Feverfew for preventing migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD002286.
  • Vogler BK, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Feverfew as a preventive treatment for migraine. Cephalalgia. 1998 Dec;18(10):704-8.
  • Pfaffenrath V, Diener HC, Fischer M, Friede M, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH. The efficacy and safety of Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) in migraine prophylaxis--a double-blind, multicentre, randomized placebo-controlled dose-response study. Cephalalgia. 2002 Sep;22(7):523-32.
  • Murphy JJ, Heptinstall S, Mitchell JR. Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention. Lancet. 1988 Jul 23;2(8604):189-92.
  • Diener HC, Pfaffenrath V, Schnitker J, Friede M, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH. Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO2-extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention--a randomized, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled study. Cephalalgia. 2005 Nov;25(11):1031-41.

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

Butterbur is an extremely popular herbal remedy in Germany, where it is widely used as a preventative for migraines. Research has shown that butterbur may reduce the number of attacks resulting in less pain intensity and shorter duration of attacks. Butterbur not only helps prevent attacks but can also ease headache.

Butterbur's main active ingredients, petasin and isopetasin, inhibit the production of leukotriene, a substance that inflames blood vessels. Without that inflammation, migraines are less likely. Butterbur also inhibits the production of histamine, keeping your nasal passages open and relieving allergic congestion.

Several studies suggest that butterbur helps to prevent migraines. The largest study involved 245 people with migraine took either butterbur extract (50 or 75 milligrams twice a day) or a placebo. After four months of treatment, butterbur, 75 milligrams twice a day but not 50 milligrams twice a day, was more effective than placebo for migraines.

Warnings: Pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur.

  • Pothmann R, Danesch U. Migraine prevention in children and adolescents: results of an open study with a special butterbur root extract. Headache. 2005 Mar;45(3):196-203.
  • Lipton RB, Göbel H, Einhäupl KM, Wilks K, Mauskop A. Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine. Neurology. 2004 Dec 28;63(12):2240-4.
  • Oelkers-Ax R, Leins A, Parzer P, Hillecke T, Bolay HV, Fischer J, Bender S, Hermanns U, Resch F. Butterbur root extract and music therapy in the prevention of childhood migraine: an explorative study. Eur J Pain. 2008 Apr;12(3):301-13

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)

Ginger has a small amount of anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory action and that may be the basis for its effectiveness. Ginger is the natural and effective treatment for migraine nausea and vomiting.

Ginger may decrease the severity and frequency of headaches. Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties when eaten regularly ginger can help to prevent migraines. Ginger improves circulation, relaxes the blood vessels, and decreases the production of pain-causing prostaglandins. Fresh ginger may be the most effective form of the herb for preventing migraines, because the pungent oils in the raw herb have the most active properties.

  • Mustafa T, Srivastava KC. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in migraine headache. J Ethnopharmacol. 1990 Jul;29(3):267-73.
  • Cady RK, Schreiber CP, Beach ME, Hart CC. Sublingually administered feverfew and ginger compound) for acute treatment of migraine when administered during the mild pain phase. Med Sci Monit. 2005 Sep;11(9):PI65-9

Rosemary

Rosemary is a well-recognized folk cure for easing pain in the United States, China, and Europe. One of its constituents, rosmarinic acid, is an anti-inflammatory similar to aspirin and ibuprofen. Since rosmarinic acid is also an important constituent in sage, the two herbs are often combined to make a pain-relieving tea.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba improves circulation, decreases inflammation, and inhibits the production of a substance called platelet-activating factor that may be linked to migraines. Because ginkgo helps to promote proper cerebral circulation, it may be effective in some cases of migraine headaches. Migraines are believed to be the cause of a malfunction in vasodilation and constriction of blood vessels in the brain. By heightening blood flow and oxygenation of brain tissue, this neuro-vascular disorder may be alleviated or even prevented.

