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feverfew


What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
Evidence Based Rating Scale
References



What Is It?

For centuries, healers relied on the feathery green leaves of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) to treat headaches, stomach upset, rheumatoid arthritis, and menstrual problems. The bright yellow and white blossoms of this flower, which grows wild throughout Europe and South America, emit a powerful aroma that was once thought to purify the air and prevent disease. Feverfew has also long been used in gardens to repel bees and various insects. And as its common name suggests, it was once popular for reducing fever.

The herb was somewhat forgotten, however, until the late 1970s. That's when migraine sufferers started talking about feverfew's potential to ward off these often debilitating headaches. Since then, several well-designed studies have reported success in treating and preventing migraines with feverfew.

Health Benefits

Feverfew's therapeutic powers were once attributed almost solely to the chemical parthenolide. Parthenolide has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting a key protein called I-kappa-B. (1) This component has also shown activity against breast and cervical cancer cells (2), pancreatic cancer cells (3), and skin cancer in an animal model (4). The herb is now thought to contain at least 39 compounds that affect the body in beneficial ways. Its effectiveness for a variety of ailments, including cancer and parasite infections, is being explored.

Specifically, feverfew may help to:

  • Prevent and reduce the intensity of migraine headaches. Although the exact cause of migraines remains a mystery, some experts believe that these headaches may be triggered by the contraction and then sudden dilation of blood vessels in the head. This action appears to release neurochemicals in the brain that cause pain and Inflammation. Exactly how feverfew helps migraines remains unclear, although it's most likely due to the contained parthenolides and their ability, among other things, to inhibit the production of certain inflammatory compounds and prevent blood platelets from clumping together (aspirin does this too). When taken preventively, feverfew seems to lessen the intensity of a migraine as well as the occurrence of such associated symptoms as nausea and vomiting. (Once underway, however, a migraine will not be affected in any way by taking feverfew.) In one survey of 270 migraine headache sufferers, 70% who had eaten feverfew daily reported that their attacks were less severe or less often. (5) Results have been inconsistent, though, in carefully controlled trials. For example, the most recent summary of 5 studies including 343 patients could not reach a definitive conclusion about whether feverfew is effective in preventing migraines. (6) These inconsistencies may stem from as high as 10-fold variations in parthenolide content in various formulations. (7) Supporting this belief are results from 2 studies of a carefully-prepared formulation of feverfew extract that did, indeed, show benefits in preventing migraines. (8, 9) Based on these mixed findings, along with substantial evidence of safety, it seems reasonable to take feverfew as part of a regimen to prevent migraine headaches.
  • Relieve menstrual cramps. Menstrual cramps occur when the uterine lining produces too much prostaglandin, a Hormone that can cause pain and inflammation. Because it can help limit the release of prostaglandin, feverfew may have a role to play in easing menstrual cramps. There is a long tradition of using feverfew for menstrual cramps, but so far no studies investigating this use. While more research is required, there's probably no harm in starting to take feverfew a day before you anticipate that your menstrual cramps will begin.
  • Reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation plays a key role in causing pain, swelling, and joint destruction in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Although feverfew has shown anti-inflammatory and anti-pain effects in mice and rats (10), this has not translated into success in human studies to date. One carefully controlled study failed to demonstrate a benefit from feverfew in rheumatoid arthritis patients, although the dose was quite small (the equivalent of two leaves of feverfew) and the level of parthenolide in the product was not measured. (11) More study is needed before feverfew can be recommended as an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

Forms

  • tincture
  • tablet
  • fresh herb
  • dried herb/tea
  • capsule

Dosage Information

Special tip:

--Select your supplement brand with care, as a number of so-called feverfew products have been found to contain almost none of an apparently critical ingredient, parthenolide. The label should indicate the presence of Tanacetum parthenium and be standardized to contain a minimum of 0.4% parthenolide.

  • For migraines: In the morning, take 250 mg of a feverfew product (preferably the freeze-dried capsules) standardized to contain at least 0.4% of parthenolide.

  • For menstrual cramps: Take freeze-dried capsules two or three times on the day before you anticipate that your menstrual period will begin. Continue as needed.

    Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Feverfew, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

  • Guidelines for Use

  • Most migraine sufferers take feverfew in capsule or tablet form because teas and tinctures can be bitter, and chewing the fresh leaves can irritate the mouth.

  • Feverfew in freeze-dried form has been the most intensively examined for its migraine-preventive actions. Anecdotal evidence indicates that extract forms are not as effective for this purpose.

  • Don't expect immediate results for migraines; you'll have to take feverfew regularly for several several weeks or more before feeling its full protective effects.

  • Avoid abruptly ending a daily feverfew regimen, as headaches may resume.

  • General Interaction

  • Feverfew inhibits platelet clumping in test tube studies, and, therefore, can theoretically inhibit blood clotting. However, this has never been shown in platelet studies in people. To be on the safe side, if you're taking any anticoagulant drugs (including aspirin), discuss using feverfew with your doctor. 

  • Because many of feverfew's effects are similar to aspirin and other NSAIDs, it's probably wise to avoid using feverfew in combination with either of these.

    Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see the interactions link below.

  • Possible Side Effects

  • Side effects are uncommon, appearing mostly in long-time users if at all.
  • Some people report stomach upset after taking feverfew supplements or ingesting the fresh leaves.
  • Chewing the plant's fresh leaves can cause mouth sores and inflammation of mucous membranes in the mouth.
  • Skin contact with the feverfew plant can cause a rash in some cases, especially people who are sensitive to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and other members of the Asteracea/Compositae family of plants.
  • Some patients have experienced a “post-feverfew syndrome” when stopping feverfew after long periods of use. Symptoms can include nervousness, headache, muscle and joint stiffness, and trouble sleeping.

    Cautions

  • Don't take feverfew if you're pregnant, as the herb may cause uterine contractions. Don't take the herb if you breast-feed.

  • Avoid feverfew is you develop a rash after touching the fresh herb or have any type of sensitivity to other members of the same plant family (Asteraceae), such as daisies, asters, sunflowers, and chamomile.
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    Evidence Based Rating Scale

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

    Condition

    Rating

    Explanation

     

     

     

     

     

     

     Migraine Headache

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Clinical trials show mixed results. More research with good feverfew preparations is needed to establish feverfew as a truly effective preventive.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     Menstrual Cramps

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    No clinical studies, but an established tradition. More research is needed to support this use. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Rheumatoid Arthritis

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Preliminary results from animal trials suggest possible benefit, but clinical trials have not been favorable. More research is necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn.

     

     

    References

    Date Published: 01/01/2007
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