A recent study shows that feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is no better than a placebo in treating migraine headaches. However, researchers are still investigating the results to determine whether the conclusion is accurate.
Forty-four people who had never used feverfew completed the double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, which was conducted by a Dutch neurologist in 1996. Participants, who were considered serious migraine sufferers for whom pharmaceuticals hadn’t worked, were divided into two groups. Each day for four months, members of the first group took one feverfew capsule filled with a dried alcoholic extract of the herb containing 0.5 mg parthenolide (thought to be feverfew’s active constituent). The other group received the placebo. After four months, the sequence was reversed. Each participant was asked to stop using drugs designed to ease migraines, except women taking oral contraceptives for more than six months before the beginning of the study.
Participants recorded the severity of their migraines and the number of days they stayed home from work because of their migraines. They noted no significant difference between the number of migraine attacks during the placebo and treatment periods, nor was there a significant difference in the number of workdays lost to migraines.
The researchers concluded that feverfew was no more effective at treating migraines than the placebo in this study.
However, they suggested that the difference in results between this and previous studies showing that feverfew is effective against migraines may be attributed to the participants who, in prior studies, had found success with other migraine remedies. Additionally, this study used a standardized extract while the other studies used whole, dry leaves. Researchers questioned whether parthenolide really is the active constituent in feverfew or whether several components in the plant act together against migraines.
Feverfew has been used to treat headaches for centuries. It is commonly grown in both flower and herb gardens. During the past twenty years, it has been widely used to treat migraine headaches; the fresh leaves have been chewed and the dried leaves have been used in teas, tablets, capsules, and tinctures to reduce the number of migraines and the severity of symptoms.
Two clinical studies from England, one published in 1985 and the other in 1988, had shown that dried feverfew leaf was an inexpensive and effective migraine preventative with only a few minor side effects.(1)
(1) De Weerdt, C. J., H.P.R. Bootsma, and H. Hendricks. “Herbal Medicines in Migraine Prevention: Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Crossover Trial of a Feverfew Preparation.” Phytomedicine 1996, 3(3):255–230.