Thoughts on “Natural” Migraine Remedies

I get quite a few questions about what “natural” remedies work for Migraine. On the Migraine.com Facebook page, there have been some postings that ask about natural remedies and some recommending specific natural remedies.

The questions are good ones, and the postings on Facebook lead to good, productive discussions.

Many people think “natural” means safe or at least safer than prescription medications, so they don’t hesitate to try these remedies without researching them as they would prescription medications and without talking with their doctors first. This can, in fact, be dangerous.

Let’s remember that these “natural” remedies were mankind’s first drugs. They acted as drugs in the body when first used, and they still do. They ARE drugs. They have potential side effects, and contraindications, just as prescription medications do. Let me give you some examples:

Feverfew:

  • Potential side effects include abdominal pain, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, nausea, vomiting.
  • Increases the tendency to bleed.
  • Should not be used by women who are or could become pregnant because it can cause miscarriage.
  • Should not be used by anyone with allergies to chamomile, ragweed, or yarrow.
  • Should not be discontinued abruptly. Should be tapered down to avoid medication overuse headache.

5-HTP:

  • A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the possibility of 5-HPT causing seizures in children with Down Syndrome.
  • Should not be used by pregnant women.
  • Should not be used by people with kidney or liver disease.
  • Should not be taken with Carbidopa, triptans (Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, etc.), barbiturates (Fioricet/Fiorinal), chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, tramadol (Ultram/Ultracet), and some other medications.

Willow Bark:

  • Called “natural aspirin.”
  • Can interact with anticoagulants, beta blockers, Dilantin, diuretics, and NSAIDs.
  • Not to be used by people who are sensitive to salicylates such as aspirin.
  • Not to be used by people with asthma, diabetes, gout, gastritis, hemophilia, or stomach ulcers.
  • Should not be used by women who are or could become pregnant or by women who are breastfeeding.

Peppermint Oil:

  • Should always be diluted in carrier oil before applying to the skin.
  • Should not be used by young children or pregnant women.

These are just a few examples, chosen from those remedies I often see discussed. With this information, it’s easier to see what I mean about natural remedies having potential side effects and contraindications.

Another issue is that some natural remedies and supplements can cause serious problems if too much is taken. For example: One would think that Vitamin A is pretty harmless, right? Too much vitamin A can cause a condition called secondary intracranial hypertension, and that condition can cause permanent vision loss. This is another reason to discuss everything we take with our doctors in advance.

A recent study revealed that some commonly used supplements are associated with a higher risk of mortality (death). Mursu et al. reviewed data from the Iowa Women’s Health Study. They began with 38,722 women in 1986. For the next analysis, beginning in 1997, data from 29,320 women who had filled out a questionnaire about the use of supplements were included. For the third analysis, starting in 2004, 19,124 women were included. The study participants were “older” women, from the age of 55 to the age of 69. Here’s a key section of their findings:

“In agreement with our hypothesis, most of the supplements studied were not associated with a reduced total mortality rate in older women. In contrast, we found that several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins B6, and folic acid, as well as minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were associated with a higher risk of total mortality.”

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that natural remedies don’t have their place. They do, right beside prescription medications and other therapies. They’re integral parts of my own Migraine treatment regimen. What I AM saying is that we need to approach natural remedies with the same caution and respect as we approach prescription medications. We need to discuss them with our doctors before trying them, and whenever we list our medications, we need to be sure to include all natural remedies. Imagine what might happen if we were to need surgery and neglect to tell our surgeon that we were taking feverfew or willow bark. Either of those could cause bleeding that could seriously complicate surgery.

We need all the tools we can get in our Migraine tool kits. Certainly, natural remedies have a place. Let’s be safe and be as cautious and smart about natural remedies as we are about prescription medications.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
1 Mursu, Jaakko, PhD; Robien, Kim, PhD; Harnack, Lisa J., DrPH, MPH; Park, Kyong, PhD; Jacobs, David R., Jr., PhD. "Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women." Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(18):1625-1633. • 2. Bjelakovic, Goran, MD, DMSc; Gluud, Christian, MD, DMSc. "Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Use in Relation to All-Cause Mortality in the Iowa Women's Health Study." Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(18):1633-1634.

