Selected natural remedies for migraine management and prevention
17th September, 20140 Comments
Written by: Judyta Zyrek NIMH Medical Herbalist
Migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions affecting approximately one in seven people in the UK alone - occurring twice as much in woman than men. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), migraines are one of the twentieth most disabling lifetime conditions that are under-diagnosed and under-reported by medical professionals, significantly impacting sufferers’ quality of life and preventing them to carry out daily routines.
Unfortunately migraines are not limited to headaches only; often people who suffer from migraines may experience nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and noises, abdominal pain, sweating and feeling very hot or cold. A migraine attack can range anything from two to three days but longer periods of time have also been reported.
Usually migraine sufferers take over the counter pain killers for the symptomatic relief but stronger medications are also available such as ergotamines and tryptans which are far more expensive and produce more side effects like trouble in breathing, face swelling, hives, nausea, seizures and chest pains.
It is very troublesome that the exact cause of a migraines is still not known. Some theories have pointed out that the chemical or vascular changes in brain may trigger migraine headaches and some believe that the combination of physical, hormonal, dietary, emotional and environmental factors may contribute to the cause.
Management and prevention of migraines - what other specialists recommend
Many medical sources suggest that patients suffering from migraine should first recognise the key triggers that may cause a migraine attack, the time of the occurrence and any other circumstances associated with it. These include diet (irregular meals, prolonged fasting, foods reach in vasoactive amines such as cheese, chocolate, citrus fruit, dehydration, caffeine foods and alcohol) and environmental factors (smoking, bright light, loud noises, flickering TV screens, strong smells, humidity and sudden temperature fluctuation).
In hormonal migraines the key things to consider are symptoms of PMS or taking contraceptive pill as the onset of migraine usually starts around the times of menstruation and last a couple of days. Additional factors associated with migraine are stress, anxiety, tiredness, lack of sleep and poor posture that affects people usually after stressful periods.
It is very difficult to point out what is the exact cause of migraine as multiple factors may play role in onset of headaches and some researchers suggest that the best way to start with migraine management is to keep a diary even if you did not suffer from frequent migraine attacks. It should also be stressed that if you previously suffered from migraine the key triggers may change over time and if you have noticed anything unusual about your migraines please contact your GP to rule out any serious conditions.
Selected herbs for migraine management
Herbal medicine involves a number of remedies that are used traditionally for headache prevention and management. One of these wonderful herbs is Tanacetum parthenium.
Tancaetum parthenium known also as feverfew has a long traditional use as an anti-inflammatory herb used for headaches, dry coughs, rheumatic pains and dyspepsia. It contains sesquiterpenes lactones and parthenolide which has shown clinical activity in the inhibition of prostaglandin production and platelet granule secretion caused by imbalance in serotonin. Thus it has an having anti-inflammatory effect on serotonin dependant migraines.
Numerous other clinical studies have revealed that feverfew extract may elevate the severity of migraine symptoms such as nausea, vomiting. It can also help improve visual and noise disturbance commonly seen in aura migraines.
It has to be noted however, that feverfew may cause an allergic reaction such as mouth ulcers and should not be taken if you are pregnant or taking anti-platelet medication.
Another good remedy for migraines management is Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Ginger is not directly linked to migraine prevention but it works very well together with feverfew extract and in early stages of migraines symptoms such as nausea and motion sickness.
Traditionally Ginger has been used as a spice and medicine in Asian cuisine for digestive complaints especially for flatulence and to stimulate appetite. In modern medical herbalism ginger is used to alleviate symptoms of motion sickness, nausea and digestive disorders, and helps to increase circulation. The direct anti-inflammatory activity of Ginger is thought to be due to presence of gingerols and diarylheptanoids that may inhibit prostaglandin synthesis and anti-platelet aggravation that are usually present in arthritic condition and migraines.
Fresh Ginger rhizomes are widely available and you can add fresh slices of ginger to cooking or to tea with honey and lemon. It is also a perfect remedy to warm up in winter and to give you a boost of energy. Caution however should be taken as large doses may interfere with antiplatelet medications and it may cause increased susceptibility to bruising and bleeding.
Another traditional remedy for headache not used as much today is Butterbur (Petasites vulgaris). Butterbur, native to Europe has long reputation as cardiac tonic, anti pyretic, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving remedy. Few studies have also shown that butterbur works well as preventative treatment for migraines, however the herb contains some amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can potentially cause damage to the liver. Many medical professionals have warned about taking butterbur supplements even if they are labelled PA’s free, despite very low PA’s level detected in the butterbur extract alone. Please check current guidelines on supplements containing butterbur extract.
Vitex Agnus Castus
One of the most popular herbs used for management of hormonal migraines is Vitex Agnus Castus. This is primarily due to its hormone balancing action - increasing progesterone levels and decreasing oestrogen levels. There is some compelling evidence tp suggest Vitex could also be used for alleviation of PMS and menopausal symptoms - especially for women suffering from irregular menstrual cycles, cramping, carvings, breast pain, hot flushes and mood swings.
However it should be noted that most often Vitex is usually prescribed as part of the prescription for management of hormonal migraines not exclusively by itself. It is generally recommended that Vitex should be taken is small dosages as you may experience side effects such as gastrointestinal disturbance and nausea and before taking Vitex you should contact your GP or herbalist if it is safe for you.
Mills and Bone, 2011. Principle and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone: London.
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