Herbal Remedies: Drug Free Migraine Therapy or Hooey?

July 10, 2012

If you are a chronic migraine sufferer, you may already be familiar with various drug free migraine treatments and natural remedies.  No doubt you’ve heard that certain herbal therapies can be effective in preventing or managing the symptoms of migraines.   Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate herbal supplements the way drugs are regulated, there is a lack of credible information and research to back many of these products.  Migraineurs may turn to herbal remedies out of desperation for several reasons: over-the counter medication is ineffective; prescription drugs come with a high cost or unpleasant side effects; drugs may be contraindicated for reasons such as pregnancy or age.   So what are the most popular herbal supplements used in the treatment of migraines?

Feverfew, or tanacetum parthenium, has long been used in the preventative and therapeutic treatment for headaches and migraines, in daily dosages of 50-80 mg per day.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research has shown that taking this herb for up to 4 months may help prevent the number and severity of migraine attacks.  Individuals taking blood thinners should not use Feverfew, as it may cause bleeding.  Other side effects may include headaches, joint pain and muscle stiffness.  Pregnant women should not take this supplement as it may increase the risk of miscarriage.  Also, individuals who are allergic to ragweed may experience adverse reactions to Feverfew as well.

Butterbur, or Petasites hybridus, was used to treat the plague during the Middle Ages, and more recently, to treat migraines.  It’s important to take the correct extract of this plant, as the purest form contains harmful alkaloids, which may affect the liver.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to avoid this herb.  According to the University of Maryland  Medical Center, studies have shown that taking 50-75 mg twice per day of a standardized extract of Butterbur, for up to 4 months may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine episodes.

Other herbs that are used in drug free migraine therapy for those who suffer with chronic migraine include gingko biloba, Dong Quai, ginger and willow bark.  These herbs have less supportive data, and are associated with various side effects, especially among people who suffer with other health conditions.

It’s important to understand that herbs, just like prescription medications, have side effects and potential negative outcomes. The University of Maryland Medical Center indicates that precaution must be taken with herbal and drug interactions, and that any course of herbal supplementation should only be taken under the care and supervision of your physician. So if you head ‘back to nature’ make sure to take this information together with direction from your doctor before exploring herbal terrain!

Photo courtesy © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Elenathewise

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