Part of the risk to migraine sufferers may be that the combination of high costs for health care with the need for pain control drives many sufferers to turn to natural remedies for relief, says Saper, adding: "Desperate people do desperate things."
Too often, patients simply assume natural remedies are always beneficial, says Kaniecki.
"This is an issue we face every day where headache patients are taking herbal supplements. … Patients are unaware of the consequences because they assume that because something is marketed as natural, it is safe," he says. "Poison ivy is natural, too, but I wouldn't take to alleviate a headache."
"Some herbals make migraines worse," Towne says. "Gingko and valerian can make headaches worse. Even some of the medications that we prescribe can make migraines worse. It depends on the individual. … It is important for doctors to know exactly what their patients are taking."
Kaniecki concurs: "The FDA needs to enact better and firmer regulations on herbal medications, and I will call them medications because they are natural medications."
Kaniecki recommends the herbal supplement industry be held to the same regulations as prescription drug companies. "The herbal industry should be held to the same standard if they are going to make claims about their products."
Rubingh notes the Food and Drug Administration is considering action on an internal proposal to increase regulations on herbal supplement manufacturers. The proposal would force herbal industry to print "more detailed labels that would state exactly what is in each bottle. I think that the proposal would really improve our information about herbal supplements," she says.
If the herbal industry was forced to report exact content of each product, additional research could be facilitated, examining the specific effects of herbal supplements on the body, Rubingh adds.