Comments

View Comments (14)
  • Susan Cleveland
    7 years ago

    I am quite sensitive to the binding agents and gelatin capsules most supplements are offered in, so I take my supplements in natural form. I make a shake of milk, banana, brewers yeast (high in riboflavin), hemp protein powder (high in magnesium), spirulina, and bee pollen. I tried to tell my neurologist about this and he cut me off mid sentence and told me I needed to take more riboflavin and magnesium. He was not even aware of the nutritional content of my shake regime.

  • Susan Cleveland
    7 years ago

    btw, my migraines have been far better since starting!

  • Dee
    7 years ago

    I have found magnesium to be very helpful for years now along with a B complex. I still get migraines but not as often or as bad.

  • Intracranial Hypertension
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Teri, for addressing intracranial hypertension as a possible consequence of too much Vitamin A. One little correction… “secondary” and “idiopathic” are the two forms of intracranial hypertension (IH).
    Secondary intracranial hypertension means there is something identifiable that has caused the intracranial hypertension like an underlying disease, a blood clot, a certain type of stroke or in this case, too much Vitamin A (hypervitaminosis A).
    Idiopathic intracranial hypertension means that the intracranial hypertension occurs spontaneously, without an identifiable cause.
    Besides the risk of vision loss and blindness, both forms of IH cause chronic head pain that often cannot be controlled and is frequently misdiagnosed as migraine.This extremely painful neurological disorder can be life-altering for those who suffer from it. To learn more, you can visit the Intracranial Hypertension Research Foundation, http://www.ihrfoundation.org.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    You’re welcome Thanks for the correction. You are, of course, quite right, and I’ll make that correction. I know that fully well. Guess it’s become a true habit to type idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

  • Deborah Marie
    7 years ago

    I use peppermint just for relaxation; it just can help me rest better. Omega DHA, I also use. These are not cures but DHA is good for the brain.

  • Janene Zielinski
    7 years ago

    This is excellent information. For years my well-meaning friends and family members would “clip and send” every article they saw in the paper, magazine, whatever – and they were certain it would “cure” me. Not just “natural supplements” but Crazy things like never taking a hot shower, always sleeping with an open window, never wearing high heel shoes… some of the suggestions made me laugh, others were kind of scary. It drove me nuts, but I was always polite and thanked them because I knew it was because they cared and wanted to help. I don’t scoff now though because it was reading a “celebrity diet book” (something I would not normally ever do) that I found a “natural” remedy that actually helped me some (going gluten free). I was careful to talk to my doctor first and it has helped me – so, sometimes, as you said… “natural remdedies” can have an important place alongside everything else in the plan you work on with your doctor. Thanks for the important info and reminder that everything has side effects.

  • Allison Harrison
    7 years ago

    I treat my migraine entirely with supplements and have better results than when on prescription meds. My doctor is aware and supports my regimen. She suggested some and I asked about others. I’ve been chronic for 23 years and have other health issues which made the dosage levels of presc. meds much too high and too many SE’s.

  • Allison Harrison
    7 years ago

    Tp Jennings I use CoQ10, Banjo (which contains feverfew Chinese Skullcap, Ginger, milk thistle and sunflower seed (-magnesium)), Vit D, Vit B complex, St John’s Wort, a multi-vitamin, and Claritin as allergies are a big trigger for me. It is helping my Fibromyalgia also. Migraines are shorter, 4-8 hours instead of 2-3 days, and not as painful. I still get too many but they are much more bearable.

  • Tp Jennings
    7 years ago

    May I ask what supplements you use? My daughter suffers horribly and I do not want to put her on prescription meds for the rest of her life as her MD has suggested because they have horrific side effects.

  • Molly Sweeny
    7 years ago

    thank you for this! very useful! I wish doctors were more ready to talk about this stuff – but every doctor I’d tried talking to about these option just laugh at me. hopefully things will change as we keep persisting.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Oksana Stowell That’s great!

  • Oksana Stowell
    7 years ago

    My doctor actually suggested the supplements. And he was very careful about introducing one supplement at a time and checking the results.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    You’re welcome, Molly. Sounds like you need a new doctor. My doctors are glad to talk with me about supplements and the like. In fact, my Migraine specialist incorporates them into my treatment.

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