Safety of Dietary Supplements & Herbs for Migraine Prevention

Dietary supplements and herbs are popular options for patients looking for ways to prevent chronic migraines. Some of the most popular choices are magnesium, feverfew and riboflavin/B2. While they can be highly effective in reducing the frequency, intensity and duration of migraine attacks for some people, there is often a lack of credible information available about them. One of the biggest reasons is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has more limited authority to regulate these products than it does prescription medications.

Before a prescription medication can be put on the market the manufacturer must show the product is both safe and effective. The results of rigorous, lengthy testing and research is submitted to the FDA to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of prescription medications. There are no such requirements for supplements. In fact, supplements can be sold without meeting any such legal requirements for safety or efficacy.

Fortunately a recently enacted law now requires supplement makers to maintain manufacturing standards that ensure the product’s integrity and quality. The FDA can remove any product found to be unfit for human consumption from the market. Supplement makers are also required to be truthful with the information they put on their product labels or in their advertising. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates truthfulness in product labeling and advertising for supplements just as it does for other products.

Tips for Safe Use:

1. Find out everything you can about the product you’re considering using. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) (http://nccam.nih.gov/) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) (http://ods.od.nih.gov/) are good sources of reliable information. You want to know the potential benefits and risks, proper dose and how and when to take the supplement.

2. Tell your doctor(s) what you’re taking. Either because they are embarrassed or because they underestimate the seriousness of supplements, people often begin taking a them without telling their doctors about the change. Not only is it important to talk the decision over openly with the person you’ve entrusted to help you take care of your health, herbs and supplements are just as serious as any other medication. Some supplements can interact with other medications you’re already taking. Even supplements that won’t interact with your other medications can bring on side effects you’ll want to be aware of and prepared for. They can also cause complications such as an increased risk of bleeding that your doctor needs to know to watch for. If your doctor isn’t open to the idea of you trying a supplement with plenty of research establishing its effectiveness for no clear reason, perhaps you should consider looking for a doctor who is more open to alternative and complimentary medical approaches.

3. Find out if the product was manufactured properly, contains the active ingredients the label claims it does and whether the product contains contaminants. A number of independent organizations test supplements to determine whether they meet these requirements. While their approval does not ensure the product is safe or effective, it does give you a little more information about what you’re putting in your body. Companies that provide certifications include: ConsumerLab.com, National Products Association, NSF International and U.S. Pharmacopeia.

4. Follow the instructions on the product label or the instructions your doctor gives you if they differ from the label. Following the product guidelines is just as important with supplements as it is with any other kind of medication.

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.

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