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Helpful Supplements for Migraines

Because migraines have many causes, no one treatment is right for everyone. Some patients respond especially well to prescription drugs, such as Imitrex, Zomig, or Ergostat. However, long-term use of prescription medications may actually result in drug-related headaches, and they can have other unpleasant side effects. Although you shouldn't stop taking medications without consulting your doctor first, nondrug treatments may be safer and gentler. For many people, a blend of conventional and alternative approaches may work best.

How to take the supplements
The best approach to treatment of migraine attacks is prevention. Supplements can be very useful for this. If a migraine attack has already begun, you'll probably still need to take a prescription medication.

Long-term use of magnesium and calcium can benefit anyone who suffers from migraines. For additional preventive protection, try adding feverfew or 5-HTP or, if migraines are especially frequent, the B vitamin riboflavin. If after two months the supplements you're taking do not produce satisfactory results, add vitamin C and pantothenic acid (another B vitamin) to your regimen. Finally, if stress and anxiety seem to be triggering attacks, add the herb kava.

Magnesium and calcium
Most experts attribute migraines to an abnormal widening and constriction of the arteries that supply blood to the brain. Some researchers suspect that one cause may be low levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood and serves many other functions. Magnesium and calcium, taken long term, can prevent attacks by keeping blood vessels flexible and by helping the brain process serotonin. In one study, researchers found that 40% of migraine sufferers were deficient in magnesium (Clinical Neuroscience 1998:5, 24-27).

Suggested dose:
400 mg magnesium and 100 mg calcium twice a day. Take with food for best absorption. People with kidney disease should check with their doctor before taking magnesium.

Feverfew, widely used in Europe, is one of the most popular natural migraine remedies. It has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Several studies have shown that it can markedly decrease both the frequency and severity of migraines when taken over several months.

Suggested dose:
250 mg every morning, with or without food. Feverfew is most effective when taken daily for extended periods. Look for standardized preparations containing at least 0.4% parthenolide, the active ingredient.

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), a form of the amino acid tryptophan that the body converts into serotonin, can be as effective as drugs for preventing migraines. Several months of treatment may be needed for maximum benefit. Nausea is the main side effect, but if it occurs, it usually dissipates within several days.

Suggested dose:
100 mg of 5-HTP 3 times a day. Take around mealtime. Don't combine with prescription antidepressants, such as Prozac.

Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is believed to help prevent migraines by nourishing the brain's energy reserves. It may be even more effective than feverfew or 5-HTP when migraines are ongoing.

Suggested dose:
400 mg every morning. Riboflavin is most effective when taken long term for relief of chronic migraines.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may also boost the production of stress-relieving hormones. Excess stress is thought to play a role in triggering migraines.

Suggested dose:
1,000 mg 3 times a day. Take with food. Reduce dose of vitamin C if diarrhea develops.

Pantothenic acid
Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, strengthens nerves and promotes energy production. Like vitamin C, it may help the body produce stress-busting hormones. Pantothenic acid also plays a role in serotonin production. Suggested dose:
400 mg twice a day. Take pantothenic acid with meals.

Kava, finally, can be a very useful herb for the relief of stress and anxiety, which are thought to trigger migraine attacks in some people.

Suggested dose:
250 mg 3 times a day. Kava may be most beneficial during times of high stress. Look for standardized extracts containing at least 30% kavalactones, the active ingredients in the herb.

The FDA has recently issued warnings on kava due to its adverse effects on the liver. Before using this herb, please read the entry on kava in the WholeHealthMD Reference Library.

Call the doctor if...

     Severe headaches develop suddenly, particularly if they first appear after age 35.
     A headache is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, weakness on one side of the body, loss of speech, blurred vision or disorientation.
     A headache is accompanied by inflamed, clogged sinuses.
     A severe headache develops after intense physical exertion or a blow to the head.
     Migraines become more severe or more frequent.

Date Published: 12/13/2000
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