I'm sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when suddenly I begin to tense up, my neck starts to tighten, the once manageable fluorescent office lighting becomes unbearably bright and I’m overcome by an unmistakable sensation—I have a migraine.
According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches.
I’ve had chronic migraines for years, so you’d think I’d be an expert at headache remedies. Mine are a rare breed and they have become seemingly immune to any kind of over-the-counter treatment. I’ve recently started seeing my third neurologist in as many years and am hopeful if not a bit skeptical that he’ll be able to find an effective treatment for my constant pain. However, I’ve grown impatient of trying one treatment after another with no relief, so this time I’m not going to rely solely on prescriptions. In addition to the triptan (abortive medication) my doctor prescribed, he also recommended I begin a vitamin regimen of magnesium, co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin B2. In addition to my daily vitamin cocktail, I’ve decided to try a few herbal remedies rumored to be effective for migraine relief.
Feverfew: When I first started researching alternative migraine treatments, feverfew leaf (Tanacetum parthenium) was mentioned in nearly every article I read so it was first on my list of things to try. According to the National Migraine Association, feverfew is effective as a migraine remedy because it relaxes tension in the blood vessels in the brain. I have been taking feverfew in capsule-form but it can also be ingested as a tea or a tincture.
Feverfew was traditionally used to treat fevers and other illnesses.
Photo by Ripplestone Garden/Courtesy Flickr
I’ve been taking 380mg of feverfew daily for about a month now and though I still experience moderate headache pain on an almost daily basis, I have noticed a slight decrease in the frequency of my more severe migraines. It’s hard to say whether this decrease is a result of the feverfew or my new vitamin regimen but whatever the case I’m not complaining.
Butterbur Root: Another herb on my list to try is butterbur root (Petasites hybridus). I haven’t been able to find butterbur in any of my local pharmacies but am planning on looking at an herbal shop or ordering it online soon. Butterbur root extract can be taken as an infusion, a tincture or a capsule and is thought to prevent migraines by stopping blood vessels from constricting.
Butterbur's leaves were once used to wrap butter during hot weather.
Photo by amortize/Courtesy Flickr
According to a 2004 study published by the American Academy of Neurology, patients taking butterbur root extract had their migraine attack frequency drop by almost 50 percent over four months of treatment. Butterbur extract is used to treat migraines in doses of 50 to 75mg twice daily and is sold as a tablet or capsule.
I’m currently working around 55 hours each week and as a result of my long hours I often have trouble winding down and getting to sleep at a decent hour. Part of this insomnia is because I’m worried I’ll wake up with a migraine. I’ve never liked taking any kind of over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids because I hate the groggy feeling I get the day after taking them. As an alternative, I recently started taking three capsules of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) when I get home from work each night at 9 p.m. Each capsule contains 100mg of valerian root and 400mg of valerian root extract. The only downside I've noticed as a result of taking valerian is that I have to wash my hands immediately after handling the capsules because they have a very strong odor, which can be overwhelming.
Valerian was used as a perfume in the 16th Century.
Photo by Anita363/Courtesy Flickr
Valerian is used to treat various conditions including menstrual cramps, muscle spasms, anxiety, nervousness and insomnia. Effective dosage for valerian root is between 300 and 600mg, to be taken 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime. Valerian does not treat migraine pain but it is beneficial for migraine sufferers because it treats anxiety, a common migraine trigger. Though I still have trouble getting to sleep some nights, I have noticed it is much easier to relax at night with the help of this herb and the best part is that there are no side effects the next day.
Some other herbs used to treat/prevent migraine headaches include:
• Ginkgo biloba
• Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
• Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
• Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmari)
• Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)