With over 45 million Americans experiencing recurrent headaches, researchers are continually searching for safer and better treatment options, including integrative headache remedies and therapies for natural migraine relief. Medical experts recommend that headache sufferers DO NOT use over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications or prescription migraine drugs like triptans too frequently or for long periods of time. Although OTC pain relievers generally work for tension-type headaches and triptans are fairly effective for migraine relief, these drugs(as well as the drugs that are commonly prescribed to prevent chronic headaches) have dangerous and/or unpleasant side effects. Plus, the OTC drugs are notorious for causing what are known as “rebound” or “overuse” headaches, leading to even more suffering. Clearly, other treatment options for headaches are needed.
Supplements for natural migraine relief
A number of natural and integrative therapies for the treatment and prevention of headaches and migraines have undergone testing in clinical trials and been found to be effective. There are several key herbal remedies and nutrients that have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of headaches and migraines. This article will briefly discuss 3 of the top natural headache remedies with the most convincing research and instruct you on how you can safely use them to treat your headaches or migraines.
Perhaps the most well-known herb for the treatment and prevention of migraine headaches is feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). Feverfew leaves are rich in parthenolide, a compound which acts on blood platelets and affects the release of histamine and serotonin. These actions are thought to reduce the severity, duration and frequency of migraine headaches. Feverfew also has anti-inflammatory effects which may further explain its ability to treat headache pain. Numerous clinical studies have explored the ability of feverfew to treat and prevent migraines and most have shown the ability to reduce migraine frequency, duration and/or intensity. Although more research is needed, some preliminary studies indicate that feverfew may be more effective for headaches when it is combined with other botanical medicines such as white willow bark (another natural anti-inflammatory) or used along with acupuncture.[3,4] Take 100 to 200 mg feverfew leaf three times a day for at least 6 weeks and preferably for 12 weeks before assessing effectiveness.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), an antioxidant and a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, has been shown in studies to prevent both migraines and tension-type headaches. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement is believed to help reduce headache frequency and severity by modulating serotonin and increasing endorphin levels. In one clinical trial, 124 patients with chronic migraines received either 5-HTP or methysergide (a drug used to prevent migraines) for 6 months. Significant improvement in frequency and number of severe attacks occurred for 71% of those in the 5-HTP group, which was the same effect achieved with the prescription medication. 5-HTP has also been used successfully in the prevention of chronic tension-type headaches. Since 5-HTP is also beneficial for insomnia, depression, and anxiety symptoms, it is especially appropriate for individuals who have headaches accompanied by sleep or mood disorders. The starting dose is 100-200 mg twice daily, and it may take about 8 weeks to start working. 5-HTP should not be taken by individuals already taking prescription antidepressants except under supervision by a physician due to the theoretical risk of serotonin syndrome.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus), historically used for its pain-relieving effects, has recently been found to reduce blood vessel spasms and act as an anti-inflammatory. Many studies have demonstrated butterbur’s ability to provide natural migraine relief by reducing migraine frequency and intensity. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 229 migraine patients found that Petasites extract was safe and effective in reducing the frequency of migraine episodes, the number of days of migraine per month, and the intensity of the headache itself. Butterbur contains toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA’s) that are removed in the commercially available preparations (such as Petadolex® and others). Nevertheless, be sure to use only butterbur products that are labeled “PA-free.” Take 75 mg twice daily of a PA-free butterbur rhizome extract, standardized to contain 15% petasins.
Additional holistic headache remedies and therapies for natural migraine relief
Additional supplements found to act as effective, natural headaches remedies include:
- magnesium (300 to 600 mg per day)
- coenzyme Q10 (150 to 300 mg per day)
- riboflavin (400 mg per day
- alpha lipoic acid (500 mg twice a day).
In addition to supplements, you may find that dietary changes help or completely eliminate your headaches:
- Keep your blood sugar levels stable by reducing sugar, refined grains, and other high-glycemic foods.
- Try eliminating wheat and dairy for 8 weeks; these foods have been found to commonly trigger headaches.
- Drink plenty of water, since even mild dehydration can trigger headaches.
Other natural headache therapies that have been shown to treat headaches include acupuncture, biofeedback, neurofeedback, spinal manipulation/chiropractic, cognitive behavioral therapy, and craniosacral therapy.[8,9]
What natural headache remedies have worked for you?
Have you tried butterbur, feverfew, 5-HTP, or other remedies to achieve natural migraine relief? Please share your experience with natural headache treatments in the comments section, below.
Originally published in 2014, this post has been updated.