Ginkgo biloba has been shown to offer some promise for the management of migraines in two small clinical trials. The daily dose ranged from 120 to 240 mg may be beneficial in preventing migraine due to its ability to inhibit platelet activating factor.

  • D'Andrea G, Bussone G, Allais G, Aguggia M, D'Onofrio F, Maggio M, Moschiano F, Saracco MG, Terzi MG, Petretta V, Benedetto C. Efficacy of Ginkgolide B in the prophylaxis of migraine with aura. Neurol Sci. 2009 May;30 Suppl 1:S121-4.

Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a compound produced in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. It is used in the body to make the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. It's clinical value is in it's ability to increase production of serotonin, and it has been used clinically for more than 30 years. 5-HTP supplements help raise serotonin levels in the brain, which may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, appetite, sexual behavior, and pain sensation.

Some research indicate that 5-HTP may prevent migraines and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. In one study, 124 people were given 5-HTP (600 mg/day) or the drug methysergide. After six months, 5-HTP was found to be as effective as methysergide in reducing the severity and duration of migraines.

  • Titus F, Dávalos A, Alom J, Codina A. 5-Hydroxytryptophan versus methysergide in the prophylaxis of migraine. Randomized clinical trial. Eur Neurol. 1986;25(5):327-9.
  • Santucci M, Cortelli P, Rossi PG, Baruzzi A, Sacquegna T. L-5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in childhood migraine prophylaxis: a double-blind crossover study. Cephalalgia. 1986 Sep;6(3):155-7.
  • Maissen CP, Ludin HP. Comparison of the effect of 5-hydroxytryptophan and propranolol in the interval treatment of migraine. Schweiz Med Wochenschr. 1991 Oct 26;121(43):1585-90.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, immune function, blood pressure, and for bone health. An increasing number of doctors believe that some of the most severe cases of migraines may actually be caused by an imbalance of key minerals such as magnesium and calcium.

Recent studies have shown that patients with migraine have less magnesium in the serum, red blood cells, and saliva than healthy people, both during and between migraine attacks. Decreased magnesium levels have been observed in patients who experience migraine with or without aura. It has therefore been hypothesized that deficiency in magnesium may contribute to migraine headaches.

Several studies have evaluated the use of magnesium for migraine and have had promising results. In one study, oral magnesium (600 mg per day) or a placebo were given to 81 people with migraines. After nine weeks, the frequency of migraines was reduced by 41.6% in the group taking magnesium, compared to 15.8% in the group taking the placebo.

Magnesium is far safer, cheaper, and often more effective than many expensive drugs that doctors readily prescribe to migraine sufferers.

Warnings: Can interact with certain medications, such as those for osteoporosis, high blood pressure (calcium channel blockers), as well as some antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and diuretics.

  • Peikert A, Wilimzig C, Köhne-Volland R. Prophylaxis of migraine with oral magnesium: results from a prospective, multi-center, placebo-controlled and double-blind randomized study. Cephalalgia. 1996 Jun;16(4):257-63.
  • Facchinetti F, Sances G, Borella P, Genazzani AR, Nappi G. Magnesium prophylaxis of menstrual migraine. Headache. 1991 May;31(5):298-301.
  • Köseoglu E, Talaslioglu A, Gönül AS, Kula M. The effects of magnesium prophylaxis in migraine without aura. Magnes Res. 2008 Jun;21(2):101-8.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (OPFA) have beneficial effects on inflammatory reactions and production of cytokines. They decrease the release of 5HT by platelets and possess vasorelaxant activity. This led them to be tried in the prophylactic treatment of migraine.

American researchers suggest that a combination of magnesium taurate and fish oil may help prevent migraine headaches, based on the ability of both to reduce blood vessel spasms. A 1997 study showed that gamma-linolenic (GLA) and alpha-linolenic (ALA) fatty acid supplements reduced the severity, frequency and duration of total migraine attacks by 86%. During the six-month study, 22% of the 168 patients no longer had migraine attacks, and 90% experienced less nausea and vomiting

  • Harel Z, Gascon G, Riggs S, Vaz R, Brown W, Exil G. Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of recurrent migraines in adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2002 Aug;31(2):154-61.
  • Wagner W, Nootbaar-Wagner U. Prophylactic treatment of migraine with gamma-linolenic and alpha-linolenic acids. Cephalalgia. 1997 Apr;17(2):127-30

Coenzyme Q 10- CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10 looks to be an excellent choice for initial therapy for prevention of episodic migraine. It can be given to almost any age group.

