Aug. 20, 2005 -- Some 30 million Americans suffer from recurring headaches or migraines, with women three times more likely than men to suffer migraines, according to a recent American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study by the National Headache Foundation.
Migraine is listed as the 19th most common cause of disability -- ahead of Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, according to the World Health Organization.
While many sufferers turn to over-the-counter painkillers or prescription drugs for a quick fix, more and more Americans are now looking for alternative therapies. Make sure to ask your doctor before trying any of these remedies, and don't try them all at once. Lastly, be patient while waiting for results.
Liz Weiss, contributing editor at Health magazine, suggested these alternative migraine remedies:
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin, which is vitamin B2, converts energy from carbohydrates. There's a belief that people with migraines have low levels of energy in their brains, which causes hypersensitivity to things like light or noise. The riboflavin gives your brain more energy, which makes it less likely to be bothered by migraine triggers.
Studies show that people who take more magnesium than they need have fewer migraines. Magnesium also combats hypersensitivity in the brain, and it has been shown to decrease migraine pain. So, even if you do get a migraine, it's not going to be as bad.
For years people have been taking butterbur, an herb you can buy in health food stores, to fight allergies. Now this anti-inflammatory is seen as one of the newer migraine treatments, because migraines are basically an inflammation of blood vessels in your brain. Studies show you have to take butterbur for a while before you discover a decrease in migraines. But you can take this preventative along with your prescription.
This antioxidant found in meat and nuts has been shown to give the brain more energy. It also cuts the frequency of migraine attacks and reduces nausea. Coenzyme Q, found in health food stores, is expensive and probably not the first alternative remedy to try.
Doctors noticed that patients who were getting Botox injections for wrinkles not only had fewer wrinkles, but fewer migraines as well. Botox blocks the pain, basically by deadening the area. It is extremely expensive compared to other alternative remedies and is not covered by insurance. But if you have severe migraines, you might want to consider it.
It's worth noting that coenzyme Q has not been studied much in healthy people; it's mainly been studied in connection with heart disease. Also, placebo-controlled trials find that vitamin B and magnesium are no better than placebo at improving migraine headaches. The placebo effect in migraine headache studies is pretty high: If you think you are doing something to help your headache, you often will see a large improvement -- usually around 50 percent, experts say.
Alternative therapies may offer safer alternatives to drugs. But remember that although vitamins and herbs may be natural, they are not without health consequences. Even at moderate levels, some vitamins have been shown to slighly increase risk of death. You definitely don't want people overdosing on them.
It's alway a good idea to talk to your doctor about which vitamins and herbs to try as well as to ask him or her how many pills are safe to take.