A migraine is a serious, painful, and disabling condition. Every year in the US about a million people are seen in hospital emergency rooms, seeking relief from debilitating migraine pain.
The American Migraine Foundation provides the following clinical definition of a migraine: “One is said to have migraine if within his/her lifetime there have occurred 5 or more attacks of unprovoked headache lasting 4-72 hours, severe enough to markedly restrict or even prohibit routine daily activity and accompanied by nausea or light/ sound sensitivity.”
Migraines are headaches with a neurological basis. They are characterized by severe, often one-sided pain, and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and profound sensitivity to light and sound.
People with migraines are said to have a sensitive brain, which means that excess sensory stimulation provokes a migraine. The migraine can be triggered by something in the environment, such as a smell, motion, bright lights or other visual stimuli. They can also have a physiological trigger such as hormones, allergies, dehydration, lack of sleep; or food triggers. Migraines are also about three times more prevalent among women than men.
Migraines can be challenging to treat with traditional painkillers, and there also is a substantial unmet need in response to prescribed migraine medications. The side effects of the above can be scary as well. Recently, there have been a few breakthroughs in treating migraines with natural supplements.
Certain plants have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and have proved successful at treating headaches. Below are ten supplements that may significantly help your condition.
Research shows that supplementing with magnesium may be an effective way to prevent migraines. One study found that taking magnesium regularly reduced the frequency of migraines by 41.6 percent. Studies also show that a person’s magnesium levels in the brain are low during a migraine. Magnesium plays a vital role in many physiological processes, and it is present in many foods, such as nuts, coffee, cocoa, tea, and vegetables.
Magnesium deficiency is very common in the US due to the popularity of processed and refined foods. Certain medications and health conditions can also contribute to lower levels of magnesium. The American Migraine Foundation suggests taking a 400–500 mg supplement of magnesium oxide daily to prevent migraines.
2. Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B-2 is one of eight B vitamins, which help to convert food into energy and metabolize fats and protein. Common foods that contain riboflavin are milk and dairy products, nuts, eggs, lean meats, and leafy vegetables like spinach. Vitamin B-2 is important for the lining of your digestive tract, the production of blood cells, and your skin. People who are deficient in Vitamin B-2 may be more prone to migraines.
Studies suggest that taking high doses of Vitamin B-2 may help to significantly reduce the frequency of migraines. In a study where people took 400 mg of riboflavin for 6 months, the headache frequency was reduced significantly. Excess riboflavin is excreted in the urine, so don’t be alarmed if your urine is bright yellow in color. Take 200 mg twice a day.
Feverfew is a member of the daisy family and has been used for centuries to prevent and treat headaches. It has long been referred to as the Medieval aspirin. It's thought to reduce inflammation in blood vessels in the head, which is believed to be one of the features of migraine pain.
In 1978 the British Health Magazine, Prevention, published a story concerning a woman who suffered from severe migraines since she was 16 years of age. At 68 years of age, she began using 3 leaves of feverfew daily, and after 10 months her headache ceased completely.
Since then several other successful studies proved the efficacy of feverfew in treating migraine patients. As a result, investigators concluded that feverfew may be useful not only for classical migraine and cluster headaches, but also for premenstrual, menstrual, and other headaches.
Due to its bitter taste, users try to disguise it by taking it with food. The commonly accepted dosage for the fresh material is two or three small leaves a day. In supplement form take 50-150 mg of feverfew powder once daily.
4. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a nutrient that occurs naturally in the body and is also present in many foods. It acts as an antioxidant, which protects cells from damage and plays an important part in your metabolism.
In a 2018 published study, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) was shown to significantly reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches. It works by lowering the CGRP, a peptide in the brain that is associated with pain and inflammation.
Another study showed that out of 1550 migraine patients, approximately one-third had a deficiency of CoQ10. When the CoQ10 levels were restored, the frequency and disability of the headaches were reduced significantly.
Due to the compelling evidence, the Canadian Headache Society included CoQ10 in its list of compounds receiving a strong recommendation for migraine prevention. Doses of 150-400 mg daily of CoQ10 have been shown to effectively lower CGRP and prevent migraines.
Butterbur is an herbal extract that comes from a shrub that grows in Europe, Asia, and parts of North America. Clinical studies from Germany have confirmed that supplementing with it daily can cut migraine frequency by over 50%. Taking 75 mg per day was recognized as a safe and effective preventative measure for migraines.
Butterbur has anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic (muscle-relaxant) effects. Its active components are isopetasin, oxopetasin, and petasin, which induce smooth muscle relaxation, particularly in cerebral blood vessel walls.
Butterbur extract is sold in supplement form. Make sure to find one that is labeled PA-free, since sometimes chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids can be added, and they have been shown to be harmful, especially to the liver.
Ginger, Turmeric’s cousin, has a wide range of health benefits. Ginger contains a naturally occurring oil, which has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. The gingerols and shogaols in the oil are also effective at alleviating nausea, which often accompanies a migraine. A 2014 study showed that 250 mg of ginger powder supplement decreased migraine symptoms as effectively as a popular migraine medication with fewer adverse effects.
