Q and A: Herbs for Menstrual Migraines

Health professionals answer readers questions with suggestions for black cohosh, eleuthero, cayenne and general diet.

| July/August 1997

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields will answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Herbalist Chanchal Cabrera and medical doctor D. Paul Barney responded for this issue.


I suffer from severe migraines related to PMS (premenstrual syndrome) that last three days and nights. I have tried everything I can get my hands on as far as over-the-counter remedies for PMS and headaches. The only thing that helps migraines is valerian, but relief lasts only two to three hours. Is there anything you can recommend for PMS migraines? I do not have a problem treating headaches from other causes, but nothing seems to work for a migraine associated with PMS. Also, I cannot take anything with caffeine as it gives me a headache.
L. J. C.
Boulder, Colorado

I am not sure which over-the-counter remedies you have tried. Migraine head­aches are commonly associated with hormone fluctuations, and in your case an attempt to minimize those fluctuations should be attempted. Phytoestrogens may help, including black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), eleu­thero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), angelica root (Angelica archangelica), dong-quai (A. sinensis), lovage root (Levisticum officinale), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), red raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus), evening primrose oil (Oeno­thera biennis), and chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus).

Standardized preparations of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) taken daily also have been shown to decrease the incidence of migraines. And ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), which stabilizes arteries, may also be useful.
—D. Paul Barney

Migraines are often associated with stress and diet, but hormonal imbalances can be a factor, too. Be sure your problem is not aggravated by unresolved stress or dietary triggers such as chocolate, cheese, coffee, oranges, sea­food, red wine, soft drinks, or refined sugars.

If the cause is specifically hormonal (migraines occurring at regular monthly intervals, regardless of stress or diet), then the best herb to use is chaste tree berry, which regulates the hormones produced by the pituitary gland. This, in turn, helps regulate estrogen and progesterone levels and balance the menstrual cycle. It is very effective in reducing or completely eliminating PMS discomforts but may need to be taken for up to six months to have lasting effects.

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