A Migraine Remedy That Doesn’t Work (And Some That Might!)

One internet search will provide endless advice about alternative medical approaches, especially when it comes to migraine headache treatment.

From vitamins to homeopathic remedies, exercises and essential oils, everyone swears that their solution works.  But with all the clutter on the internet, you have a right to proceed with caution.

To help you cut through the noise, I’ve investigated some of the most common alternative migraine remedies to see which ones hold water (according to scientific studies).

 

First, Don’t Bother With This Migraine “Remedy”

 

 

Homeopathic Migraine Treatment

The homeopathic theory says that if you take a minuscule amount of an element that causes symptoms like the symptoms that you are experiencing, your body will repair itself.

Examples of this could be belladonna and other poisonous herbal substances. Tests have never proven homeopathy to work, and Britain is considering banning homeopathy from its National Health Service.

 

 

Migraine Remedies That May Work

 

 

Acupuncture for Migraine

 

 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that studies have proven that acupuncture can be effective in fighting chronic pain, like headaches.

Many doctors work with and recommend acupuncturists, especially because it is minimally invasive and can garner results for migraine patients. 

Acupuncture was developed in ancient China, and involves piercing specific areas of the body with a needle to alleviate pain. According to the Chinese practice, there are 14 meridians along the body, and if there is a disturbance of energy along these meridians, pain or illness can ensue.

While there is plenty of research, acupuncture has mixed reviews in the migraine community. Here’s what people with migraine need to know about acupuncture before scheduling a consultation with a specialist.

 

 

The Research

Based on a recent systematic review of 22 clinical trials involving 4985 people, there is evidence that acupuncture reduces the frequency of headache in individuals with migraine, and that the effect may be similar to that observed with preventive medications.

 

The frequency of headache is dropped by 50% or more in up to 59% of individuals receiving acupuncture and this effect can persist for more than 6 months.

 

 

How it Works

Acupuncture is meant to keep the energy flow (called “qi”) balanced along the meridians. An acupuncturist will place needles at specific pressure points, usually along a person’s back or neck where they can slow pain transmission. Sometimes, a gentle head massage accompanies the placement of the needles.

Treatment takes about an hour, and patients are advised to undergo at least six sessions, usually once a week. The acupuncturist may also suggest dietary changes. For example: caffeine can exacerbate migraine, and some acupuncturists believe it disrupts the flow of the body.

It’s not completely clear how acupuncture eases pain or decreases migraine. The overarching belief is that it activates pathways in the brain that are responsible for turning pain off.

 

 

Patient Experiences

As is the case with most migraine treatments, acupuncture patients have experienced mixed success. Jane Elliot, a BBC news reporter who thought nothing could cure her migraine, had huge success and is now migraine free.

Here’s what some followers in the Move Against Migraine Facebook group had to say about their experience with acupuncture:

“I use acupuncture and find that it’s a useful tool. Don’t expect it to be a miracle or take all of your pain away, but I think it does knock down my pain level a bit when I go regularly.” -Sara

“It worked for my neck pain but it wasn’t as effective for my migraine. You should try it, it might help you.” -Judy

“For me, regular acupuncture is an essential part of my migraine management. It helped me remit from chronic migraine and medication overuse many years ago and keeps me at infrequent episodic attacks today . When I first started treatments, it took a while to see any effect but patience and persistence paid off.” -Sharron

“I did 10 sessions and felt very relaxed after, but no impact on migraine.” -Mary

 

So let’s give accupuncture a “hopeful maybe.” 

If you’ve tried it for migraine headaches, let me know how it worked for you.

 

 

 

Essential Oils for Migraine Treatment

 

 

I’ll admit, I started out with a bias against essential oils as a medical treatment, and was ready to find that they were completely ineffective against migraines. 

But that’s where research comes in, and it surprised me.

A large body of literature has been published on the effects of odors on the human brain and emotions.

Some studies have tested the effects of essential oils on mood, alertness, and mental stress in healthy subjects. Other studies investigated the effects of various (usually synthetic) odors on task performance, reaction time, and autonomic parameters or evaluated the direct effects of odors on the brain via electroencephalogram patterns and functional imaging studies.

 

Such studies have consistently shown that odors can produce specific effects on human neuropsychological and autonomic function and that odors can influence mood, perceived health, and arousal. These studies suggest that odors may have therapeutic applications in the context of stressful and adverse psychological conditions. 

 

So it makes sense that, if stress is a trigger or component of your migraine, essential oils may have their place in your “treatment toolbox.”

 

The Research

A 2012 study of lavender essential oil inhalation for the treatment of migraines in a placebo-controlled clinical trial showed a mean reduction of headache severity in a significant number of cases. 