A typical dose in capsules is 500 mg. You may take it at the first sign of a headache. You may also rub a few drops of ginger essential oil (diluted in a carrier oil) and rub on your temples, the back of your neck, and forehead. Ginger’s aroma is also helpful in reducing nausea.
7. Amino Acid 5-HTP
5-HTP is an amino acid produced by the human body from the essential amino acid L-tryptophan, which is a must in every healthy diet. It can be found in foods like seeds, turkey, and cheese.
Your body uses 5-HTP to produce serotonin (the happy chemical). People who have migraines typically have lower serotonin levels (both during and in between attacks). Low serotonin levels can make you hypersensitive to pain, which is why various methods of augmenting serotonin activity are used to treat and prevent migraines.
Studies suggest that supplementing with 5-HTP may reduce the effects of migraine triggers and help prevent estrogen-associated changes in the brain. While there are no well-established or recommended doses for this supplement at this time, migraine studies use doses ranging between 25 mg per day to 200 mg per day for adults.
8. DAO (Diamine Oxidase)
As mentioned above, one of the common migraine triggers is food, particularly among those with histamine intolerance. The most common cited trigger of migraine is alcohol (wine and beer), as well as chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, meat products, dried fruits, coffee, and certain additives. Histamine naturally occurs in certain foods — especially those that are aged, cured, or fermented, and smoked meats.
Histamine intolerance is mainly caused by a deficiency in the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). DAO keeps histamine levels in a healthy range to avoid uncomfortable histamine-induced symptoms.
Histamine intolerance can be difficult to diagnose. However, if you notice that your migraines are triggered by certain foods, particularly those listed above, it’s possible that you may be DAO deficient. In such cases, supplementing with DAO enzyme has been found to be extremely effective in reducing pain intensity and duration of migraines.
9. Vitamin E
Women suffer from migraines three times as often as men. Of the more than 39 million Americans with migraines, 28 million are women. During the reproductive years, 37% of women suffer from migraines.
Many times migraine frequency for women is associated with the menstrual cycle and fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone. Studies show that migraine is most likely to occur in the two days leading up to and the first three days of a woman’s period. Vitamin E treatment has been found extremely effective in preventing and alleviating the symptoms of menstrual migraines. In the study the women received 400 IU of vitamin E daily.
Vitamin E is a progesterone antagonist. It is also an antioxidant, which is why it may help all migraine sufferers, not just women, by widening blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Nutrient sources for vitamin E include nuts, seeds, fish (salmon, rainbow trout), leafy green vegetables, mango, and kiwi.
The link between migraines and the health of the gut (intestinal tract), has been confirmed by numerous clinical studies and observations. People with gastrointestinal disorders and leaky gut are more likely to have headaches.
There is a clear connection between your gut and your brain, which is called the gut-brain axis. Your gut contains 500 million neurons, which are connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system. Your gut also produces about 90 percent of your body’s serotonin. Various studies have implicated serotonin in the pathogenesis of a migraine.
Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that help keep your gut healthy and can treat and even prevent many illnesses, as a growing body of scientific evidence suggests. Not surprisingly, probiotics consisting of multiple species have been shown to be effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines.
Migraines and Hormones
Female hormones such as estrogen influence migraines. The drop in estrogen levels that occurs a few days before a normal menstrual period seems to increase the chances of a migraine, possibly by priming blood vessels in the brain.
If a woman takes birth control pills, her headaches are most likely to occur during her "off week," when estrogen levels drop. Some women start getting migraines only at menopause when their period stops. For others, menopause is the first real relief from migraines. It is very individual. The above recommendations might help regulate or minimize these episodes.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Migraines
A healthy lifestyle can do wonders in helping to prevent migraines and reduce the painful symptoms. Here are some things you can do to help yourself:
- Get 8 hours of sleep. Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day.
- Eat a healthy diverse diet filled with many natural and raw foods. Stay away from sugar, sugar substitutes, hormones and antibiotics in foods, synthetic ingredients, MSG, nitrates, aspartame, and any ingredients that you cannot pronounce.
- Eliminate fluorescent lights at home. Use incandescent soft lighting. Limit your use of the computer, phone, and TV. Use blue light filters whenever possible.
- Meditate daily. Practice deep breathing for at least 10 minutes a day.
- Avoid your specific migraine triggers, if you know what they are.
- Take care of your gut and digestive health. Use probiotics.
Although sometimes used interchangeably, not all headaches are migraines. Headaches can be caused by a secondary cause, such as various medical conditions, head trauma, blood vessel problems, tumors, etc. Being confident that there is no secondary cause for your headache is an important first step to developing an effective treatment plan.
In addition, knowing your specific migraine triggers can help determine what natural treatment plan may be more effective for your specific case. For example, the treatment for migraines due to histamine intolerance might differ slightly from a treatment plan for menstrual migraines. Talk to your doctor or alternative care specialist to determine the best plan for you.