Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
The term migraine refers to a class of headaches sharing certain characteristic symptoms. Headache pain usually occurs in the forehead or temples, often on one side only and typically accompanied by nausea and a preference for a darkened room. Headache attacks last for several hours, up to a day or more. They are usually separated by completely pain-free intervals. In some cases, headache pain is accompanied by a visual (or occasionally nonvisual) disturbance known as an aura. Migraines are classified as migraine with aura and migraine without aura.
Migraines can be set off by a variety of triggers, including fatigue, stress, hormonal changes, and foods such as alcoholic beverages, chocolate, peanuts, and avocados. When people with migraine headaches first consult a physician, they are generally advised to identify such triggers, and avoid them if possible. However, migraines quite frequently occur with no obvious avoidable triggering factor.
The underlying cause of migraine headaches has been a subject of continuing controversy for over a century. Opinion has swung back and forth between two primary beliefs: that migraines are related to epileptic seizures and originate in the nervous tissue of the brain; or that blood vessels in the skull cause headache pain when they dilate or contract (so-called vascular headaches). Most likely, several factors are involved, and more than one stimulus can light the fuse that leads to a full-blown migraine attack.
Conventional treatment of acute migraines has lately been revolutionized by drugs in the triptan family. These medications can completely abort a migraine headache in many individuals. They work by imitating the action of serotonin on blood vessels, causing them to contract. However, while they are dramatically effective for the majority of people with migraines, a substantial minority do not respond, for reasons that are unclear.
People interested in prevention of migraines have a great variety of options, including ergot drugs, antidepressants, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and antiseizure medications. Picking the best one is mostly a matter of trial and error. Most but not all people can find some medication that will work.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Several herbs and supplements have shown considerable promise for helping to prevent migraines. Keep in mind that serious diseases may occasionally first present themselves as migraine-type headaches. If you suddenly start having migraines without a previous history, or if the pattern of your migraines changes significantly, it is essential to seek medical evaluation.
Two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies suggest that an extract of the herb butterbur may be helpful for preventing migraines.
Based on these two studies, it does appear that butterbur extract is helpful for preventing migraines, and that 75 mg twice daily is more effective than 50 mg twice daily. However, further research is necessary to establish this with certainty.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Butterbur article.
Five meaningful double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have been performed to evaluate feverfew's effectiveness as a preventive treatment for migraines, but the results have been inconsistent. The best of the positive trials used a feverfew extract made by extracting the herb with liquid carbon dioxide. Two other trials that used whole feverfew leaf also found it effective; however, two studies that used feverfew extracts did not find benefit.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Feverfew article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Magnesium article.
The body manufactures 5-HTP on its way to making serotonin. When 5-HTP is taken as a supplement, the net result may be increased serotonin production. Since a number of drugs that affect serotonin are used to prevent migraine headaches, 5-HTP has been tried as well. Some evidence suggests that it may work when taken at a dosage of 400 mg to 600 mg daily. Lower doses may not be effective.
Putting all this evidence together, it appears possible that 5-HTP can help people with frequent migraine headaches if taken in sufficient doses, but further research needs to be done. In particular, we need a large double-blind study that compares 5-HTP against placebo over a period of several months.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full 5-HTP article.
Mitochondria are the energy-producing subunits of cells. Based on a the highly speculative theory that mitochondrial dysfunction may play a role in migraines, three substances have been tried for migraine prevention: vitamin B 2 (riboflavin), coenzyme Q 10 (CoQ 10 ), and lipoic acid . Results, thus far, have been a bit promising.
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Other Proposed Natural Treatments
For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to migraine headaches, see the Homeopathy Database .
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat migraine headaches. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -