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Complementary and Alternative Medicine - Cam

Search Health Information    Migraine Headache (Holistic)

Migraine Headache (Holistic)

About This Condition

Clear your mind of migraines. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Find your migraine triggers

    A specialist can help you learn if your diet, environment, or lifestyle helps trigger your migraines

  • Try magnesium

    Taking 200 mg of this mineral in a well-absorbed supplement two or three times a day may help you have fewer migraines

  • Check out feverfew

    Take a standardized herbal extract providing 250 mcg of parthenolide a day to help reduce the frequency, severity, and length of migraine attacks

  • Consider seeing a chiropractor

    A qualified practitioner may be able to correct spinal problems that may cause some migraines

About

About This Condition

Migraines are very painful headaches that usually begin on only one side of the head and may become worse with exposure to light.

Symptoms

Migraines are commonly preceded by warning symptoms (prodrome), that may include depression , irritability, restlessness, loss of appetite, and a characteristic “aura”—usually a visual disturbance such as flashing lights or a localized area of blindness that follows the appearance of brilliantly colored shimmering lights. Migraines may also involve nausea, vomiting, and changes in vision.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Some doctors have found that reactions to smoking and birth control pills can be additional contributing factors in migraines.

Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori, an organism that causes peptic ulcers ) may predispose people to migraine headaches. In a preliminary trial, 40% of migraine sufferers were found to have H. pylori infection. Intensity, duration, and frequency of attacks of migraine were significantly reduced in all participants in whom the H. pylori was eradicated.1 Controlled clinical trials are needed to confirm these preliminary results.

Holistic Options

Many reports have shown acupuncture to be useful in the treatment of migraines. In a preliminary trial, 18 of 26 people suffering from migraine headaches demonstrated an improvement in symptoms following therapy with acupuncture; they also had a 50% reduction in the use of pain medication.2 Previous preliminary trials have demonstrated similar results,3 , 4 , 5 which have also been confirmed in placebo-controlled trials.6 , 7 Improvement has been maintained at one8 and three9 years of follow-up. In preliminary research, patients suffering from chronic headaches of various types (including migraine, cluster , or tension headaches ) have also experienced an improvement in symptoms following acupuncture treatment.10 In a trial comparing acupuncture to traditional drug therapy, a significantly greater cure rate was achieved in the acupuncture group relative to the drug treatment group (75% vs. 34%).11

Dry needling is a form of acupuncture that does not utilize traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis or traditional acupuncture points for treatment. Instead, acupuncture needles are inserted into painful muscle areas (trigger points). A study of 85 patients comparing dry needle acupuncture to conventional drug therapy found a similar reduction in frequency and duration of migraine attacks in both treatment groups.12

Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS) is an electrical nerve stimulation technique that has become increasingly popular in the complementary and alternative management of pain syndromes. PENS involves insertion of needle probes, similar to acupuncture, at specific therapeutic points and then applying low levels of electrical current. In one study, PENS was significantly more effective than needles alone at relieving pain in migraine headaches (tension headaches and post-traumatic headaches were also improved).13

Practitioners of manipulation report success in treating migraine with manipulation.14 Migraine sufferers are reported to often have neck pain, tenderness of the spinal joints of the neck,15 and limited ability to move the neck,16 all of which suggest the presence of neck problems that could respond to manipulation. Two preliminary trials reported significant benefit to 75–80% of migraine patients treated with manipulation,17 , 18 while a third preliminary trial reported reductions in headache frequency and duration, nausea, and sensitivity to light one year after the completion of a two-month course of manipulation.19 A controlled trial compared three types of manipulation and found all three provided significant improvement in headache frequency, severity, and duration.20 , 21 Another controlled trial compared two months of manipulation to sham (fake) manipulation and to placebo treatment with a non-functioning electrical unit. People in the manipulation group had significantly more improvement of headache frequency and duration, and of ability to function in daily life; they also used less medication.22 The largest controlled trial to date compared eight weeks of manipulation, drug therapy, or both treatments in combination. Manipulation was as effective as the medication in reducing an overall score of migraine suffering, but had fewer reported side effects.23

Eating Right

The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.

Recommendation Why
Control your blood sugar
To treat reactive hypoglycemia, a cause of migraines, many doctors recommend strictly avoiding refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and eating small, frequent meals.

Some migraine sufferers have an abnormality of blood-sugar regulation known as reactive hypoglycemia . In these people, improvement in the frequency and/or severity of migraines resulted from dietary changes designed to control the blood sugar.24 , 25 For the treatment of reactive hypoglycemia, many healthcare practitioners recommend strict avoidance of refined sugar, caffeine , and alcohol, and eating small, frequent meals (such as six times per day).

Uncover allergies
Migraines can be triggered by allergies and may be relieved by identifying and avoiding the problem foods. Common culprits include salt, milk, tyramine, and aspartame.

Migraines can be triggered by allergies and may be relieved by identifying and avoiding the problem foods.26 , 27 , 28 , 29 Uncovering these food allergies with the help of a doctor is often a useful way to prevent migraines. In children suffering migraines who also have epilepsy , there is evidence that eliminating offending foods will also reduce the frequency of seizures.30

Some people who suffer from migraines also react to salt, and reducing intake of salt is helpful for some of these people.31 Some people with migraines have been reported to improve after removing all cows’ milk protein from their diet. The presence of lactose intolerance was found to be a strong predictor of improvement in that study.32 In addition, some migraine sufferers have an impaired capacity to break down tyramine, a substance found in many foods33 that is known to trigger migraines in some people.34 People with this defect are presumably more sensitive than others to the effects of tyramine.35 Ingestion of the artificial sweetener, aspartame, has also been reported to trigger migraines in a small proportion of people.36 , 37

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

Supplement Why
3 Stars
Butterbur
Adults: 75 mg twice a day of an extract standardized to contain at least 15% petasins; children: reduce amount according to body weight
Butterbur extract has been shown to significantly reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.

Double-blind trials have demonstrated that butterbur extract can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks significantly better than placebo.38 , 39 One study has also shown it helps reduce the frequency of migraine headaches in children and adolescents, though there was no control group so it is not as clear just how effective butterbur extract is in this population.40 In a double-blind trial, supplementing with an extract of butterbur (Petasites hybridus) for four months was significantly more effective than a placebo at reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.41 The amount of butterbur found to be effective was 75 mg twice a day of an extract standardized to contain at least 15% petasins. A smaller amount (50 mg twice a day) was ineffective. The most common side effect was burping.

3 Stars
Feverfew
Standardized herbal extract delivering 250 mcg of parthenolide per day
Feverfew is the most frequently used herb for the long-term migraine prevention. Continuous use of feverfew may reduce the severity, duration, and frequency of migraine headaches.

The most frequently used herb for the long-term prevention of migraines is feverfew .42 Four double-blind trials have reported that continuous use of feverfew leads to a reduction in the severity, duration, and frequency of migraine headaches,43 , 44 , 45 , 46 although one double-blind trial found feverfew to be ineffective.47

Studies suggest that taking standardized feverfew leaf extracts that supply a minimum of 250 mcg of parthenolide per day is most effective. Results may not be evident for at least four to six weeks. Although there has been recent debate about the relevance of parthenolide as an active constituent,48 it is best to use standardized extracts of feverfew until research proves otherwise.

A double-blind study found that a combination of feverfew and ginger may be effective for acute treatment of migraines. In that study, 63% of patients taking the herbal preparation experienced pain relief within 2 hours, whereas only 39% taking placebo experienced relief, a statistically significant difference. The product used in this study was a proprietary preparation called LipiGesic M (PuraMed BioScience, Inc., Schofield, WI). The liquid from 1-unit dose applicator was administered sublingually, held under the tongue for 60 seconds, and then swallowed. A second dose was given 5 minutes later. If pain persisted after 1 hour, a second treatment of 2-unit doses could be given.49 

3 Stars
Magnesium
360 to 600 mg daily
Compared with healthy people, migraine sufferers have been found to have lower magnesium levels. Supplementing with magnesium may reduce migraine frequency and relieve symptoms.

Compared with healthy people, people with migraines have been found to have lower blood and brain levels of magnesium .50 , 51 , 52 , 53 Preliminary research in a group of women (mostly premenopausal) showed that supplementing with magnesium (usually 200 mg per day) reduced the frequency of migraines in 80% of those treated.54 In a double-blind trial of 81 people with migraines, 600 mg of magnesium per day was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing the frequency of migraines.55 Another double-blind trial found that taking 360 mg of magnesium per day decreased the number of days on which premenstrual migraines occurred.56 One double-blind trial found no benefit from 486 mg of magnesium per day for three months. However, that study defined improvement according to extremely strict criteria, and even some known anti-migraine drugs have failed to show benefit when tested using those criteria.57 Intravenous magnesium has been reported to produce marked and sometimes complete symptom relief during acute migraines, usually within 15 minutes or less.58

3 Stars
Vitamin B2 (For adults only )
400 mg daily
Studies have shown vitamin B2 to be effective at reducing the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.

One group of researchers treated 49 migraine patients with large amounts of vitamin B2 (400 mg per day). Both the frequency and severity of migraines decreased by more than two-thirds.59 In a follow-up three-month, double-blind trial, the same researchers reported that 59% of patients assigned to receive vitamin B2 had at least a 50% reduction in the number of headache days, whereas only 15% of those assigned to receive a placebo experienced that degree of improvement.60 The effects of vitamin B2 were most pronounced during the final month of the trial.61 In a preliminary study, a much smaller amount of vitamin B2 (25 mg per day for three months) reduced the frequency of migraines by about one-third in chronic migraine sufferers.62

All of the studies that found riboflavin to be effective for preventing migraine were conducted in adults. In a double-blind trial, supplementation with 200 mg per day of riboflavin did not decrease the frequency or severity of migraines in children whose average age was 11 years.63

2 Stars
5-HTP
200 to 600 mg daily for adults, 20 mg for every 10 pounds of body weight for children
Several studies have found 5-HTP to be effective at reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches.

The cause of migraine headache is believed to be related to abnormal serotonin function in blood vessels,64 and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan, which is converted by the body into serotonin) may affect this abnormality. In one study, 40 people with recurrent migraines received either 5-HTP (200 mg per day) or methysergide (a drug used to prevent migraines) for 40 days. Both compounds reduced the frequency of migraines by about 50%.65 Larger amounts of 5-HTP (600 mg per day) were also found to be as effective as medications for reducing migraine headache attacks in adults in two double-blind trials.66 , 67 Migraine attacks were reduced in frequency, severity, and duration in 90% of those taking 400 mg per day of 5-HTP in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial,68 though another trial found no benefit of 5-HTP.69 In another controlled study, 400 mg of dl-5-HTP (another form of 5-HTP) led to reduced consumption of pain-killing drugs and pain scores after one to two months.70 Children who suffered from migraines and had problems sleeping responded well to a daily amount of 5-HTP equal to 20 mg for every 10 pounds of body weight in a controlled trial,71 though an earlier study showed 5-HTP had no better effect than placebo for children with migraines.72

2 Stars
Alpha Lipoic Acid
600 mg per day
In a small double-blind trial, supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid significantly reduced the frequency of migraine attacks.

In a small double-blind trial, supplementation with 600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid once a day for three months significantly reduced the frequency of migraine attacks. However, this improvement was not statistically significant when compared with the change in the placebo group.73 Additional research is needed to determine whether alpha-lipoic acid is effective for preventing migraines.

2 Stars
Coenzyme Q10
100 to 150 mg daily
In a preliminary trial, supplementation with coenzyme Q10 for three months reduced the average number of days with migraine headaches by 60%.

Blood levels of coenzyme Q10 have been found to be low in about one-third of migraine sufferers.74 In a preliminary trial, supplementation of migraine sufferers with 150 mg per day of coenzyme Q10 for three months reduced the average number of days with migraine headaches by 60%.75 The beneficial effect of coenzyme Q10 was confirmed in a four-month double-blind study. By the fourth month of treatment, a reduction in migraine frequency of 50% or greater occurred in 47.6% of people receiving 100 mg of coenzyme Q10 three times a day, but in only 14.4% of those receiving a placebo (a statistically significant difference).76 However, another double-blind trial found that coenzyme Q10 was not more effective than a placebo in children with recurrent migraines, although children receiving coenzyme Q10 appeared to improve faster than those given the placebo.77

2 Stars
Folic Acid (For a subset of people )
5 mg per day
Taking folic acid may improve migraines in people with high homocysteine levels and a certain genetic characteristic.
In a preliminary trial, supplementation with 5 mg of folic acid per day for six months completely eliminated recurrent migraine attacks in 10 of 16 children and reduced the number of attacks by 50 to 75% in the other six children. The children selected to be in this study had elevated homocysteine levels (which can be reduced by folic acid supplementation), as well as a certain genetic characteristic known as a polymorphism of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene.78 Further research is needed to determine whether folic acid supplementation would be beneficial for migraine patients who do not have these specific characteristics.
2 Stars
Vitamin B12
1 mg daily
In a preliminary trial, vitamin B12 reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by at least 50% in 10 of 19 people with recurrent migraines.

In a preliminary trial, administration of 1 mg of vitamin B12 per day (by the intranasal route) for 3 months reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by at least 50% in 10 of 19 people with recurrent migraines.79 A placebo-controlled study is needed to determine how much of this improvement was due to a placebo effect.

1 Star
Calcium
Refer to label instructions
Taking large amounts of the combination of calcium and vitamin D has been reported to produce a marked reduction in the incidence of migraines in several women.

Caution: Calcium supplements should be avoided by prostate cancer patients.

Taking large amounts of the combination of calcium (1,000 to 2,000 mg per day) and vitamin D has been reported to produce a marked reduction in the incidence of migraines in several women.80 , 81 However, the amount of vitamin D given to these women (usually 50,000 IU once a week), can cause adverse reactions, particularly when used in combination with calcium. This amount of vitamin D should be used only under medical supervision. Doctors often recommend that people take 800 to 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D per day. However, it is not known whether theses amounts would have an effect on migraines.

1 Star
Cayenne
Refer to label instructions
Capsaicin, the active constituent of cayenne, may be applied inside the nose as a treatment for acute migraine under a doctor’s supervision.

There is preliminary evidence that capsaicin, the active constituent of cayenne , can be applied inside the nose as a treatment for acute migraine.82 However, as intranasal application of capsaicin produces a burning sensation, it should be used only under the supervision of a doctor familiar with its use.

1 Star
Fish Oil
Refer to label instructions
Fish oil containing EPA and DHA has been reported to reduce migraine headache symptoms. Fish oil may help because of its effects in modifying hormone-like substances called prostaglandins.

Fish oil containing EPA and DHA has been reported to reduce the symptoms of migraine headache in a double-blind trial using 1 gram of fish oil per 10 pounds of body weight.83 , 84 Fish oil may help because of its effects in modifying prostaglandins (hormone-like substances made by the body).

1 Star
Ginger
Refer to label instructions
Anecdotal evidence suggests ginger may be used for migraines and the accompanying nausea.
Anecdotal evidence suggests ginger may be used for migraines and the accompanying nausea. In a double-blind study, a sublingual preparation that contained both feverfew and ginger LipiGesic M (PuraMed BioScience, Inc., Schofield, WI) appeared to be beneficial for acute migraines.85
1 Star
Ginkgo
Refer to label instructions
Ginkgo extract may also help because it inhibits the action of a substance known as platelet-activating factor, which may contribute to migraines.

Ginkgo biloba extract may also help because it inhibits the action of a substance known as platelet-activating factor,86 which may contribute to migraines. No clinical trials have examined its effectiveness in treating migraines, however.

1 Star
L-Tryptophan
Refer to label instructions
Preliminary research has found abnormally low levels of serotonin in the brains of people suffering a migraine attack, which was reversed with L-tryptophan supplements.

Interest in the effects of serotonin on the mechanisms of migraine has led to therapeutic trials using serotonin precursors such as L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).87 Preliminary research has found abnormally low levels of serotonin in the brains of people suffering a migraine attack, which was reversed with L-tryptophan supplements.88 A small double-blind trial found that four of eight people had fewer and less intense migraines while receiving L-tryptophan (500 mg every six hours).89 Larger double-blind trials are needed to better evaluate L-tryptophan as a migraine prevention supplement.

In one study, 40 people with recurrent migraines received either 5-HTP (200 mg per day) or methysergide (a drug used to prevent migraines) for 40 days. Both compounds reduced the frequency of migraines by about 50%.90 Larger amounts of 5-HTP (600 mg per day) were also found to be as effective as medications for reducing migraine headache attacks in adults in two double-blind trials.91 , 92 Migraine attacks were reduced in frequency, severity, and duration in 90% of those taking 400 mg per day of 5-HTP in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial,93 though another trial found no benefit of 5-HTP.94 In another controlled study, 400 mg per day of DL-5-HTP (another form of 5-HTP, equivalent to 200 mg per day of 5-HTP per day led to reduced consumption of pain-killing drugs and pain scores after one to two months.95 Children who suffered from migraines and had problems sleeping had an improvement in both migraines and sleep disorders after taking 5-HTP in the amount of 20 mg for every 10 pounds of body weight in a controlled trial,96 though an earlier study showed 5-HTP had no better effect than placebo for children with migraines.97

1 Star
Melatonin
Refer to label instructions
Pineal gland function and melatonin secretion may be disturbed in people with migraine headaches. Taking melatonin may correct this problem and reduce symptoms.

The function of the pineal gland and its cyclic secretion of melatonin may be disturbed in people with migraine headaches.98 Preliminary evidence suggests that 5 mg per day of melatonin, taken 30 minutes before bedtime, may reduce symptoms of migraine headache.99 However, a double-blind trial found that taking 2 mg of melatonin 1 hour before bedtime each day for 8 weeks was not more effective than a placebo for decreasing migraine frequency.100

1 Star
SAMe
Refer to label instructions
Preliminary research suggests that supplementing with SAMe may reduce symptoms for some migraine sufferers.

Preliminary research also suggests that oral supplements of SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) may reduce symptoms for some migraine sufferers.101

1 Star
Vitamin D
Refer to label instructions
Taking large amounts of the combination of calcium and vitamin D has been reported to produce a marked reduction in the incidence of migraines in several women.

Taking large amounts of the combination of calcium (1,000 to 2,000 mg per day) and vitamin D has been reported to produce a marked reduction in the incidence of migraines in several women.102 , 103 However, the amount of vitamin D given to these women (usually 50,000 IU once a week), can cause adverse reactions, particularly when used in combination with calcium. This amount of vitamin D should be used only under medical supervision. Doctors often recommend that people take 800 to 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D per day. However, it is not known whether theses amounts would have an effect on migraines.

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