Natural Migraine Management
Grace’s husband, Hal, brought her to see me. He had been a patient of mine for years, but Grace was seeing a different doctor. Grace had debilitating migraines, and Hal couldn’t watch her suffer any longer.
Based on her history, I suspected Grace was suffering from “medication overuse headaches” (MOH), sometimes called “rebound headaches.” These headaches can happen when an individual takes migraine medication for more than 10-to-15 days each month. The resulting headache may not seem as severe as a migraine, because it’s not accompanied by nausea and other symptoms. But it is still a bad headache and it can be avoided.
The next few weeks were challenging for Grace. But with Hal’s support, she quit taking the prescription meds. At the same time, I recommended that she start several supplements that my patients have had a lot of success with. Within a month, her migraine frequency dropped from two-to-three per week to one every two weeks. Now, six months later, she’s migraine-free!
An estimated 28 million Americans suffer from migraines, costing our economy $13 billion annually in lost productivity and work time. Migraines strike men, women and children, although they’re most common in women.
The jury is still out on the exact causes of migraines. I’ve found migraines are often caused by sensitivity or allergy to specific foods or a condition like celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder involving gluten, a protein found in wheat
On the food front, a number of “triggers” have been linked to migraines, including but not limited to:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Aged cheeses
- Fermented foods
- Alcohol (especially red wine)
- Preservatives like nitrates and nitrites, often found in processed meats
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
Stress is another frequent trigger, along with weather changes, bright light, intense odors, fatigue, and loud noises. Some migraines occur without a trigger, and appear to be related to heredity or even your hormonal cycle.
If you are diagnosed with migraines, there are two treatment approaches—take medications to prevent headaches and others to reduce pain during an attack. For prevention, many physicians prescribe antidepressants, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, or anti-seizure medications. Treating pain once a headache has begun usually involves some type of NSAID (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug), such as ibuprofen, or a class of drugs known as triptans.
But like all medications, these drugs have side effects, and they can be serious. In addition, migraine drugs can be very expensive, costing hundreds or even several thousand dollars each month.
What’s your natural, low-cost alternative? Let me tell you the three steps you need to take.
Don’t Pull Your Triggers
Although I suggest seeing a doctor for migraine treatment, there is only so much a physician can do. It’s up to each patient to take steps to reduce migraines. For example, identifying and avoiding your “triggers”—food, beverages, or events that initiate a migraine—is essential. You can keep a food journal or headache diary to pinpoint yours.
Grace already knew that chocolate triggered her headaches because her first doctor asked her to keep a “headache diary.”
I can’t stress the importance of headache diaries enough. Sometimes food and drink triggers are consumed a day or two before the actual headache. Without a diary recording what you ate and when, it’s easy to miss an important clue in migraine prevention. Headache diaries are not complicated. Just buy a small notebook and write down what you eat and drink each day, as well as any stressful events, or other possible triggers, like changes in weather.
Prevention is obviously your best line of defense. And fortunately, several nutrients have made a huge difference in prevention for my patients.
My first choice is vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin. B2 is a water-soluble member of the B complex family. In one clinical trial, B2 reduced the frequency and severity of migraines by more than two-thirds. In another trial, the reduction was at least 50 percent. I recommend a daily dose of 400 mg of B2.
The mineral magnesium is another good migraine preventative. Several studies have shown that migraine sufferers tend to be low in magnesium, so supplements can be very helpful. I recommend 500 mg of magnesium malate or lactate daily. Individuals with kidney disease should consult a physician before taking magnesium supplements, since excess amounts of the nutrient may overload already compromised kidneys.
Feverfew—which you may know by its more common garden name of bachelor’s buttons—has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat headaches without serious side effects.
I recommend 100 to 150 mg daily of a product standardized to contain at least 0.2 percent parthenolides, the active ingredient. Since natural remedies are gentler than prescription medications, it may take four-to-six weeks to see results. However, research has shown that using feverfew consistently leads to a reduction in the severity, duration, and frequency of migraine headaches.
Migraines are a painful, but treatable, condition that respond well to a one, two punch of trigger avoidance and simple supplement solutions. If you’re suffering from migraine headaches, I urge you to take back your life by starting with the action plan above.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: May 27, 2014