As with most migraine preventives, it takes time to achieve optimum results. Data from the studies suggest that it takes 5 to 12 weeks to achieve more than a 50% reduction. Coenzyme Q10 is effective for both classic (with aura) and common migraine (without aura).

  • Sándor PS, Di Clemente L, Coppola G, Saenger U, Fumal A, Magis D, Seidel L, Agosti RM, Schoenen J. Efficacy of coenzyme Q10 in migraine prophylaxis: a randomized controlled trial. Neurology. 2005 Feb 22;64(4):713-5.
  • Rozen TD, Oshinsky ML, Gebeline CA, Bradley KC, Young WB, Shechter AL, Silberstein SD. Open label trial of coenzyme Q10 as a migraine preventive. Cephalalgia. 2002 Mar;22(2):137-41.
  • Hershey AD, Powers SW, Vockell AL, Lecates SL, Ellinor PL, Segers A, Burdine D, Manning P, Kabbouche MA. Coenzyme Q10 deficiency and response to supplementation in pediatric and adolescent migraine. Headache. 2007 Jan;47(1):73-80.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is an essential water-soluble vitamin. It functions as the precursor for two coenzymes that are important in energy production. There's a belief that people with migraines don't have enough energy in their brains, which causes hypersensitivity to light or noise. Because riboflavin increases energy production in the mitochondria, it was theorized that administration of riboflavin might have an impact in migraine prophylaxis in patients with reduced energy production within the mitochondria of cerebral blood vessels. Although not FDA approved, the results of three trials of high-dose riboflavin in subjects with a history of migraine demonstrate the safety and efficacy of this agent in migraine prophylaxis.

High doses of riboflavin (400 mg is recommended) can reverse cells "energy crisis" during migraine attacks and decrease the frequency of migraines in some people. Vitamins B2, B3 and B6 help prevent vasoconstriction (narrowing of the arteries) and also inhibit blood platelet clumping which can occur during an attack.

  • Maizels M, Blumenfeld A, Burchette R. A combination of riboflavin, magnesium, and feverfew for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized trial. Headache. 2004 Oct;44(9):885-90.
  • MacLennan SC, Wade FM, Forrest KM, Ratanayake PD, Fagan E, Antony J. High-dose riboflavin for migraine prophylaxis in children: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Child Neurol. 2008 Nov;23(11):1300-4.
  • Boehnke C, Reuter U, Flach U, Schuh-Hofer S, Einhäupl KM, Arnold G. High-dose riboflavin treatment is efficacious in migraine prophylaxis: an open study in a tertiary care centre. Eur J Neurol. 2004 Jul;11(7):475-7.

Water

Dehydration plays a major role in bringing on migraines. Dehydration causes stress, and stress causes further dehydration. Migraine headache is a sign of water need by the brain and the eyes. The type of dehydration that causes migraine might eventually cause inflammation of the back of the eye and possibly loss of eye sight.

  • Blau JN. Water deprivation: a new migraine precipitant. Headache. 2005 Jun;45(6):757-9.
  • Spigt MG, Kuijper EC, Schayck CP, Troost J, Knipschild PG, Linssen VM, Knottnerus JA. Increasing the daily water intake for the prophylactic treatment of headache: a pilot trial. Eur J Neurol. 2005 Sep;12(9):715-8.
  • Blau JN, Kell CA, Sperling JM. Water-deprivation headache: a new headache with two variants. Headache. 2004 Jan;44(1):79-83.

Further reading:

Last updated: February, 2016



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