Migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions affecting approximately 1 in 7 people in the UK alone, occurring twice as much in woman than men. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), migraines are one of the 20th most disabling lifetime conditions that are under-diagnosed and under-reported by medical professionals, significantly impacting sufferers’ quality of life and preventing them to carry out daily routines.
Unfortunately migraines are not limited to headaches only; often people who suffer from migraines may experience also nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and noises, abdominal pain, sweating and feeling very hot or cold. A Migraine attack can range anything from 2 to 3 days but longer periods of time have also been reported. Usually migraine sufferers take over the counter pain killers for the symptomatic relief but stronger medications are also available such as ergotamines and tryptans which are far more expensive and produce more side effects like trouble in breathing, face swelling, hives, nausea, seizures and chest pains.
It is very troublesome that the exact cause of a migraines attack is still not known, some theories have pointed out that the chemical or vascular changes in brain may trigger migraine headaches and some believe that the combination of physical, hormonal, dietary, emotional and environmental factors may contribute to the cause.
Management and prevention of migraines, what other specialist recommend
Many medical sources suggest that patients suffering from migraine should first recognize the key triggers that may cause a migraine attack, the time of the occurrence and any other circumstances associated with it like diet (irregular meals, prolonged fasting, foods reach in vasoactive amines such as cheese; chocolate, citrus fruit, dehydration, caffeine foods and alcohol) and environmental factors (smoking, bright light, loud noises, flickering TV screens, strong smells, humidity and sudden temperature fluctuation).
In hormonal migraines the key things to consider are symptoms of PMS or taking contraceptive pill as the onset of migraine usually starts around the times of menses and last a couple of days. Additional factors associated with migraine are stress, anxiety, tiredness, lack of sleep and poor posture that affects people usually after stressful periods.
It is very difficult to point out what is the exact cause of migraine as multiple factors may play role in onset of headaches and some researchers suggest that the best way to start with migraine management is to keep a diary even if you did not suffer from frequent migraine attacks. It also should be stressed enough that if you previously suffered from migraine the key triggers may change over time and if you have noticed anything unusual about your migraines please contact your GP to rule out any serious conditions.
Selected herbs for migraine management
Herbal medicine has a number of remedies that were used traditionally for headaches prevention and management and one of those wonderful herbs is Tanacetum parthenium.
Tancaetum parthenium known also as feverfew has a long traditional use as an anti-inflammatory herb used for headaches, dry coughs, rheumatic pains and dyspepsia. It contains sesquiterpenes lactones and parthenolide which has shown clinical activity in the inhibition of prostaglandin production and platelet granule secretion cause by imbalance in serotonin metabolism thus having anti inflammatory effect in serotonin dependant migraines.
Numerous other clinical studies have revealed that feverfew extract may elevate the severity of migraines symptoms such as nausea, vomiting causing also improvement in visual and noise disturbance commonly seen in aura migraines. From my personal view feverfew is my favorite remedy for migraines management and prevention, I have used it for headaches caused by sinusitis and it worked really well, as well as for hormonal migraines in conjunction with other herbs.
It has to be noted however, that feverfew may cause an allergic reaction such as mouth ulcers and should not be taken if you are pregnant or taking anti-platelet medication.
Another quite good remedy for migraines management is Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Ginger is not directly linked to migraine prevention but it works very well together with feverfew or in early stages of migraines symptoms such as nausea and motion sickness. Traditionally Ginger has been used as a spice and medicine in Asian cuisine for digestive complaints especially for flatulence and to stimulate appetite. In modern medical herbalism ginger is used to alleviate symptoms of motion sickness, nausea, digestive disorders, to increase circulation and as an anti-inflammatory remedy for management of rheumatic conditions.
Gingers direct anti-inflammatory activity is thought to be due to presence of gingerols and diarylheptanoids that may have a direct effect inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis and anti-platelet aggravation that are usually present in arthritic condition and migraines. It has also been shown in the number of studies that ginger alleviates nausea and motion sickness which is relevant for people whose migraines are preceded by onset of nausea and sickness.
Fresh ginger rhizomes are widely available and you can add fresh slices of ginger to cooking or to make tea with honey and lemon. It is also a perfect remedy to warm up in winter and to give you a boost of energy.
Caution however should be taken as large doses may interfere with antiplatelet medications and it may cause increased susceptibility to bruising and bleeding.
Another traditional remedy for headache not used as much today is Butterbur (Petasites vulgaris). Butterbur, native to Europe has long reputation as cardiac tonic; anti pyretic, anti-inflammatory and pain reliving and few studies have shown that butterbur works well as preventative treatment for migraines however butterbur contains some amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can potentially cause damage to the liver.
Therefore many medical professionals have warned about taking butterbur supplements even if they are labeled PA’s free, despite very low PA’s level detected in the butterbur extract alone. Please check current guidelines on supplements containing butterbur extract.
One of the most popular herbs used for management of hormonal migraines is Vitex Agnus Castus, primary due to its hormone balancing action, such as increasing luteinizing hormone (thus progesterone levels) and decreasing oestrogen level although some herbalist say that in women deficient in oestrogen it can have opposite action.
There is some compelling evidence that Vitex could be also used for alleviation of PMS and Menopausal symptoms especially for women suffering from irregular menstrual cycles, cramping, carvings, breast pain, hot flushes and mood swings. However it should be noted that most often Vitex is usually prescribed as part of the prescription for management of hormonal migraines not exclusively by itself. It is generally recommend that Vitex should be taken is small dosages as you may experience side effects such as gastrointestinal disturbance and nausea and before taking Vitex you should contact your GP or herbalist if it is safe for you.
If you would like to know how herbal medicine can help with Migraines and other conditions mentioned in this article please contact Judyta Zyrek directly.
Mills and Bone, 2011. Principle and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone: London.
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