 

The study suggests that “inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches”.

 

Radha Beauty Lavender Essential Oil Therapeutic Grade - 4 oz.
Example: Radha Lavender Essential Oil

Another study, this one a 2017 randomized double-blinded placebo controlled cross-over trial which used R. damascena oil topically, found that  “pain intensity turned out to be significantly lower” in patients with certain types of migraines.

They concluded that “syndrome differentiation can help in selection of patients who may benefit from the topical R. damascena oil in short-term relief of pain intensity in migraine headache. Further studies of longer follow-up and larger study population, however, are necessitated for more scientifically rigorous judgment on efficacy of R. damascena oil for patients with migraine headache”. 

So in other words, R. damascena essential oil (commonly known as Damask rose) might work for migraine sufferers with specific symptoms.

 

 

Example: Essential Oil Labs Absolute Rose Oil (Damask Rose)

 

I’m giving aromatherapy with essential oils another ” hopeful maybe.”  Again, let me know if you’ve tried this, and how it worked.

 

 

 

Magnesium for Migraines

 

 

Magnesium is a critical nutrient that can affect stress, sleep, and your migraines.

 

The Research

In a paper titled “Why All Migraine Patients Should Be Treated With Magnesium,” Drs. Mauskop and Varughese outline several ways magnesium interacts with Migraine (3)

 

.. A magnesium deficiency may promote cortical spreading depression (the physical mechanism of aura and migraine in the brain), cause blood vessels to constrict, affect serotonin (a key molecule related to Migraine), and influence a variety of neurotransmitters.

 

If you have migraines, you should, at the very least, be eating a magnesium rich diet or taking magnesium supplements.

Found in many greens, nuts seeds and grains, magnesium is known to reduce stress, can help reduce migraine frequency, and has few side effects.

 

Functional medicine expert, Dr. Mark Hyman says “[Magnesium] is an antidote to stress, the most powerful relaxation mineral available, and it can help improve your sleep. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff — whether it is a body part or an even a mood — is a sign of magnesium deficiency.”

 

This mineral is so important that it can be found in all of your tissues, but is most common in your bones, muscles, and brain. You need magnesium for your muscles to relax, and stress can drain magnesium from the body (4).. Yet, most of us are not getting enough of this critical mineral from our food.

In fact, both the AAN and Canadian guidelines recommend the use of magnesium for migraine prevention, either as oral magnesium citrate 400-600 mg daily or by eating more magnesium rich foods.

And if you have migraines with an aura, or menstrual-related migraines, studies suggest magnesium supplementation can be particularly helpful.

 

 

Quality Food Sources of Magnesium

 

 

Food Magnesium in milligrams Serving Size % of Daily Value
Almonds 100 ¼ cup 25%
Artichoke 77 medium artichoke 19%
Avocado 58 one fruit 15%
Brazil Nuts 125 ¼ cup 31%
Cashews 117 ¼ cup 29%
Dark Chocolate 95 1 ounce 24%
Fish (mackerel, halibut, cod) 100 4 ounces 25%
Flax Seeds 55 2 tbsp 14%
Molasses 48 1 tbsp 12%
Papaya 58 medium papaya 15%
Potato (with skin) 52 medium potato 13%
Pumpkin Seeds 191 ¼ cup 48%
Sesame Seeds 126 ¼ cup 32%
Spinach (cooked) 157 1 cup 39%
Sunflower Seeds 157 ¼ cup 39%
Swiss Chard 151 1 cup 38%
Tuna 48 4 ounces 12%
 

Many herbs are also excellent sources of calcium/magnesium: nettle, watercress, parsley, oatstraw, horsetail, seaweed, and yellow dock.

food list sources:

whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=75

nutritiondata.self.com/

 

*Note: Avocado is a migraine trigger for some people.

If you don’t intentionally eat several of these foods, you may be magnesium deficient. If that is the case, a dietary change or a magnesium supplement is a wise move for your migraines and your overall health.

 

 

Supplementing Your Magnesium

 

Many people who suspect they are magnesium deficient choose to take supplements.

Most people benefit from 400 to 1,000 mg of magnesium a day. Magnesium comes in many forms, but you should choose one of the easily absorbed forms: magnesium citrate, glycinate taurate, or aspartate.

It is possible to take too much magnesium which can cause diarrhea. Switching to magnesium glycinate will help you avoid this potential side effect. 

Please note that people with kidney disease or severe heart disease should take magnesium only under a doctor’s supervision.

 

Example: NaturaLife Labs Magnesium Citrate, 400 mg

 

You can also absorb magnesium through the skin by taking a hot bath with Epsom salts, but this hasn’t been studies in conjunction with migraines.  It can’t hurt, though.

