Migraines are severe, recurring headaches which involve inflammation in the blood vessels of the cranium as well as a change in nerve stimulation, which leads to pain receptors being stimulated.¹′² Roughly 15% of the population gets migraines at some stage in their lives, most commonly between the ages of 20 to 45. They are more common in women than men.³
The throbbing pain of a migraine can occur at either one or both temples and, unlike in other types of headaches, there are usually other symptoms, like nausea and light or sound sensitivity. In roughly 25% of sufferers there are preceding visual symptoms (an aura) such as light flashes or tunnel vision which can last a few minutes to a few hours. A migraine can last from a few hours to a couple of days and the pain is usually made worse by physical activity. How often migraines happen and how severe they are varies from person to person.¹
What Causes Migraines?
The triggers of migraines are vast and they are different for each person who suffers from them. For some, a migraine is triggered by red wine or skipping a meal, while others may get them from lack of sleep, a change in the weather or from stress. In women one common trigger is hormone fluctuations, while for many sufferers certain foods present potential triggers.¹ Which particular foods act as triggers is different from person to person, and keeping a headache/diet diary may help to identify trigger foods.
What Can I do to help manage them?
There are several natural options available to help with migraine management. It is important to understand that many of these supplements help to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, so need to be taken regularly, rather than just when a migraine hits.
It has been found that people who get migraines generally have lower magnesium levels than people who do not get them. This low level of magnesium potentially leads to spasms of the arteries in the head and the release of pain mediators.⁴ A recent review of previous studies has found that overall, magnesium supplementation was helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines.⁵
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):
A clinical trial has shown that 400mg per day of Vitamin B2 can be effective in helping to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, as well as how long they tend to last for.⁶ Other, previous studies have shown similar results with both riboflavin on its own and in combination with magnesium and feverfew,⁷ making this a promising nutrient to help with migraine management.
Feverfew has a long history of being used to treat migraine,⁸ which led to studies being conducted and published since 1985.⁷ One study found that people who took feverfew experienced a lower pain intensity and less severe associated symptoms.⁹ Another review found Feverfew to generally be beneficial in helping to prevent migraines. ¹⁰ Overall, Feverfew seems to be a great herb in helping to reduce migraine frequency and, in some cases, intensity.⁷
This nutrient is widely used for its benefits in energy production and heart health. Several studies done over the last few years have shown that CoQ10 may also be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines. Not only this, but it could help reduce the duration of the migraine. The dosages most of these studies recommend is 150 to 300mg per day and treatment for a minimum of three months is advised.⁷
Alpha Lipoic Acid:
Alpha Lipoic Acid has shown promise for the treatment/prevention of migraines. One study found that 600mg per day of Alpha Lipoic Acid helped sufferers to have attacks less often. It also seemed to reduce the number of headache days and the severity of the headaches.¹¹ While more research is needed in regards to using Alpha Lipoic Acid in migraine treatment, existing results are certainly optimistic.
Willow Bark has been widely used for its pain relieving effects. Its pain relieving benefits extend into helping relieve migraine headaches, especially when combined with Fevefew! A study conducted has shown that when you combine Willow Bark and Feverfew, these two herbs together reduced the number of attacks and the severity of them by at least 50% in most of the people involved in the study. ⁸
Most of us know lavender oil for its calming effect, but did you know, it may also be a headache and migraine reliever? One study found that smelling lavender essential oil for 15 minutes helped relieve or at least reduced the pain in most of the migraine sufferers who participated.¹² It’s a great oil for migraine sufferers to keep on hand.
There are some great natural options when it comes to migraine management. One thing to remember with the nutrients and herbs though, is to give them sufficient time to work. As most of these aim to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, they won’t work overnight (as fabulous as this would be). Based on all the mentioned studies, most of these supplements (with the exception of lavender oil) need to be taken for a good three months to reach their full effect.
If you are a migraine sufferer and haven’t been assessed by your Doctor, please see your doctor to do so. Before trying any new supplements, please speak to your healthcare practitioner to ensure they are suitable for you to take.
1. Silberstein, S.D. 2016, “Migraine”, MSD Manual Professional Version, www.msdmanuals.com/em-au/professional/neurologic-disorders/headache/migraine.
2. Balch P. A. & Balch, J. F. 2000, “Prescription for Nutritional Healing Third Edition”, Penguin Putnam Inc, New York.
3. Alexander, L. 2018 “Prevalence and Cost of Headache”, Headache Australia. http://headacheaustralia.org.au/what-is-headache/prevalence-and-cost-of-headache/
4. Woolhouse, 2005 in Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements,
Volume 2”, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood NSW, Australia.
5. Chiu, H. Y in Onofrio, F. D. et al 2017, “Usefulness of nutraceuticals in migraine prophylaxis”, Neurol Sci, Vol 38, pp. S117-S120 [Review].
6. Rahmidel, A. et al 2015, “Effectiveness of Vitamin B2 versus Sodium Valproate in Migraine Prophylaxis: a randomized clinical trial”, Electronic Physician, Vol 7, Iss 6, pp. 1344-1348 [Abstract].
7. Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements, Volume 2”, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood NSW, Australia.
8. Shrivastava et al. 2006, in Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements, Volume 2”, Churchill Livingistone, Chatswood NSW, Australia.
9. Palevitch, D.; Earon, G. & Carasso, R. 1998, Phytother Res, Vol 11, Iss 7, pp. 508-511. [Abstract]
10. Ernst, E. & Pittler, M.H. 2000, Public Health Nutrition, vol 3, Iss 4a, pp 509-514, [abstract].
11. Magis et al 2007 in Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements, Volume 2”, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood NSW, Australia.
12. Sasannejad, P. et al 2012, “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo=Controlled Clinical Trial”, European Neurology, Vol 67, pp 288-291. [Abstract]