A closer look at “the salt cure”
There is a tip making the rounds on Facebook that you can stop a migraine by drinking salt water. Some even suggest adding lemon juice. There is also someone promoting a book that encourages the use of salt to treat migraines. I believe there is even a Facebook group for people who want to follow her work. I have some friends who have been taken in by this idea.
I understand the urge to stop using pharmaceutical medications in favor of more natural approaches. We are all tempted by the fantasy of a quick fix without harmful effects. Some of the drugs used to treat migraine have nasty side effects. I’m not exactly pleased with some of the side effects I have to deal with. If I really thought something natural would help, I’d beat you to the head of the line to get it.
Can salt really stop a migraine?
Let’s look at this realistically for a moment. We’ve all heard that dehydration is a potential trigger. If you’ve ever been to the ER, you know that the first thing they do is start an IV fluid drip. Have you ever looked at the label on those bags? Sure, it’s water. But there’s often sodium (salt) and dextrose (sugar) in the bag, too.
Why do they give you that to treat migraine?
By the time many of us end up in the ER we’ve been hurting for days. It’s likely that we haven’t eaten or drank much in at least 2-3 days. Plus, if we’ve vomited at all, our risk for dehydration goes way up. On rare occasions, IV fluids are all you need to stop an attack in progress.
Here are some examples.
When my daughter was pregnant, she was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum. Additionally, her migraine attacks got worse, but she couldn’t take anything that would actually help. When the pain was unbearable, she would go to the ER where they would give her IV fluids and Reglan to rehydrate her and stop the vomiting. That alone stopped the attacks. She quickly learned to drink water constantly and not restrict her salt intake.
Before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I used to work with my husband at outdoor craft shows, festivals, and fairs. The weather was unpredictable, and often hot and humid. When I first started I would get very sick with a bad migraine, plus feel dizzy and exhausted. One time out of desperation, I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade (I hate the taste!). To my surprise, it actually helped me feel better. I became alert within minutes. The lethargy, vertigo, and pain subsided rather quickly.
Before my health got in the way, I used to volunteer with the Boy Scouts. We were constantly reminding the boys to drink more water to reduce the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. If a boy started showing signs of dehydration, someone would sit him down in the shade, add a little salt and sugar to his water bottle, and encourage him to drink it all. Part of the adult training included First Aid, so we all knew what to watch out for and how to prevent it. My son had this trouble when he first started out and would get terrible migraines if he got dehydrated. So we gave him several Gatorade packets that he could pour into his water at the first sign of trouble. He went on to share that tip with others as he moved up the ranks and held positions of leadership.
So does salt stop a migraine?
If the migraine attack is due to an electrolyte imbalance caused by dehydration, then adding salt and/or sugar to water will probably help if you catch it in time. It’s roughly the same as the first intervention most of us receive at the ER. Dehydration may be the trigger, but once the migraine attack is in process, it’s difficult to abort the attack with just a little salt water.
If the attack was triggered by dehydration AND other triggers (over-heating, exposure to allergens, chemicals, fumes, eating a triggering food, etc.), then salt may help, but you will likely require additional treatments (abortive medicine) to stop the attack.
If the attack was triggered by something other than dehydration, then adding salt water will not stop the attack. Other treatments will likely be necessary.
Resist the urge to be taken in by claims of “all-natural” quick fixes for migraine attacks. Critical thinking is essential so that we don’t waste our time and money. Plus, we need to use caution so we don’t set ourselves up for injury or health complications. Always check with your doctor before trying any new treatment.