 

I give dietary and supplementary magnesium a conditional yes; according to research, it can help some people with migraines.

 

 

 

Butterbur for Migraines

 

 

Butterbur is an herb that comes up regularly in migraine circles as an effective migraine treatment method—and studies support that it is effective for prevention in some patients.

It is a shrub that grows in Europe and parts of Asia and North America, typically in wet, marshy ground. The name, butterbur, is attributed to the traditional use of its large leaves to wrap butter in warm weather.

Butterbur is believed to cut migraines by decreasing the body’s spasms and inflammation. Petasin and isopetasin, substances which are found in Butterbur, may help prevent migraines and reduce migraine headaches through these actions.

 

The Research

A 2012 study which researched complimentary treatments for episodic migraine prevention in adults concluded that:

 

Petasites (butterbur) is effective for migraine prevention and should be offered to patients with migraine to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

 

One 2004 study found that Butterbur worked better at relieving migraines than an inactive placebo treatment. Here’s a breakdown of the patients in the four-month study.

These migraine sufferers said their migraine attack frequency was reduced by:

 

  • 48% with Butterbur/Petadolex 75 mg
  • 36% with Butterbur/Petadolex 50 mg
  • 26% with Placebo (sugar pill)

 

According to these 16 week studies, taking an extract of the butterbur root by mouth seems to prevent migraine headaches and reduce the number and severity of migraine headaches and the length of time they last.

Stunningly, butterbur extract seems to reduce the number of migraine headaches by almost half!

Doses of at least 75 mg twice daily seem to be necessary for best results.

Some butterbur preparations contain chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which can damage the liver and cause other serious harm. Only butterbur products that are certified and labeled “PA-free” should be used.

Researchers in the above study used standardized to 15% petasin and isopetasin (the active ingredients in butterbur) made by a German company, Petadolex. This extract was free of the potentially liver-damaging chemicals, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs).

In a recent review of 21 commercial butterbur products, 7 of the 21 products (33%) contained PAs. In addition, only 7 (33%) showed an amount of petasins consistent with each product’s labeling.  Of note in this study, Petadolex contained petasins in the amount disclosed on the product labeling with no detectable PAs in the sample provided.

I found Petadolex PA-Free Butterbur on Amazon.  At the time of this posting, it did not have a lot of user reviews yet.

 

I give Butterbur a conditional yes!

The studies look very exciting, but I would proceed with caution, and probably only try the Petadolex brand for now, until there is stricter standardization among the other brands. As always, check with your doctor first.

 

Migraine headaches are complicated and varied among individuals. While some sufferers will have a prescription that works for them, others will need to experiment with complimentary options to find relief.

Remember, every person responds to treatment differently, so please make sure to consult a doctor before adopting any new migraine remedies.  I wish you speedy relief!

 

Sources:

  1. Tong, Garrison. Magnesium Deficiency in Critical Illness. Journal of Intensive Care Medicine. Volume: 20 issue: 1, page(s): 3-17. January 1, 2005. https://doi.org/10.1177/0885066604271539
  2. Mauskop, Alexander & Varughese, Jasmine. (2012). Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of neural transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996). 119. 575-9. 10.1007/s00702-012-0790-2.
  3. Mauskop, Alexander & Varughese, Jasmine. (2012). Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of neural transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996). 119. 575-9. 10.1007/s00702-012-0790-2.
  4. Mauskop, Alexander & Varughese, Jasmine. (2012). Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of neural transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996). 119. 575-9. 10.1007/s00702-012-0790-2.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine
  • National Institutes of Health
  • American Migraine Foundation
  • Cochrane Library of Systematic Reviews of Studies
  • BBC News

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Mara
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Mara

Wow! Thank you so much for this, I have been seeing a homeopathic doctor for another health related issue unrelated to issue, but didn’t realize that this may not gave been a proven medical practice. I have heard of essential oils and acupuncture be used for migraines, but never new about butterbur. My husband always gets migraines, and because if your post, I will be digging a little deeper into this as an option for him.

admin
Admin

Hi Mara – thanks for your comment!  It’s definitely worth trying butterbur.  I hope your husband finds some relief.

Mikael
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Mikael

Migraine is a terrible thing and so hard to find good reliable info about what might work. Great to have found this article.

I really appreciate you are including links to research – too much other info are just giving superficial info based on rumors. Some really interesting things here and possible solutions to look into. Will bookmark the article and go over it all.

Thanks,
Mike

admin
Admin

I appreciate your comment, Mikael.  I feel that an article with no research behind it is just fluff – and you won’t find that here!